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The Psychology of Apology
April 2, 2013 7:04 AM   Subscribe

Apologies function as a social lubricant. They smooth hurt feelings and make interactions easier. So why is it so difficult to say "I'm sorry"? It turns out there may be psychological benefits from refusing to apologize.
posted by wolfdreams01 (69 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Difficult? People in my social circle preface judgmental or controversial opinions with "I'm sorry but..." all the time.
posted by mkb at 7:06 AM on April 2, 2013


#sorrynotsorry
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:13 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


The real question is can we conclusively identify jerky jerkfaces so we can properly send them to live on a horrible non-apologetic island?
posted by GenjiandProust at 7:18 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yo, a revolution's what it's smelling like, it ain't going be televised
Governments is hellified, taking cake and selling pies
I ain't got a crust or crumb, to get some I'd be well obliged
Murder is commodified, felon for the second time
Never was I into chasing trouble I was followed by
Facing trouble with no alibi, had to swallow pride
Vilified, victimized, penalized, criticized
Ran into some people that's surprised I was still alive
Look into my daughter's eyes, wonder how can I provide
Got to get from A to B but how can I afford to drive?
Messed around, tried to get a job and wasn't qualified
Had to see a pal of mine, got to get the lightning rod
Now I'm in the black Impala looking for the dollar sign
Palms get the itching man I got to get the calamine
Before I fall behind, guess the grind will be my 9 to 5
I will not be conquered by, I will not apologize
posted by shakespeherian at 7:20 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


mkb: that's more a verbal tic than an apology. Besides, "nothing someone says before the word "but" really counts."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:24 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


[T]he current findings are remarkable given that an apology refusal may, in some cases, reinforce commitment to antisocial behavior that has harmed another individual and is largely perceived by others to be unjust.

This is interesting though-- that, rather than people not apologizing because they are dicks, people can become worse dicks because they refuse to apologize.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:26 AM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


"I'm sorry but..." is not so much an apology as shorthand for "I'm sorry if you're offended by this but..."

So basically a single notch on the politeness bar over "hey, I'm just tellin' it like it is."
posted by griphus at 7:27 AM on April 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


Wait, what is the thing notches are supppsed to be on in that metaphor?
posted by griphus at 7:28 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Should this paper be run in the UK papers, in a country where "I'm sorry" can be a preface that can loosely translate as "the fuck, you did WHAT?", or "get your bloody chav ass back in line, son", or many thousands of other things short of an actual apology?
posted by C.A.S. at 7:30 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait, what is the thing notches are supppsed to be on in that metaphor?

Your gear driven Etiquette Apparatus.
posted by notyou at 7:32 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


"No disrespect intended, but..."
posted by Splunge at 7:36 AM on April 2, 2013


Wait, what is the thing notches are supppsed to be on in that metaphor?

I'm sorry, but if you don't know you shouldn't be making metaphors. I'm just telling it like it is.
posted by DU at 7:37 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

fuck you
it's your fault
you should have
put a note on them
posted by chillmost at 7:39 AM on April 2, 2013 [105 favorites]


I accept your apology, DU. It's totally okay.
posted by griphus at 7:39 AM on April 2, 2013


...or it can also be simply good business.

(qv: Apple's apology yesterday to China.)
posted by fairmettle at 7:40 AM on April 2, 2013


I'm sorry, but you just trod on my foot. Now get the hell off my toes. It can all be explained by this short explanatory video.
posted by arcticseal at 7:41 AM on April 2, 2013


