A wise man once said, “when given a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.” And if life has taught us anything, it’s that we need kindness now more than ever.
But whereas kindness is a virtue, politeness–which often gets confused with kindness–can actually be bad for our mental states. Politeness has made apologists out of us. It has taught us not to “rock the boat” when something or someone makes us feel uncomfortable. Whether we get it from our parents or the patriarchy, any message that makes us hesitant to speak our truth needs to be tossed out like yesterday’s trash.
Here are five situations when you’ve probably apologized in the past and tips for giving a more empowered response in the future.
1. Someone Bumps Into You
It may seem silly, but how often do you apologize when another person runs into you? “I’m sorry” has become a default response for feeling flustered, and even if your collision was caused by their lack of awareness, it could bring up feelings of embarrassment within yourself. From the outside looking in, this makes no sense, of course, but tell that to the voice in your head that’s just trying to quietly grocery shop and now has made a scene.
On the surface, saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t seem wrong or out of place in such a situation. But as a coach, I train people to move more confidently through the world, and a confident woman does not start a conversation–any conversation–with “I’m sorry.”
So the next time someone bumps into you, why not say, “excuse me” with a smile, instead?
2. Asking Someone to Do Their Job
As a recovering service industry professional, I admit I was guilty of this for a long time. I always hated when a customer treated me like their slave, so in an effort to overcorrect, I used to make requests in a tone that implied I was asking the other person to climb Mount Kilimanjaro–when all I wanted was ketchup.
As long as you are respectful (read: you say please and thank you in abundance), asking an employee to check in the back, make sure the fries are gluten-free, or resolve some other work-related issue is 100 percent okay.
3. Saying No to a Request
Day in and day out, we are pelted with requests for our attention and energy. From helping friends move to making cupcakes for the bake sale, the cult of politeness tells us that good people make sacrifices for others. But volunteering because it brings you joy and fits into your schedule is different from feeling obligated to do something in which you have no interest.
Time is a precious commodity, and protecting yours is not something you should ever apologize for. This can be especially difficult when the reason you can’t attend your coworker’s birthday party is that you’d rather get a massage or spend the evening working on your side hustle.
Self-care is the first thing we sacrifice because it feels indulgent, even frivolous. But if you consider how much friendlier the world would be if everyone took more time to nurture themselves, it seems a lot less selfish and a lot more imperative. So you can stop feeling guilty.
4. Not Prioritizing Someone Else’s Comfort Over Your Own
Raise your hand if you’ve done this. I know I’m not alone because #MeToo is a thing.
I’m not just talking about sexual impropriety, however. This is about allowing anything to happen that makes us uncomfortable because we are worried about the repercussions of standing up for ourselves. Or because we don’t want to embarrass someone. Or because we feel guilty and think that we owe them. Or because we don’t want to be seen as a buzzkill.
If you’re uncomfortable but letting it slide, or you feel that speaking up for yourself would require an apology, I invite you to ask yourself this:
Does this feel like self-respect?
This question is great because it eliminates ambiguity; the answer is black or white. You don’t have to think about it.
And if the answer is no, the only thing that makes sense is to stop what you’re doing–immediately.
5. Putting an End to Something That Doesn’t Serve You
The most important lesson I communicate with new clients is that you should never apologize for speaking your truth. When a relationship has run its course–whether in romance, business, or elsewhere–you are entitled to your truth. And how another person reacts to it is not your problem.
Sometimes it’s hard for people raised in the cult of politeness to wrap their minds around this idea. If you feel resistance around this issue or dread having “the talk,” I encourage you to ask yourself the following questions:
Is what I’m about to say true?
Is what I’m about to say kind?
Is what I’m about to say necessary?
If it checks all the boxes, you can say it with zero apologies.
So let yourself be led by kindness rather than a concern about being polite. In doing so, you’ll reclaim your power and become a part of the change the world needs.