Phillip Smith

Saying goodbye to “I’m sorry”

Why I'll never apologize again, and why you shouldn't either

Over the last few months, I found myself regularly asking friends to not apologize to me. After that, I started slowly experimenting with removing various apologies from my daily vocabulary. After some consideration and some debate, I’m ready to banish “I’m sorry” for good.

It all started fairly innocently. Often it would be in the form of a written response to a friend’s e-mail that arrived later than the friend had hoped, and my response would be “You don’t need to apologize. If we are going to be great friends, it doesn’t matter when you write – just write when you can”

Then it progressed and I found myself saying it verbally to a small circle of close friends:

Friend: “I’m sorry I’m a bit late”

Me: “You don’t need to apologize for that; you’re here now.”

Friend: “I’m sorry I didn’t call you yesterday”

Me: “You don’t need to apologize for that; we’re talking now”

It became a rhythm, then an obsession. I moved on from reactively asking friends to stop apologizing to proactively expressing my ideas about the overuse and lack of need for apologies among friends, and challenging them – as I’ve challenged myself – to leave apologies behind.

So, why do the people around me apologize so much? Is it because we’re Canadian? Is it because we were raised in the shadow of Christian religion? Is it just because we were taught it was “polite?” It’s a fascinating question.

And, when the apology is offered, do we really mean it? Or has it simply become a reflex in an overly-sensitive society? In that moment of apology, is the one offering it really, sincerely feeling a deep need to set things right? To indicate that the event – a forgotten call, or late arrival, or what-have-you – will not happen again?

All of this got me thinking: do we really need to apologize at all?

To come at the question with slightly more nuance, I could ask: when do we actually need to apologize in our society? When would it be terribly wrong not to do so?

Thus I began experimenting. First trying to restructure my own language. Then the language of my friends. Then testing the idea on people I interacted with on a day-to-day basis (though, I must admit, when I pitched the idea to Lorne Craig of Unicycle Creative he wasn’t completely convinced – but at least it was a lively conversation!).

I don’t know if this is true for you, or universally, but when I apologize I feel that I am using it to verbally express another more complex emotion or intention. Often that would be a something along the lines of a regret or a guilty feeling – “I wish I had been able to make it to that event” – or a personal criticism, e.g., “I should be better at keeping in touch with my friends.”

So what does it say when we apologize unnecessarily? In what light do we present ourselves when we sprinkle a casual “I’m sorry” into almost every interaction with our friends, family, and colleagues? Are we not saying to the world: I am racked with guilt, regrets, and personal self-loathing?

Here’s my take away: if I can honestly accept and embrace the outcomes of my own actions, and if I can learn to accept the actions of others in my life, then there really should be no need to offer or receive an apology. Ever.

So I am saying goodbye to “I’m sorry” for a while.

P.S. I am curious, however, when do you think an apology be absolutely necessary? When would not offering one be unthinkable? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter


Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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