Saturday, January 07, 2006

Pained apology

I recently received an apology from someone I knew. It was crap. In fact it was one of the worst apologies I had ever received. And it's not the first time. This is someone who is so bad at apologising that he actually makes any situation worse than before when he says 'sorry'.

In this instance, as is usually the case, it was a very minor issue where I had gently chided him for chasing me up about a non-essential issue before I'd had a chance to do anything about it. His response was "I don't think I deserve being called a nag, but I apologize to you if you think so." It's like talking to a politician. He denies that the accusation is valid but grudgingly agrees to humor me with the word anyway. But wait! There's more! He then goes on to explain in detail about how I had mislead him as to the situation and how it was my fault all along. All of which converts a bijou mole living space into a geographical feature visible from orbit.

He's pissed at me and I am now pissed at him where I wasn't before, but it's all so pathetically trivial that I can't be bothered to call him on it. That and it feels like anyone who over-reacts over such a minor issue is hardly going to be receptive when you try to talk to them about a real problem they have.

The dictionary gives several definitions of 'Apology', but the main one is this:

a·pol·o·gy Audio pronunciation of "apology" ( P ) Pronunciation Key (-pl-j)
n. pl. a·pol·o·gies
  1. An acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense.

Now if you refuse to acknowledge that you are at fault and deny responsibility for any offense then it's not an apology, however much you claim it is.

It's an insecurity thing, I think. And we all go through it when we are young. I know I remember a time when I found it tremendously difficult to admit that I had done something wrong, even when it was a genuine accident or misunderstanding. And later I too went through a period where I would apologise, but still find a way to deny responsibility for the situation. But at some point I became secure enough in myself that I understood that I could acknowledge my mistakes without it diminishing me in any way.

How to apologise

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel that you should make an apology to someone, keep it simple. Like the definition says, an acknowledgement expressing regret or asking pardon. Any attempt to elaborate beyond this should be strictly avoided.

Good example:

I'm sorry I stepped on your toe.

Bad example:

I'm sorry I stepped on your toe but your stupid foot shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Even if you do believe that the other person shares some responsibility for the problem, ie, putting their foot somewhere that it might easily be trodden on, it's irrelevent. An apology acknowledges your responsibility, nobody elses. If they then have the grace to acknowledge they were also at fault, then that's cool. But it's for them to say, not for you to point out. Plus, you know, if they then fail to do so you can feel morally superior to them for the rest of the day.


Sleestak said...

I doubt you have any problems feeling morally superior.

Snard said...

I think a simple rule of thumb is that no apology needs to include the word "but".

And sleestak, was it really necessary to "zing" Marionette on this? I'm sure she was pained by the original apology, no need to make things worse here.

Sleestak said...


Actually, we be kinda pals. I'm sure she got the joke.

Marionette said...

Good thought Snard. I think you've summed it up. As for Slee, I'll get him later when he least expects it. Bwahahahahaha!

Snard said...

My turn to apologise for being overly critical of Sleestak; it's always hard to tell when someone is being humourous when there isn't a smiley in there.

(I'm being sneaky above by using a semicolon instead of the word "but" :-) )

Ragnell said...

Shame on you, Snard!

Sleestak said...

I despise smileys, even back when they were called emoticons

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