Taken together, the results of these two studies provide converging evidence that there can be beneficial psychological consequences for individuals who refuse to provide an apology to the victims of their harmful actions. The positive relationship between apology refusals and indices of self-worth were consistent across the two methodologies. This pattern was evident when manipulating the type of event recalled in Study 1, suggesting that it is indicative of a harm-doers' authentically unapologetic feelings about a past transgression. Furthermore, this basic pattern was replicated when manipulating participants' unapologetic response in Study 2, suggesting that the findings of Study 1 were not due to confounding features of the different event types recalled and that the act of refusal had a causal impact on feelings of self-worth.
This explains to me the unrepentant posture and continued obstructionism of many so-called US Conservatives.
posted by mistersquid at 7:42 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love apologizing. This is something I've only come to appreciate in my dotage. I'm not talking about reflexive, cringing apologies or bullshit PR apologies. I'm talking about knowing that someone might be harboring a small bad feeling about you because of something you did or failed to do, and making it right. It feels great. Mr HotToddy, I notice, has also started to apologize more often for his marital misdeeds rather than go into autodefend, and things are much better between us because of it. As it pertains to self-esteem, mine is higher knowing that things are good with my family and friends.
posted by HotToddy at 7:44 AM on April 2, 2013 [30 favorites]


Non-apology apologies are a huge pet peeve of mine and everywhere these days. Some people go into paroxysms of assholery at the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance.

Also on preview - I also enjoy apologizing. It's hard, but like everything else, it gets easier with practice.
posted by sibboleth at 7:44 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Notwithstanding the need for further specification, the current findings are remarkable given that an apology refusal may, in some cases, reinforce commitment to antisocial behavior that has harmed another individual and is largely perceived by others to be unjust. In the current research, the heightened self-relevant perceptions of power/control and value integrity implied by the explicit act of refusing to apologize appeared to trump any potential negative effect on self-esteem resulting from the defense of harmful actions. Such findings may help to explain barriers to reconciliation and the seemingly irrational, antisocial, or callous behavior of harm-doers in real-world contexts. For example, in judicial proceedings, even when apologies are inadmissible as evidence of culpability, many offenders still refuse their counsel's suggestion to apologize despite the likelihood that it will reduce sentencing severity (Robbennolt, 2003). Within organizations, effectiveness and learning may be hindered by a leader's reluctance to admit error and take responsibility, perhaps indicative of a more fundamental tension between the organizational goals that leaders are charged with implementing and their self-oriented goals to maintain power and status (see Magee, Gruenfeld, Keltner, & Galinsky, 2004). In intergroup contexts, symbolic apologies in response to historical victimizations are a common strategy for trying to promote reconciliation (see Blatz & Philpot, 2010; Chapman, 2007; Philpot & Hornsey, 2008, 2011; Wohl, Hornsey, & Bennett, 2012), but the debate about whether or not such apologies should be conferred often becomes a major political issue, giving rise to added contention between groups. Recognition of the self-serving consequences of nonconciliatory behaviors, which may deny victims of harm psychological closure, provides much needed insight into the psychology of unrepentant harm-doers.
In other words, better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.
posted by notyou at 7:45 AM on April 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I love how this in the paper:

examination of this work suggests that there may actually be potential psychological “benefits” for harm-doers who explicitly refuse to apologize to their victims

gets its quotations stripped out in the FPP:

It turns out there may be psychological benefits from refusing to apologize.

The "benefits" are:

Notwithstanding the need for further specification, the current findings are remarkable given that an apology refusal may, in some cases, reinforce commitment to antisocial behavior that has harmed another individual and is largely perceived by others to be unjust.

So basically, it's like saying "Everyone knows stealing is bad. But there may be benefits to stealing! For example, you now have more cool stuff, and did not have to pay for it."
posted by Greg Nog at 7:45 AM on April 2, 2013 [59 favorites]


I will say that if one's interested in actively fostering respect among belligerent peers, this paper is a pretty sweet-ass accessory to yesterday's FPP about honor. Both point toward ways in which aggressions can escalate and people can become more entrenched in stubborn anger. That's wicked helpful in seeing the kinds of paths to avoid if one wants to smooth over fury-foofaraws.
posted by Greg Nog at 7:51 AM on April 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I shit you not in a conversation about stealing the other night I actually and genuinely said "oh yeah, where's the COMMANDMENT against stealing if it is objectively wrong?"

