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Why Apologies Matter

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

Do you have questions?  Belladonna Rogers has answers.  Send your questions or comments about politics, personal or cultural matters, or anything else that’s on your mind, and Belladonna will answer as many as possible.  The names, geographic locations and email addresses of all advice-seekers will be kept confidential. Names and places and other personal information will be changed to protect the identity of the questioner.  Send your questions or comments to: [email protected]