Why Apologies Matter
PJM's advice columnist on the surprising power of "I'm sorry."
January 31, 2012 - 12:07 am
What doesn’t constitute an apology is a one-word, “Sorry,” except for minimal inconveniences. For anything serious, “sorry” is a brush-off masquerading as an apology. If you seek to minimize the gravity of the harm you inflicted, then “sorry” will convey that. Like a shrug accompanied by “Whatever,” it expresses casual dismissal.
As is often noted, an apology is invalidated by the weaselly word “if” — as in, “I’m sorry if I did anything to offend you.” Nor should an apology blame the injured person for being hurt, as in, “I’m sorry you were upset.” Both forms of pseudo-apology fail to take responsibility for causing the other person’s distress and implicitly criticize the victim for his or her reasonable response to mistreatment.
It takes a mature and psychologically secure human being to offer a genuine apology. Far from being a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. An employer who apologizes for an unfair outburst to an employee will gain greater respect, not lose face.
It also takes a decent person to forgive. Indeed, there’s a moral imperative to forgive if you believe the apology is genuine, if you can forgive in good faith, and if the offense is, in fact, forgivable — which not all are.
You don’t have to stroll arm-in-arm into the mist with the person who’s apologized to you, although a genuine apology can be the beginning – or the continuation — of a beautiful friendship. If not, it will at least put an honorable end to a relationship, like a firm period instead of an emotionally irritating semi-colon.
– Belladonna Rogers
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