The non-apology — Armchair Philosophy

Let’s talk a bit about how most of us are pretty bad at apologizing.

Episode script:


Today, I want to speak to people who screw up, and how our apologies usually suck.


When you’re wronged, what you want is very simple. While many will want vengeance, or humiliation on the part of the person who wronged them, and I get that, most of us just want one thing:

Remorse. And understanding. Okay. Two things.

But that remorse has to be actual remorse.

So when that remorse comes in the form of a bullshit apology, that doesn’t actually help anybody.

I believe in a forgiving world. Believe it or not, I’m a forgiving person. As angry as I appear to be in these videos, a lot of that is for dramatic and comedic effect. I have forgiven people who have stolen from me. I have forgiven people who have lied to me. I have forgiven people who have hurt me, then lied — to my face — about it.

Why? Nobody wants to be in trouble. Nobody wants to have screwed up, or done the wrong thing. But every single one of us can, has, and will again, screw up. And it’s only decent to forgive.

But there’s a big if on that principle.

I forgive only, ONLY, when I think people are actually sorry.

And this is where the non-apology comes in.

The examples I gave were personal. Let’s go public with this business. Let’s go full public bullshit apology.

Now we’ve seen this, time and again, and let me know if this particular bit of public relations jargon sounds familiar to you:

“In my heart of hearts, I’m not racist/sexist/homophobic (or whatever), and I apologize if anybody was offended.”

Nobody, in our personal or professional life, cares what we think we are. Including that information in your apology, especially at the start, is a very nice way of saying, “I’m a good person, and therefore everything I did was actually okay.”

And even if WE don’t feel that, as the apologizer, this is what OTHER PEOPLE feel, as the apologizee.

They, the people receiving the apology, do not care if we think we’re a good person or not.

Next, the “I’m not.” The I’m not takes many forms. “I’m not racist. I’m not sexist. I’m not homophobic.” It goes on from there. This could just as easily be a fight about forgetting to do the dishes, really. “I’m not lazy. I just didn’t want to do the dishes today.” Great! They super needed us to do the dishes today, and they get to be mad about the fact that we didn’t. Because we were supposed to do the dishes.

Nobody cares if we believe we’re a dishes-doer. Because we didn’t do the dishes. The dishes aren’t done.

But now, the real offender. The creme de’ la’ creme of asshole things to say:

“I’m sorry if you were offended.”

<Blank stare, followed by exasperation.>

We, people who wronged another, do not get to apologize for how they feel.

What everybody wants is for us to say, “I’m sorry for the thing that I did. Here’s why it was wrong, and here’s why I know it was wrong, and here’s what I will do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

But that almost never happens.

Instead, people apologize for how their actions made people feel.

So let’s say I shoot you. I, hypothetical person who has damaged you. Let’s say I pulled out a gun, and shot you.

Do I get to say, “In my heart of hearts, I know I’m not a person who would shoot people. I apologize if anybody felt that they were shot?”

No. I say, “I’m really sorry I shot you. I shot you because I’m an asshole, and I’m sorry I’m an asshole. I will try really hard not to be an asshole in the future. Let’s go find you a doctor.” And this, my friends, is why the public relations non-apology is complete bullshit.

Be sorry, or don’t. If you’re not sorry, don’t apologize! I would actually respect you more.

That being said, if you aim to apologize, you have to mean it. Do it right. Apologize for what you did. Not how what you did made somebody else feel.

For Sofa Justice Warriors, I’m Joe. Thank you everybody, good night.

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