Raise your hand if you’ve ever said “I’m sorry” when you weren’t actually sorry.
It’s kind of a common thing. It’s so common, in fact, that someone developed a plugin for Gmail called Just Not Sorry that actually catches and underlines the word sorry in your emails. “I’m sorry to bother you, but…” Does that sound familiar? It is for a lot of people in the workplace, especially women.
It’s not just a work thing or a woman thing, though.
Lots of people say they’re sorry when it’s not necessary in many circumstances, and that’s what led illustrator Yao Xiao to create a comic about it.
The comic, which originally appeared on Autostraddle and is for sale on Etsy, “was inspired by moments in my life when I realized how much I appreciated having my friends around me,” Xiao told Upworthy in an email interview.
Xiao said that she used to be uncomfortable with her existence, feeling like she took up too much space and that she was inconveniencing people simply by being in their presence. While she’s been able to move past that feeling, old habits die hard.
“The message I wanted to get across to my readers was that maybe sometimes saying ‘sorry’ wasn’t what they meant,” she said. “And in a way, I could help by articulating what could be said instead.“
So what could we say instead of “I’m sorry?”
How about a simple “thank you?”
In addition to being a talented illustrator, Xiao is also a keen observer of life.
She explained that she used to apologize when she felt like she was talking too much — or when she wasn’t saying enough. What she came to understand, however, is that she really just needed to hear someone tell her, “It’s OK!”
“At that point in my life, I didn’t have the experience and company I needed to believe I was okay. To not say sorry is to feel confident, loved, and appreciated,” she explained. “It is me telling myself, ‘It’s OK,” and telling someone else I appreciate them back.“
She noted that while these things may be true, if someone’s not in the right mental place or physical situation to be able to realize and do that, “simply demanding them to switch out the words isn’t going to help.” And, she added, “if you actually are at fault … definitely please apologize because that’s what ‘sorry’s are for.“
So, next time you catch yourself saying “I’m sorry” when you don’t actually need to apologize for something you’ve done, stop, think of this comic, and ask yourself if you mean something else — like “thank you” — instead.