(Apparently there is one.)
posted by griphus at 7:53 AM on April 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


So why is it so difficult to say "I'm sorry"?

Wasn't difficult for miss Brenda Lee.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:54 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This research has an explicit assumption that protected integrity & inflated self-worth of this sort is a positive psychological outcome. The decontextualized self-esteem movement is IMO one of the dumber things psychology researchers and clinicians have ever proposed and pursued.
posted by srboisvert at 7:56 AM on April 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


I will say that if one's interested in actively fostering respect among belligerent peers, this paper is a pretty sweet-ass accessory to yesterday's FPP about honor.

I'm impressed somebody actually noticed that! That's why I posted it - the honor paper piqued my curiousity and inspired me to look at some more research in this general vein.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:58 AM on April 2, 2013


Refusing to apologize can have psychological benefits

Ahhhh, so my wife must be up to her eyeballs in psychological benefits by now...
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:58 AM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm with HotToddy on this one. The power of a simply apology is awesome and beautiful to behold.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:58 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm guessing the authors of this study didn't factor in whether or not the person you're refusing to apologize to is an exasperated, sleep-deprived new mom.
posted by saladin at 8:00 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


This research has an explicit assumption that protected integrity & inflated self-worth of this sort is a positive psychological outcome.

The paper doesn't ascribe moral value to that integrity, though! It's basically way more descriptive than prescriptive, saying, "Well, here's why someone might NOT apologize, even though it's counterproductive and makes them look bad." For example:

Within organizations, effectiveness and learning may be hindered by a leader's reluctance to admit error and take responsibility, perhaps indicative of a more fundamental tension between the organizational goals that leaders are charged with implementing and their self-oriented goals to maintain power and status

Think of the paper less as "Don't apologize" and more as "Here's why your jagoff boss doesn't apologize after he fucks up."
posted by Greg Nog at 8:02 AM on April 2, 2013 [11 favorites]


I think it really depends on the personality of the person. People with more empathy are going to feel better about themselves, the person, and the situation in general if they apologize.

People who are more narcissistic and controlling tend to think of interpersonal relationships as battles that are won or lost, and an apology is like surrendering in a war. You lose face and you lose the battle. I knew a very narcissistic person who said "Never apologize, never admit you are wrong!"

I wonder if the study is showing data backwards. People who have strong senses of being in control are less likely to apologize, and so the data looks like apologizing reduces that sense, when it really identifies people who are more empathetic and less confrontational. Apologies are hard, but they can make you feel better about yourself in the long run.

Maybe not the best analogy, but I feel worse after I exercize, but I feel much better in the long run.
posted by eye of newt at 8:03 AM on April 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


Ugh. I dislike apologies, for the most part. Experience has suggested that, most of the time, I can substitute in for "I'm sorry" the more extended "Oh, how dreadful; you have caught me. Let me offer a token apology. I am not, in fact, filled with sorrow, not in the least. I will back off a bit, then I will later slowly ease back into the aforementioned behavior in a more stealthy manner, so that you might not notice." Sincerity means not doing it, whatever it is, again. If you're just going to keep at it, don't tell me you're sorry.

The other form of "I'm sorry" is the "I'm sorry you feel this way." That seems to translate to: I would be happier if you felt a different way about this outcome, because that would be less friction for me, but this is how it is going to be and things are not going to change in the slightest.

That usually comes from a position of power and is also insincere. That's the "consensus" in the lower portion of the paper.

I know little white lies grease the wheels of civilization and all of that. Still, when the most honest communication you have in a day seems to involve placing your sandwich order, there's something to be said for silence.
posted by adipocere at 8:06 AM on April 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


If I can at least mumble a couple of words the right way this time, the. committy, board, whetrver, might let me see the flowers and the sun this weekend.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:08 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


While my natural inclination is to apologize if I feel it's warranted, I've learned not to in some circumstances if it can be avoided; generally this is when I'm obliged to interact with assholes -- because even if I don't see apology as weakness, they do, and if you apologize they will grasp at it and they will exploit it to oppose you in matters well beyond the range and magnitude of thing that the apology covers.

