I had an odd experience the other day. I saw a patron engaged in inappropriate behavior, and when came out of my office to put a stop to it, she looked startled. I said something like, "I came out of my office because I saw someone who doesn't work for me behind the circulation desk." Her response startled me: "It's okay. [Explanation of why she'd been back there.]"
The explanation wasn't satisfactory, but in a way that relates back to some policies I need to implement and/or enforce. That wasn't what startled me. No, that was caused by the "It's okay." She said it like I'd apologized, which I hadn't, and she was forgiving and/or reassuring me. I'm still not exactly sure why she responded in that way. One possibility is that I came off as apologetic, but I doubt that. Instead, I suspect it's a cultural thing, and that made me want to write this post.
You see, for a few years now, I've made a point of avoiding variations on the theme of "I'm sorry, but..." unless I am actually sorry. This didn't used to be the case, but it is now. However, since women of a certain age and above (say 12 years old) have been conditioned to apologize for everything, I suspect this patron was responding to the behavior she expect of me instead of my actual behavior. In the words of a friend with whom I discussed the incident, it was probably "an auto-pilot response."
Further, I know the "I'm sorry" impulse is not just a gender thing. I've seen both men and women in my profession (and others) apologize for no reason. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you can't let your children run around pulling books off the shelves and throwing them at other patrons." "I'm sorry, Professor Doe, but we don't have room in the budget for a ridiculously expensive book that only you will use, and then probably only once." "I'm sorry, Jane Doe, Esquire, but I can't find the case law precedent if you don't give me all the information I need."
Admittedly, there are nuanced ways of interpreting the phrase, but the most obvious is "I apologize for [fill in the blank]." I'm not going to apologize for not being able to find a source with incomplete citation information, or for budget restrictions, or for the IRS being slow to send the 1040 instruction booklets. These are events over which I have little to no control.
There are multiple other reasons why I eradicated "I'm sorry" from my regular speech, even though it's a modern convention of sorts. More than anything else, I made this change because this way it feels like it really means something when I do apologize.
So, no, I'm not sorry, unless I really am. And neither should you be.