It’s a familiar phrase that sounds innocent enough: “I’m sorry.” Throughout our childhoods we were instructed to say we’re sorry for something we did“wrong.” Much of the time, this was demanded by a towering adult. I know this has you conjuring up images of mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, or a teacher, face scrunched in anger, finger wagging in your face. “Say you’re sorry, or you’re going to get it!” Experience taught me that “it,” was a smack upside the head, a blistering “whooping,” to the backside, or visit to the principal’s office. So, we are conditioned, early on, to “be sorry.” Especially women. “Sugar and spice and everything nice.”
I decided to do some deep reflection about this deeply ingrained expression. I reached back into the vast collection of the cultural beliefs and practices of my people, the Cherokee and Navajo. Stories of days gone by tell of times when women of my culture absolutely ran all things having to do with the social fabric of their communities. They had complete sexual freedom, full and absolute custody of the children and home, and could divorce their husbands simply by setting his things out on the porch. “You’ve been served.” Nothing sugary about that. Yet, despite the seemingly brusque approach, it was socially accepted because women were considered to possess great wisdom in the ways of their culture.
Okay, so what are the triggers? Is it underlying anger? Maybe it’s fear of believing we’re not as good a person as another. We’re not even worthy of their presence. With a shudder, I can remember uttering these words, “what did I do to deserve you?”
“I’m sorry for the way I look, I’m having a bad hair day.”
“I’m allergic to milk, I’m sorry.”
“Can you help with this problem? I’m sorry to be such an aggravation!”
“You don’t like mustard on your hamburger? I’m so sorry!”
Perhaps that wounded girl still dominates us. It’s a hard thing to get past. Though we can’t unlearn powerful lessons, we can learn newer, healthier habits. After all, we don’t make mistakes, they make us. We decide how.
“Oh! You don’t like mustard on your burger? That’s good to know,” or, “milk just doesn’t agree with me.” And the next time you are having a bad hair day, chalk it up to experimentation with a new look. You might love it!
My ancestors are nodding, with huge smiles on their faces!
By Juanita Wilson