Small Apologies

Today’s premise: There’s no such thing as an apology. But first, let’s go shopping!


Who ever said that shopping for greeting cards can’t be fun?

Have you ever really thought about apologies? I mean like really hard? Like pausing Nirvana and putting down the smartphone and thinking? I tried it. And the only conclusion I could come up with is that there’s no such thing as an apology.

The Apology Process

  1. Establish boundaries: Acceptable limits of behavior are defined.
  2. Ignore boundaries: One party says “I want” and stomps the other party’s garden of delicate flowers.
  3. Inference: The wounded party sets off a scud missile in the face of the guilty party.
  4. Acknowledgement: The narcissistic walls of defense are penetrated and the guilty party says, “Huh? That bothered you?”
  5. Deflection: An autonomic knee-jerk attempt to transform the victim into the guilty party. “You shouldn’t have put those flowers there in the first place!”
  6. Discomfort: The guilty party realizes they don’t like being in trouble.
  7. Projection: The guilty party is able to see how they will personally be affected in some undesirable way. (Loss of freedom, status, income, prestige, etc.)
  8. Action: Some words are said in the assumption it will end the unpleasantness.
  9. Repeat process starting at Step 2.

Is an apology real? Let’s take a look.

Is the action being committed without hesitation? With no signs of remorse? Is it repeatedly done again and again? Is it being flaunted? Bragged about?

After the moment of discovery, what then? Are they still defiant? Do they show any sign of empathy or remorse?

Then, finally, come real and concrete consequences. “What? I have to pay? I’m going to lose my job? You’re breaking up with me? I’m going to jail? I’m being kicked out?”

If the so-called “apology” comes only after being stared down by stark and harsh consequences, what meaning can it possibly have? How can it be anything other than an expression of: “I don’t like what is happening. I’m being affected. I want it to stop. I’m willing to say words to that affect. I just want things to go back to the way they were before, you know, before I was going to be personally affected. That’s all I want. Please oh please oh please oh please.”

I would assume that any apology that comes after getting caught and while facing consequences is absolutely meaningless. By definition. It’s like pointing a loaded gun at my head and forcing me to say, “I think Sean Hannity is a good person.” Of course I’m going to say it but that doesn’t magically make it true. The loaded gun is temporarily overriding the normal laws of physics. So, in that situation, what possible meaning can my words possibly have?

If you are the victim of an apology, what should you do? Experts say you should look for, at a minimum, these three signs:

  1. Statement of Regret
  2. Acceptance of Responsibility
  3. Willingness to Remedy

Hey, look. Three R’s. Why is the Tertiary R paradigm so prevalent in our culture? That’s a topic for another day.

Let’s apply a common apology to these simple standards.

“I’m sorry.”

Hmm. Not too good. Only one of those criteria is kinda sorta met. Therefore, anyone who tries saying that to me is going to get kicked in the nards.

What do you think? Can apologies ever be real? Can someone deep in hot water truly have the capacity to apologize for real reasons other than saving their own bacon?

Sorry, but I remain doubtful.

14 responses

  1. It’s harder to apologize to our daughter if I did wrong. That ‘s tough.


    1. Something tells me that if it was easy it would have little meaning. 🙂


  2. NotAPunkRocker | Reply

    IDK. I think the larger the infraction, the less sincere it might be (or just apologizing for the wrong reason…sorry I got caught vs. sorry I did this). I am the wrong person to ask though…hopefully someone else can weigh in and be reasonable about it 🙂


    1. I’m just struck by the number of people who seem like they couldn’t give the remotest of shits right up to the moment they get caught and face serious consequences. Only then are they suddenly contrite and apologetic. So I wonder: Do their ass-saving gestures have any meaning at all? I have to wonder!


      1. NotAPunkRocker

        Exactly. Or the reverse psychology/manipulative apology “I really wish Shout would forgive me for my transgressions.” Ugh!


  3. Kimberly Mason | Reply

    I think, as humans, we are always going to be stepping on other people’s toes; including those we love. I think apologies can be sincere, especially when people really look in on themselves and their behavior and think, “Oh crap, why was I acting like such an ass!? I was wrong.” I do that.
    And when I say sorry, I really mean it.
    I will say sorry and then state why I am sorry and then ask how I can make it up. And not so people won’t give me consequences, because I will take those when I deserve, but because I feel guilty for hurting the other person’s feelings. I know there are other people like this; that will take what comes as punishment and still say sorry.


    1. I think you’re right. Getting caught can trigger a true and sincere change. It’s possible. I just think it’s a rare thing. Now if someone felt guilty enough to apologize and make amends before getting caught, I think that’s a lot more sincere.

      Thanks for the excellent comment!


  4. Gotta say that I completely agree with the ‘gun to the head’ Hannity metaphor. If you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar and say I’m sorry are you really Sorry? Not just apologetic as in the following instances of I’m Sorry
    a) no fucking way. I’m gonna wait till you’re out of the room and try again
    b) I’m sorry you have a gun and all I’m holding is this banana

    I just made an amends to someone the other day. Have several more to make. An amends is a hell of a lot different than saying I’m Sorry. IT contains ALL of your Three Rs. The first hurdle is being Willing To Admit You Were An Idiot; you hurt someone and had no reason to do so.
    You have to be willing. There may be a time period between the acceptance of Willing and the actual amends. That’s okay.
    The person I made the amends to sent me back a copy with comments in re specifying where and how she thought I was full of shit.
    Hey, she used to be a teacher.
    I sent her another letter in response to her Red Highlighter response.
    You know why? (Say yes) I fucked up and hurt this person. I feel horrible about this and it happened two years ago. Took me this long to get up the willingness and courage to make the amends, or as you Refer to them (hey! another R) the Three Rs.

    She did forgive me, or said that she did. Don’t know if we’ll be real friends in the future, but I WANTED to make sure she knew that I was at fault. It isn’t about the other person accepting your Three Rs. It’s about Your willingness to take care of it.
    Pro-Tip: Keep your side of the street clean.
    Pro-Tip #2: When you’re at fault admit it as soon as you can. Don’t let that sh*t fester in your head, or the hurtee’s cerebellum either.
    More Sleep! Less Filling!

    Great piece and oh-so-timely for me. Thanks Tom!


    1. Thanks for the wonderful comment. Luckily most of us get plenty of opportunity to practice those Three Rs, eh? 🙂

      Ultimately I think forgiveness is a selfish act. It’s something you do for yourself that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the person who wronged you. I’m told that it’s not healthy to withhold forgiveness and carry the hate. That would make forgiveness something done for my own welfare. But I wouldn’t know about that. I haven’t tried it yet.


      1. Agree that there IS something in it for myself. I Also believe that it does help the person you have wronged. It allows them to sleep well too. I carry past hurts, and some are from childhood. These have affected who I’ve become as a person.
        If the cruelty had been acknowledged it would have lifted a great burden.
        Oh, and we know how cruel children (and grown-ups) can be.

        Bottom line: works both ways. Still believe that the Willingness to admit we were f*cking D-Bags is the start. You’re right as well though. It is selfish because it weighs on OUR the mind and heart so we want to feel better, before making that apology.
        Tough one!

        Thanks Tom 🙂


  5. “I’m sorry you feel that way.” is just a passive way of saying, “You’re stupid to think that way.”

    “There was an error in judgment.” is a coward’s way of saying, “I screwed up, but can’t really stomach the thought of taking responsibility for anything.

    Drives me crazy.


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