“Thank you for your patience …”
If you communicate with me by email, it’s very likely that you’ve received a reply that contains these words. This phrase is an expression of a practice I began a few years ago — an effort to honor sincerely the other person’s time while also not saying “I’m sorry” for things that probably don’t need an apology.
This practice was inspired by a conversation with our older child (then in middle school) upon their return home from a summer camp for teen girls. In one of the workshops that week, the campers discussed how girls typically are conditioned to say “I’m sorry” in situations where an apology is not appropriate. “I’m sorry, but no, I don’t want to kiss you.” “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings [when I stood up for myself in the face of your bullying].” “I’m sorry you had to wait [even though my response is not ‘late’].”
Of course we want to say “I’m sorry” — and to teach our children to do so — when an apology is sincere and deserved. But we also want to free ourselves and one another from the burden of feeling badly about things that aren’t actually problematic. And the habitual “I’m sorry,” perhaps especially in email communications but also in other casual social interactions, is too often a reflection of that burden — of the notion that we should never be a bother or an inconvenience to anyone else; that if we don’t behave precisely in a way that another person expects, then we’re necessarily a problem … or worse, The Problem; and, in the case of email and other communications, the false notion that there is a shared understanding of what qualifies as “urgent”.
One of the commitments I carried into our UUCC work upon return from sabbatical this year is that we should interrogate our assumptions about what is truly urgent … that we will serve our mission and one another better if we don’t rush things that aren’t actually critical, if we use discerning judgment about where to invest our time and energy, if we breathe and move and schedule ourselves more steadily and deliberately, allowing space for unanticipated ideas and personalities and opportunities to emerge.
Like when traveling, whether by foot or wheels or boat or rail, we are much more likely to see and appreciate the awesome landscape, the wildlife, and the miniscule details of life and beauty — and we’re also better able to discern what does need our urgent attention — if we travel slowly enough to look around and notice more than just the final destination toward which we’re aimed.
And if it takes you days to respond to an email from me? No worries, and no apology necessary. I’ll tell you if I hope for a quick reply!
Thank you for your patience.