Friday, July 31, 2015

No Apologies, Part One – Why you should say No to those who say they’re sorry.

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.


godluvdjody said...

wow, I SO AGREE! I am so tired of those who say, "I'm sorry...but..." and when they finish and I walk away, I feel like nothing was ever truly said nor an apology truly offered! This happens all the time. I can't wait to hear part TWO. But I will say that for me one of the most life-changing principles in my own life is when in an effort to seek forgiveness from another because of my OWN sin, I was taught that there are seven special words needed and NO MORE. I remember thinking..."What? It can't be that simple can it?" But it is...and it comes from Ken Sande's book, "Peacemakers". He says that we go to the person without negative behavioral cues of any kind, no ifs, ands or buts and simply say, "I was wrong, will you forgive me?" Trust me when I say these words shifted my own approach as well as my heart attitudes and it often, (not always) shifted the hearts of whom I have offered these words. I have even watched these seven words change marital relationships, praise God. So, yes, do not except "fake" apologies. I suggest we offer these seven words often as an example to others!

nschaak said...

Bill, I must apologize for not reading your blog earlier and pre-apologize for anything in this comment that might offend you in any way, shape, form or matter. However, I take no responsibility for anything that might offend you in the response, and trust you will not ever bring it up again or at all! Seriously, I could feel your angst and passion in this blog, and there certainly is much merit in what you have written. I trust I will think before giving my own trite apologies in the future. I look forward to part deux!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much Bill for going over an area that needs the repentance of God and not "I am sorry." That statement does get overused and there is no repentance or desire to turn away from the problem. It is also an excuse to do irreligious behavior. Thanks brother, I look forward to part two.

Eric Thompson said...

Wow, Bill. I'm thinking you have some personal experience with non-apologetic pseudo-apologies in situations where real apologies were warranted. :)

I had a decades-long, very close relationship with a person who initially recognized personal behaviors that desperately needed growth and change. This person would "apologize" frequently via self-deprecation and would promise to change. Over time, however, the stance changed to "this is the way I am, deal with it." I really tried to do exactly that. I blamed myself for not being more forgiving toward this person. I blamed myself for my inability to accommodate this person's behavior without being hurt. I finally came to the point where I told this dearly beloved person that I was going to choose to set some boundaries in regard to their behavior. I acknowledged that my decision to set boundaries was going to change the dynamics of our relationship. However, I made it clear that I regarded our relationship as sacred and would continue to love this person. This person soon decided that the new dynamics brought about by the establishment of boundaries were unacceptable and thus chose to remove from the relationship.

We are now divorced.

Apologies are often used for self-protection or self-preservation. The athlete or celebrity who issues an apology after saying something stupid is usually trying to lessen the impact on their financial resources. Often apologies are used in relationships as a "get out of jail free" card or crying "parlay" in the pirate code. It is supposed to halt all consequences of one's actions immediately without actual honest repentance, dialog, and useful forgiveness. True apologies are reparative. They are relational. They are focused on our personal behavior and its effect on the other, requiring us to understand as best we can the experience of the other.

I'm looking forward to your follow-up.

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Thank you all for your comments. Part Two is now available, and I hope that it, too, may prompt a similar consideration of how much deeper our relationships could be.

Read Across America at Burney Elementary School: A Seussian Story

First grade teacher Ginny Casaurang leads her students in an exercise to sort real and imaginary words into two lists as they await their ...