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ThisAbility #4: The Sorry Syndrome

This Magazine Staff

The “Sorry Syndrome” is a phenomenon I know I’ll never fully understand. I don’t even know whether able-bodied people know what they’re doing or if it’s just an apologetic, ass covering default they go to in a moment when they don’t know what to do. It could be many things… I have my theories, but feel free to weigh-in.
CrashOf course, you can’t weigh-in unless you know what I’m talking about, so let me illustrate just one of the many instances:
It happened on the way to class at the Ryerson University Campus in Toronto. I was heading up the main artery of the campus (Gould St.) toward Yonge St. and I was looking straight ahead, not really paying attention…SMASH! Guy on a bike comes down an alley and T-bones my scooter. The dude flips over his handlebars, sails through the air across my lap and lands flat on his back on the other side of me. My mouth was agape, but this guy gets up, dusts himself off, opens his mouth and says, “I’m sorry man, are you okay?”

There it is. Right there. WTF was that? I was fine, but against all rationality, and potential injury, this guy says he’s sorry and asks me how I’m doing? Sure it’s a stand up move, but he just rammed rubber and aluminum piping at full speed into steel and plastic. When those two forces collide, I know who’s getting the best of that exchange, and it’s not going to be the bike or the rider. Yet, I’m the delicate flower? The whole thing was my fault.
This word, “Sorry” and its usage as it pertains to people with disabilities wouldn’t be so perplexing to me if I didn’t hear it every day. If I happen to be behind a group of people on the sidewalk, well back of their personal space, the first thing I hear is “Sorry” as they proceed to get out of the way. Where did this notion that disabled people want to be in front of everything come from? I’m perfectly happy following you. I put my cane down to use both hands and the first thing anyone does is pick it up and say, “Sorry about that.”
Sorry for what? I’m sorry you feel you have to say that. I could brush up against you on a dance floor and sorry comes out of your mouth. Do all my actions look like your mistake?
I’m here to announce: it’s not your fault. You’re devaluing real apologies by doing that. You’re afraid. Maybe I might fall, maybe you’ll cause it, and maybe you won’t, but so what? What’s the worst that can happen? Maybe you’re averse to physical contact from strangers — I think you need a hug. Maybe you dismiss people with disabilities because you just don’t know how to deal, and sorry is your deflection shield. The next time you feel the urge to verbally excrete a “sorry,” why not start a conversation? Start with, “Hi, my name is…” I know Canada was once a colony of a country that invented manners and decorum, but the “Sorry Syndrome” is getting so ridiculous I feel like, If I cracked a guy across the jaw for no reason, the first thing he would do is apologize.
broverman_a.jpgAaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he’s the last able-bodied person on earth — and he’s being hunted.

[CC-licensed image courtesy Steve Ford Elliott]

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