I avoid saying I’m sorry, but it’s not because I’m an asshole; it’s because most apologies can be easily replaced with a genuine “Thanks.” This isn’t an original idea – I adopted it from a poignant cartoon that went viral a few months ago – but it’s an effective one. The gist of it is: If you’re on a serial texting spree, pouring petty insecurities into your best friend’s inbox, don’t apologize to her for whining; thank her for listening when you need someone to.
I’ve been trying this for a few months now and it feels good. It’s made me more sure of myself. I’ve also noticed that the recipients of my “Thanks” usually seem at least delighted for being acknowledged, and at best somewhat empowered. It’s pretty cool.
Think about the last time someone thanked you for something, though. Not something like shopping at their store or signing for your take-out; something like picking a friend up from the airport because his flight got delayed until after the last train and he didn’t have cash for an Uber. Do you remember how tangible his gratitude was? You could carry it in your pocket for a couple of days, maybe as the only good thing lingering over those 48 hours.
This is exactly what I’ve been trying to spread throughout my world with this practice in thankfulness. And so far, so good… Kind of.
You see, a side-effect of replacing my “Sorrys” with “Thanks” is that I now understand how I’ve been using “Sorry” incorrectly in more than one way. Not only have I said it in the wrong situations; I haven’t said it in a lot of the right ones. This brings me to the really stinky part of being pretty sure that I now know how to be a good person: I’m also now incredibly aware that, for the past fifteen or so years, I’ve been a usually mediocre and sometimes really awful person. I’ve been the obnoxious drunk friend who has to be looked after; the broke sister who needs rent money you know you’ll never get back; the jealous girlfriend whose suspicions can’t be soothed; the employee who doesn’t give a margin of a shit about the customers’ needs.
Sure, everyone acts like a jerk sometimes and the important part is learning how to abate the jerkiness, but that doesn’t make me feel like less of a… jerk for all the times I acted… jerky.
It’s easy to let that regret stay tethered to my ankle. It’s not so easy to look at myself in the mirror and say genuinely, meaningfully, that I appreciate the woman looking back at me for being there when I needed her, and I’m sorry I haven’t always been the best version of myself.
Not as easy to do, but so much more important.