Mostly this is some insanely competitive twat in the workplace, but it applies in public forums as well, and the net effect can be to make what would and should have been comparatively easy a lot more difficult for not very good reasons.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:08 AM on April 2, 2013


This article is concerned with the value or non-value of the apology of a person who has committed harm on another person. And I assume the structure has to do with the fact that the justice system places a certain value on apologies or remorse. And this paper is pointing out that there are self-esteem benefits to the harmer, to not apologize. It also goes on to discuss how these benefits are to the person, not to their relationships and not to society. Specifically
For example, the act of refusing to apologize may be much less psychologically advantageous for harm-doers when considering relational outcomes (e.g., relationship quality, group identification, and belongingness) that are less self-focused and are more likely to capture the importance of the dialogical interplay between a harm-doer and his or her victim.
Basically what notyou says. I don't think it speaks to the value of not apologizing to non-harm-doers. I remain secure in my feeling that apologizing is generally a decent thing to do for me and my self-esteem which was not in any danger in the first place.
posted by jessamyn at 8:09 AM on April 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


I love apologizing. This is something I've only come to appreciate in my dotage.

Me, too! It's been a relief to get to a point in my life where I can recognize (mostly, anyway) when an apology is needed and to make one that's sincere. It's been a relief to get to a point where I pretty much don't care anymore if the apology makes me look "weak" or loses me status - though that I think is mostly because I am only friends/family with people who don't spend any time making careful calculations of who owes what to whom (socially speaking) among their friends/family. In this context, an apology does not "cost" me anything, and benefits me, the person I'm apologizing to, and our wider circles.
posted by rtha at 8:13 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


"No disrespect intended, but..."

Or on the tail end, "...but I don't mean that in a bad way."
posted by fuse theorem at 8:13 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I didn't fully appreciate the value of apologizing until I converted to Judaism and began to celebrate Yom Kippur. During this annual holiday it's traditional to apologize to important people in your life for any wrongs you may have done them, even unintentionally, over the previous year.

I apologize sincerely to my family members and close friends. It's a wonderful relief. And I think it h brought us closer together for me to acknowledge that yes, sometimes we hurt each other, and I'm sorry for doing that to you.
posted by bq at 8:20 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's been a relief to get to a point where I pretty much don't care anymore if the apology makes me look "weak" or loses me status

I feel pained by it, but I think I've come to be less pain-averse as I've grown, because the process of feeling my ego break down is almost always a signal that I'm about to grow in a new and interesting way.

Apologies feel very much of a piece with hard exercise, or learning how to perceive the world in a new way. In each case, I'm removing a blockage that's preventing me from becoming a better person. The exercise makes me stronger, the learning makes me smarter, and apologizing is a thing that ultimately makes me more empathetic.

This is not to say that I'm an expert at it, any more than I'm a world-class weightlifter or artist; but I'm getting better at it, and it's been one of the best things about aging.

I mean, the absolute best is my salt-and-pepper hair, of course, which is just delicious as FUCK
posted by Greg Nog at 8:26 AM on April 2, 2013 [16 favorites]


Apologies would be so much easier if they weren't an all or nothing shot. I think I could pretty consistently pull off being somewhat sorry and sort of apologizing for my transgressions.
posted by klarck at 8:34 AM on April 2, 2013


Should this paper be run in the UK papers, in a country where "I'm sorry" can be a preface that can loosely translate as "the fuck, you did WHAT?", or "get your bloody chav ass back in line, son", or many thousands of other things short of an actual apology?

