How Genuine Are Our 'Sorrys'?

Imagine yourself in your local coffee shop; the waft of coffee grounds in the air, the chalkboard behind the barista decorated with hipster calligraphy, and some indie-folk music playing in the background (probably Mumford and Sons). You just received your beverage and they call your name, so you make your way to the counter. There is a guy blocking your way, oblivious to the coffee sitting in front of him that is your caffeinated beverage. You reach in front of the dude, issuing a whispered and frantic “sorry” before scrambling back to your seat in front of your laptop. This is gender socialization in action and it happens more than we think.

Gender socialization is the process of learning the social expectations and attitudes associated with one's sex.

This article slightly goes off my previous article, in which I wrote a piece titled “The Perpetual ‘Sorry’” also available on HerCampus. In this article, I discussed the statistics in which women are more inclined to say “I’m Sorry” in social situations than men. In this discussion, I found how, psychologically, women believe they have more to apologize for and are hypersensitive to other’s feelings, therefore constituting this behavior in social interactions.

An issue I touch base on is the psychological research that backs up how men seem to be more oblivious to other’s feelings than women are. Because of womens almost hyper-sensitivity to feelings, they seem to apologize more often than men do. In a study conducted, it seems as though men have a different capacity for interpreting offensive behavior. This means they are less inclined to apologize. Gender socialization and norms of your biological gender along with environment come into play with our behaviors and thoughts.

Since women are more inclined than men to apologize, here is another issue I want to discuss: when are these “sorry’s” genuine?

Of course, based on the situation in which “I’m sorry” is said, it can vary on how genuine the sorry can be.

Let’s consider the coffee example from the beginning of the article: it displays primarily about how women say the words often and un-necessarily. In this situation, the sorry said wasn’t needed, and if it was, the manner in which they are sorry is not completely heartfelt. A situation where someone was physically or emotionally hurt can constitute a sorry. This sorry holds more weight than the coffee shop sorry. In more emotional situations, people want a response that is tailored to them. It will help them receive it better and in a more heartfelt way. (bbc.com)

Still, even with certain circumstances defining the mannerisms during a “sorry”, it is hard for people to figure out if the apology is genuine. For example, if the apology is quick to be uttered out of another's mouth, then it is most likely less genuine. But, if people display signs of vulnerability, such as looking down to the ground with their head almost hanging, then they are more likely to be genuine with their words.

To judge if a sorry is meaningful and necessary is difficult and depends on each special circumstantial situation. Since women are more likely to say the sorry, they are also less likely to mean them. When someone exhibits it more often, it makes the statistical significance of the “sorry” being genuine go down. This goes with men as well, but in the other direction; since men say it less often, then they are more likely to mean it when they say it.

What difference does the “sorry” make? This depends on the person, and their overall outlook on life. If their outlook is positive, then they will be more likely to interpret the sorry as genuine.

“Being focused on negative thoughts effectively saps the brain of its positive forcefulness, slows it down, and can go as far as dimming your brain's ability to function, even creating depression. Thinking positive, happy, hopeful, optimistic, joyful thoughts decreases cortisol and produces serotonin, which creates a sense of well-being.” (Psychology Today)

Gender is significant in how often apologies are said and meant, and can affect our personalities. Also, the frequency of how often we apologize is important, and our reactions and constituted behaviors of the apology can shape our outcomes.