Apologies are necessary. We all make mistakes. When the mistakes affect others, it’s time to apologize. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, we have been warned not to, as it might implicate us in guilt and result in a lawsuit. That’s a tough way to live your life. Particularly if think you don’t need to apologize; others should just understand.
Here are incidents that require an apology:
- You bump into someone on the street, particularly if you are texting.
- You step in front of someone who is waiting in an existing line, even if you did not know it was a line.
- You hurt someone’s feelings, even if you didn’t do it on purpose.
- You say something offensive, even if you didn’t think it was offensive.
Notice all the “even if” phrases. Yes, you can apologize when you didn’t realize you had hurt someone’s feelings. That’s not being politically correct, that is showing kindness.
Our society has developed new kinds of apologies that aren’t apologies at all. They fall into two classifications:
- “I’m sorry you are stupid.” Blaming the victim is not a strong place to stand. There are people who may not agree with you, may even not be as smart as you. In fact, they may be ignorant of the knowledge you are familiar with. They may even be (gasp!) wrong. None of those situations makes it OK to be condescending. If you hurt them (and hurt is in the mind of the hurtee), you owe them an apology. And not one that sounds like, “I’m sorry you don’t have the brain power to see that I am the innocent one.”
- “I’m sorry you made me angry enough to lash out at you.” Very similar to the first excuse, this rationalization is not an apology, it’s an explanation of your own weakness. Blaming others and then apologizing for their perceived wrong-doing is not an apology. It’s an ego trip.
Apologizing for hurting someone feelings, no matter how much we don’t understand the feelings, is simply saying, “I acknowledge you as a human being with physical and psychological boundaries, and I just crossed one of them.” It is not an admission that you, yourself, are an idiot, or wrong, or despicable, although all of those may be true.
The key to apologizing is to say, “I’m sorry,” or “Pardon me,” or even “Excuse me,” without any conditions added. Saying “excuse me,” while you squeeze in front of the line is not an apology, it’s a notification. Of the size of your ego and your need for attention.
We live in volatile times. Small niceties matter. If we can’t give up our own needs to be right and first, nothing will change.
—Quinn McDonald is pretty sure not everyone can be right all the time.