At a shared dinner table in an old hotel in England, I saw an American woman reach across an older English woman's plate for something (the salt, or whatever) instead of asking for it to be passed. The Englishwoman leaned back out of her way, looked daggers at her and said "I'm sorry" in a tone that clearly meant "WTF you ill-mannered clod?" It's amazing what tone can convey.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:36 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


...And I'm gonna try to practice what I talked about above: wolfdreams01, if you saw my earlier comment as a poke at you (specifically, the part about calculating who owes who what), I apologize. I did not notice until I checked my recent activity who posted this fpp, and the comment was not directed at you. I apologize if it felt that way, and if it hurt you or made you feel at all bad or targeted or anything like that.

Greg Nog - I get my hair dyed a couple times a year because it's fun, but it's always pretty cool to see the silver-and-black come back!
posted by rtha at 8:37 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rtha, I didn't feel at all insulted by your comment. I recognize that I have a very different opinion than many people on Metafilter about what the ideal world should look like, and acknowledging that difference is not inherently insulting to me. Thank you for the apology, but it really isn't necessary.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:49 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I was learning English I assumed that sorry was a diminutive of sore. Like little pains and aches. It makes perfect sense, you tell people that you are in a little bit of pain because you caused them a bigger pain, which trends to be the case when you apologize sincerely. But then I would also say things like 'My belly is sorry for eating all the ice cream this morning' and 'I tripped down the stairs, I'm really really sorry'.

Then one day the principal ordered me to apologize to someone. I walked up to this kid and said, my face the picture of contrition and dripping sincerity, 'my knuckles are very sorry for punching you in the mouth'. I got in so much trouble.

But yeah, the older I get the easier it is to apologize, but I think it has to do with having areas of my life where I am succesful and respected. I have a mate and a job and a family and a place to live, and none of these will be at risk if I lose face with strangers on the street. I don't know how much of a privilege this is.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 8:52 AM on April 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


All right, I apologize!

(bet he felt loads better after getting that off his chest)
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 8:52 AM on April 2, 2013


Bah humbug grain of salt. Interesting but I don't 100% buy the manipulations or data.

In Study 1, online participants imagined specific events for which they had either apologized or refused to apologize, then answered a questionnaire. This self-selecting of bad-memories-that-I-remember-(not)apologizing-for means that people could very much be (1) selecting very, very different kinds of baseline events, regardless of severity or apology, and (2) reinforcing their feelings, such as self-esteem, about the event. Self-esteem was operationalized as ratings on a 1-7 scale of how good or proud (etc) people felt about things. The experiment itself could very much be driving the measurement of self-esteem. (My moral compass is just fine but reporting how "good" or "proud" I feel about an event for which I did or did not apologize is complicated.)

And in Study 2, participants imagined they had upset someone, that someone asked for an apology, participants imagined a response / refusal, and then subjects did the same self-report ratings of self esteem, power, etc. I like this because it strips away the problem in Study 1 of the baseline-memory-selected being different in the apology/refusal conditions. However, it also introduces the fact that the experimenter is telling you whether to apologize or not and then you're filling out a survey for that experimenter about how you feel.

So it's an interesting preliminary notion but I can't quite hop on board with their experimental manipulations or their measures of self-esteem to firmly believe their conclusions. The demand characteristics in particular seem off the charts. I look forward to seeing more research in this direction that minimizes these issues.

Presumably there are numerous IRB issues with participants actually apologizing or not to confederate experimenters, but that's the study I'd like to see! Pre-experiment measure of self-esteem et al., real-time actions (oops, you made/didn't make the experimenter lose your data), spoken or written apology (or refusal), post-experiment measures of self-esteem et al.

Apologizing got extra awesome once I learned to tamper down on the reflexive "Sorry that x-thing-I-didn't-do happened" sort.
posted by nicodine at 8:54 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I like apologizing. It usually means I've done something wrong, or wronged someone else, which isn't my goal, and have since realized my error. This puts me on the path to correcting it. When a correction becomes permanent, I become a better person. Thus, when I offer up an apology, I'm one step closer to the man I dream of being.

I see apologies as something freely given, not really owed, and certainly not demanded. Apologies are like automobile right-of-way. You don't take right-of-way, you yield it, or someone else yields it to you.

