Deeply flawed as we all are, there are infinite mistakes large and small left in our wake.  Well-raised as I like to think that most of us were, we are keen to make amends for these transgressions.  Sympathetic as we non-sociopaths like to be, we want to offer comfort when someone we know is struggling.  Empathetic as many claim to be, but few truly are, we are inclined to share in the heartache of our fellow humans by offering them assistance and perspective.  In this gigantic universe of social interaction, in all of these complex, emotionally-charged scenarios, we have one single word at our ready disposal.  “Sorry” does not seem even remotely sufficient to cover the wide spectrum in which it is shamelessly overused.

“Sorry” does a lot of squats, but is still tired of carrying all of our burdens; “sorry” is ashamed of how cavalierly we use the word; “sorry” is embarrassed to be an automatic response; “sorry” should threaten to go on strike.  “Sorry” is beginning to suspect that it is being used as cover, a shield to hide dilatory motives and purposefully miscreant behavior.  “Sorry” is a blanket that has lasted a long time, but is beginning to fray.  “Sorry” can be the core, the base, but “sorry” needs help to soothe the pains inherent in existence.  “Sorry” wishes that more people knew how to use a thesaurus, how to have a real conversation.

It has become a circular bit of tragicomedy to witness my female friends, my daughter and her compatriots, random women on the street defaulting to “sorry,” when they have done nothing to warrant the response other than existing.  Tragic for the obvious reasons; comedic only because these females cannot help but laugh when they realize the frequency of the pattern.  This is a common topic in our circle and, at least from the viewpoint of those ladies, an issue endemic to growing up a woman in our society.  This problem not only affects the well-being of the women about whom I care, but also further dilutes the efficacy of the word “sorry.”

Words matter, despite the efforts at obfuscation and erosion with which we are daily bombarded.  Precision of speech helps further the connection of communication that we are sorely lacking.  With this principle in mind, my proposed solution to the “sorry” conundrum is (perhaps unsurprisingly if you know me) more words.  Or, more accurately, a fuller expression of one’s feelings such that the recipient of one’s speech more clearly understands the message.

As we transition away from the rote response of “sorry,” there may be some awkwardness, the inevitable characteristic of growth.  But, it is worth it to replace the throw-away “sorry” with a statement such as:  “I regret my behavior in doing X, because I am concerned that it might have had Y effect on you.”  Even just a simple, “I apologize for X” at least clues the listener into the particular way in which you are using the word “sorry.”  This of course presupposes that your apology is both heartfelt and possessing sufficient explanation to foment understanding.

The same detail is useful in the sympathy and empathy contexts.  When, for example, someone’s dog dies, rather than saying “I’m so sorry,” perhaps consider a response such as “I understand that this must be a difficult period for you and I am here to listen, to hug you, to just be there for you” or “I had a similar experience and I partially understand what it might be like; please do not hesitate to reach out to me as a resource at any time.”  The key to these more fleshed-out responses is to not veer into the male tendency to fix everything.  One wants to convey sympathy or empathy without dictating an outcome or assuming that your experience is totally applicable to the currently afflicted person.

If it becomes commonplace to put real effort into our attempts at apology, empathy, or sympathy, this may have the additional positive effect of stopping the cycle of unnecessary female apologies.  With more purposeful communication, the impetus to respond automatically with a “sorry” might be lessened and that would be a gargantuan improvement.

In a world where we are keen to shorten everything to an acronym, where we think that an economy of words is always the right path, it is important to understand that shortchanging dialogue, that leaving out central concepts or ideas is just another way to contribute to the degradation of interpersonal connection that is ruining our human collective.  It’s a sorry state of affairs.