|Feel free to submit in triplicate to the offended party.|
I’m tired of hearing “I’m sorry.” Before you apologize for having said “I’m sorry,” please bear with my own apology for being so slow to admit how annoying I find it. In part, it’s because I’ve lost patience with those who abuse the privilege. So many apologize so constantly for repeating the same bad behaviors that I’ve come to recognize three particular kinds of apology—and I believe we are best served by declining, rejecting, or even rebuking each of them.
|Not the most popular rack at Hallmark. Most prefer to write their own.|
The Non-Apology Apology – Sports fans and other celebrity-cultists quickly become familiar with the non-apology apology. There are several phrasings, but the blame-shifting remains the same. You’ve heard, no doubt, some form of “I apologize to anyone who may have been hurt by reports of my actions.” Clearly, the fault lies not with the perpetrator of domestic violence, sexual assault, drunk driving, racist ranting, or whatever other egregious behavior is in view. No, the problem is caused either by those who reported the actions or, just as frequently, those whose sensibilities are too fragile to withstand another onslaught against their hopes for upholding basic societal standards.
|This would make a nice insert with your choice of card from above.|
The non-apology apology is the most popular of the apologies, mostly because each instance is broadcast to millions of potential imitators. Others, like the two below, are experienced more personally.
The Apology as Reset-Button – If you’ve been offered a series of apologies, each one more elaborate, for behaviors that become more egregious with each new instance, then you likely recognize the pattern that accompanies abusive, bullying, or otherwise manipulative relationships. You recognize the echoes of “I’m so sorry. That will never happen again.” You also know the threat or pain that prohibits you from pointing out that it has happened again. Early on, perhaps you incurred the protest, “Why do you keep bringing that up? I said I’m sorry that I do that.” Now, you see no need to hear again that “You need to learn to accept it; that’s just how I am.” You’re supposed to have reset your level of tolerance for another’s behavior to accept yet another new low. You can still object, but only when behaviors surpass the severity of those already apologized for (no matter how often the behavior is repeated). In fact, you’ve probably been made to apologize for pointing out that the other person’s prior apologies appear to have effected no change in their behavior.
|Apology Bingo: Works just as well with "Law and Order" episodes|
as it does with ESPN's Sportcenter.
Declining to accept an apology seems impolite, but please don’t apologize. Not even if you want to use this last type of apology and tell me why you don’t really need to apologize at all.
The Rationalizing Apology – This pattern actually comes closest to the classic definitions of “apology” as providing a defense or explanation for one’s behavior. The reason I recommend rejecting it as an apology is that it eludes any responsibility for changing that behavior, especially around the person to whom the behavior is being explained. “You know I would never have done that if I hadn’t been so…” angry, or drunk, or tired, or stressed, or surprised, or whatever other mitigating factors explain and excuse my decision to behave badly toward you. Often, this apology saddles the person who is supposed to accept the apology with the responsibility for the bad behavior. If you don’t want to endure it again, then you must change the circumstances that led to it. This differs from the Non-Apology Apology in that it admits that the behavior itself is offensive or damaging. But in some ways it is worse, shifting responsibility and all but guaranteeing a repetition of the behavior at whatever point circumstances warrant it.
Am I saying that you should not accept an apology? Yes. Am I saying not to forgive those who say, “I’m sorry,” especially if they repeat it often? Yes. But if we were to refuse one another’s apologies, then what do we do about the misunderstandings, offenses and other damage we do in the course of our relationships?
We’ll discuss that in part two.
|But you should be warned: Part Two gets even more direct about the alternative to apologies.|