Critical Thinking as Purposeful Questions                                                                     

                                                  NOT WHAT YOU EXPECT FROM AN APOLOGY

                                                  NOT WHAT YOU EXPECT FROM AN APOLOGY

1. Are you not at least sometimes annoyed by the glibness of "I'm sorry."?

2. Is there not a fool's gold quality to some instances of "I'm sorry"?

3. Does not the frequency with which that phrase is used cause you to wonder about its genuineness?

There is something wrong with any public expression that can be used as a response to ramming my car AND to being in front of me when I am wanting to exit a building, don't you think? 

I think my dyspeptic reaction to many instances of "i'm sorry" is caused by a preference that people reserve "i'm sorry" for situations (1)that they caused and (2) that they are planning to repair by contemporary and future behavior. Surely you must know people who apologize for anything and everything. I guess you could say they are people who have a need to take verbal responsibility for whatever might cause others some discomfort. But when they do so, they make it very difficult for me to believe that they are feeling anything special WHEN THEY SHOULD BE FEELING REGRET.

One of the reasons I included the image above is because it illustrates the need to hear more than an expression of regret. In each of the cases in the image above  the ceremonial "i'm sorry" is but a prelude to the real message, viz., "you should repair what is wrong with YOU." My point here is that what is joined to the apology makes all the difference in a proper interpretation of it. Saying "i'm sorry" unalloyed with your thoughts associated with the alleged statement of regret is like serving squirrel to someone who thinks she is eating chicken. Is not the automaticity of "i'm sorry" reflective of an escape from meaningful responsibility?

Meaningful responsibility might sound like the following: 

I'm sorry. . .

  1. you should not have been placed in such a position by my thoughtless behavior (followed by a description of my behavior.
  2. I have been making that same mistake frequently, and I am taking actions to improve. I would appreciate it if you would monitor my future improvement and let me know how I am doing.
  3. And you can rest assured that I will take responsibility for all the costs I have imposed on you.
  4. I know how you are feeling, and while I cannot imagine how terrible your situation is, please know that I am available to talk with you at all times if you believe I can be of any comfort or support.

Unless those alternatives are mechanical strategies for some egotistical purpose, each of them is, to me, an instance of relational respect.  As such, they are welcome and admirable. An argument can even be made that we should provide that kind of developed apology often even when we do not feel we have done something wrong. Some relationships are so valuable that providing a full-blown, reflective apology THAT YOU DO NOT BELIEVE IS DESERVED may be an act of diplomatic genius. That you are engaged in a deceit seems a small price to pay for preserving a treasured link to another person.

In a strange way this post is urging that apologies be made, but only those apologies that are conjoined with something much more than "i'm sorry." Those words merged with our understanding of what was done, how it was blameworthy, and how the person experiencing regret plans to rectify the wrong in the future represent a caring, empathetic response to behavior that on a better day would not have occurred in the first place. But that form of apology is not to be confused with perfunctory, habitual showers of verbal regret that permit the person making the so-called apology to escape the kind of reflection that would lead to improved behavior in similar circumstances.

Are there any circumstances when it is meritorious to issue an unthinking "i'm sorry."

Is this post but an illustration of the more general rule that reflection is preferred to reflex (unless you are in an emergency situation)?

Is there such a thing as overly frequent apologies?


AuthorM Neil Browne