The art of not sorry living
We're a nation wracked with remorse - apologising for getting a waiter's attention, for bumping into someone, and even for the traffic. But no more! The key to a happy life is to stop hiding behind the word 'sorry' and embrace the power of not giving a damn
Last week I ordered a drink at a restaurant and found myself sucking on a pebble. The first thing I said to the waiter when he came to the table was: "I'm sorry" - an apology for a potential cracked tooth courtesy of their badly-made drink.
That same week I apologised for coughing in public, again when I accidentally touched someone's hand while simultaneously holding on to a Luas pole, in a meeting when I interjected with "sorry, but can I just say…", to my daughters' swimming teacher when rearranging their lesson and to a taxi driver for the bad traffic. My soul was not tortured by remorse; I am, like so many, afflicted with a verbal tic. Irish people in particular love saying "sorry"; it's as much a part of the nation's psyche as tea, potholes, Tayto crisps and the Healy-Raes.
We apologise to get someone's attention, when we accidentally bump into each other, when interrupting a conversation or when our food touches another person's in the supermarket checkout. Phrases like "I hope you don't mind" or "would it be OK if" are all variations of apologies that Irish people genuflect to on a daily basis. It has become a 'soft' precursor to a demand, a way to seem less obtrusive.
In the words of actress Lena Dunham, sorry has become the "wrapping paper and the bow" - a sort of cork, making sure emotions are packed neatly away. In her recent essay written for LinkedIn, the Girls star vowed to boycott the noun which she believes has lost its meaning.
In an impassioned plea for women to stop saying sorry, the actress urges us to substitute the word with something else and voice an "actual expression of your needs and wants." Social media may have a solution to this apology dilemma with its SorryNotSorry hashtag, which started as a way for dieters to explain their 'cheat' meals but has rapidly gone viral to include every irk and opinion you could think of: too much Xbox, nerd crushes, bad wardrobe choices, controversial political leanings - the refrain has become a vehicle of real expression, in some cases a contentious one, but as Dunham points out, one that allows us to express how sick we are of apologising.
In my attempt to go cold turkey on apologies, I started reading Sarah Knight's The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*** - a parody of Marie Kondo's best seller, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up where she takes the same approach to mental clutter that holds us back by using the 'NotSorry' method. As the subtitle says, this is about learning "how to stop spending time you don't have with people you don't like doing things you don't want to do." Knight explains that she was tired of being overcommitted, overworked, and overdrawn and decided to take a new approach to life.
Suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, she quit her job at a publishing house and KonMari'ed her sock drawer. The result was inner peace and a new-found philosophy that embraced the power of 'no'. "The word 'sorry' is overused," says Knight, "to the point where people say it often when they don't mean it at all. 'I'm sorry…' often precedes a statement that really means 'I'm doing this to you on purpose but faking a polite sorry to make myself feel better.'"
After compiling a list of things I don't give an F about (I give an F about a lot of things but Kim Kardashian, keeping up with the latest music trends, Twitter and exfoliation were top of the list), dividing them into Knight's suggested categories: things, work, friends/acquaintances/strangers, and family, I came to realise that not giving an F is much harder than it looks.
I waste a lot of mental space worrying about things I shouldn't and who I may hurt in the process, so how do you stop caring about something when it involves someone else's feelings? Knight recommends a F*** Budget - choosing those people who most deserve your emotional investment, culling what doesn't deserve our attention, thereby relieving you of the pressure of having to go to every baby shower, communion, dinner party or coffee morning.
Turning down my friend's mid-week dinner invite was tricky; it's not that I didn't want to attend, it's just that I had more important things to do. There, I said it. NotSorry living is not something that comes easy; most of us get steamrolled by life's unimportant dramas and find ourselves getting upset when the bin men forget to take the recycling, how quickly our iPhone battery dies, or when we sprain our ankle while training for the mini marathon (to be fair, that last one really irritated me). The biggest challenge for me is letting go of the feeling that I'm offending someone - it's part of the Irish DNA, in women at least.
In fact, Knight believes women are conditioned to make people feel good about themselves whereas men are conditioned to win at all costs. I would go as far as to say the men I know and love use their sorrys carefully, rarely obsess over what people think and certainly don't allow people inflict their selfish demands on them. Being perceived as rude seems to be an obstacle that the majority of women face.
Can you not be sorry but still be polite? "NotSorry is all about being polite," notes Knight. "Acting with honesty and politeness tends to disarm any potential conflict. It's hard for people to take offence when you've been polite - and if no one takes offence, then you don't have to apologise - it's a self-fulfilling method."
Same goes for damaging your reputation. "You should of course continue to give a f*** about what people think as it pertains to their feelings and don't be an ass**** but stick to the facts and keep feelings, emotions, and judgments out of it. For example, say, 'Alas, I can't make it!' instead of 'Ugh, why would anyone have a birthday party at that god-awful bar?'" A defining moment for Knight, when she realised the NotSorry method was working, involved her mother-in-law. She politely told her that she was welcome to host a brunch the morning after their wedding but she and her husband would not be attending. She explained honestly that she planned to party into the wee hours and would be in no state to greet guests at 9am. "I didn't feel guilty at all, especially when I woke up the next morning with a hangover, tucked into my bed in the bridal suite." Personally, I like Peter Cook's approach: when asked by his ex-friend David Frost would he come to dinner in three weeks' time, Cook replied: "Sorry old boy, I'm watching TV that night." This may be what Knight considers the 'too-honest' route but then Peter Cook was definitely not sorry.
Knight is not the only one endorsing the value of NotSorry living; John Parkin is the author of international bestsellers the F*** It books and runs F*** It retreats with his wife Gaia in her native Italy.
Like Knight, their philosophy is a sort of two-fingers to the traditional self-help genre. According to Parkin, saying f*** it is as good a meditation in helping us to relax and let go. He explains that we tend to take too many things in our life seriously and when these things that we care about start to cause us pain, saying f*** it allows us to realise that it can't be that important, it puts perspective on things.
Simple, right? Perhaps. A two-word profanity can certainly help shift the focus into a less serious mindset that can aid in letting go, which is certainly a powerful tool especially if, by not giving a f***, you gain what Knight believes is the 'holy trinity': time, energy and money. In my case, attempting to be the best at everything I do has meant I care a lot, I stress a lot - translation: I care too much which costs me the 'holy trinity'.
I have not mastered the art of NotSorry but when I started applying Knight's principles to work, relationships and my daily routine, I stopped worrying so much about everything and cultivated a bit more space for what really matters.
My ankle is sprained so I can't get to the gym but this has afforded me more time with the kids in the evening. The kids won't be hospitalised if I feed them pizza and fluorescent-coloured fish fingers a few times a week instead of a seven-course tasting menu and the world will not fall apart if I can't make my friend's charity pub quiz. And, as for exfoliation? #sorrynotsorry