Of course, there are many people who don't see apologies (or right-of-way) like I do. I wish them good health and safe motoring.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:54 AM on April 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


When it comes to sincere stuff (rather than hey you still have my pencil oh sorry here ya go), I like to apologize most when that apology can open a conversation- as in "I just realised that I may have hurt you in this way/ I have done x thing that was wrong of me and I'm sorry".

That usually leads the other person to a) explain what they are actually upset about so that we can really discuss things and find a resolution or b) results in them letting me know that they haven't been hurt but then they are glad to know that I care and they feel safer being open around me.

I usually start off in this position and if they seem to abuse my goodwill or refuse to connect or are into power play stuff, I close myself down in that way until I'm never saying sorry, but I will say "I apologize for______" if it seems socially or morally neccessary.

If I am in a fight with someone, I am always able to find something that I can apologise for, EVEN IF I am right and they are wrong. I can be genuinely sorry that they are upset without believing that I am wrong, and trying to find what I need to be sorry for usually gives me a chance to check myself and humble down a little, because I'm rarely as right or as in-the-right as I think I am.

I can understand the desire for people to "prove" that they are sorry by changing but we're all human, change is difficult, we all fuck up, and we notice other peoples' fuckups more than our own and forgive them less. I think apologising helps us to combat that in ourselves.
posted by windykites at 9:07 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just this morning at work I responded to a followup email from my COO with "This fell through the cracks on my watch, I'll take care of it today." It's not going to get me promoted, but it's true, and now it's done. Any other response would have been BS and we'd still be going back and forth with half a dozen people involved saying one form or another of "it's not my job."

A sincere apology means "I get it, I'm on it, I'll do my best to ensure it doesn't happen again." It is the only thing that gives all parties involved the opportunity to move on.
posted by headnsouth at 9:07 AM on April 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


> Wait, what is the thing notches are supppsed to be on in that metaphor?

Your gear driven Etiquette Apparatus.


Pfft. Index-shifted EAs are so 1990. My ettiquette is a fixie.

I'm sorry
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:12 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dunno though, headnsouth, I think sometimes a sincere apology isn't just about resolving the issue but also about acknowleging the other person's feelings directly. Which is also relevant and valid.
posted by windykites at 9:15 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I read this paper, I felt it was written by people who, perhaps because of the personalities that led to their current careers, or because of the pressure in the circles in which they do research & publish, just don't get it. I certainly don't want these guys replying to my questions in Ask Me. Haven't they ever been in a relationship? Yeah--I know--anecdotal--not science, but really, there's a limit to objectivity. You're not required to be a non-human to do research involving humans so as to be objective.

In Real Life, apologies are, despite their being described by the same word, serving a large range of interpersonal purposes ranging from surrender to hostility. I'm reminded of those lists of the multiple meanings of the word "fuck." This is not the way to study apology.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:23 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Eh I think a lot of people are getting thrown on the paper because of the weirdo framing of this post-- the paper doesn't justify or encourage refusing to apologize. If anything it does more to explain why it's pretty assholish not to apologize when one is the offending party.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:25 AM on April 2, 2013


I dunno though, headnsouth, I think sometimes a sincere apology isn't just about resolving the issue but also about acknowleging the other person's feelings directly. Which is also relevant and valid.

Agreed. Didn't mean to imply otherwise. "I get it" = "I hear what you're saying, it matters." Of course you can't always change your behavior in response, sometimes what's done is done. And I think that's the rationalization people use to not apologize. ("That was years ago!" "MegaCorp wasn't the only company doing that." "I didn't own slaves!") But even if the damage can't be completely undone, acknowledging that the other person's perspective is valid and that you regret causing them harm ... or benefiting from the harm done to them by another party ... is important.
posted by headnsouth at 9:26 AM on April 2, 2013


The current spectacle of the public apology has been striking me as distinctly hinky for some time. You get talking heads (think Fox and Friends) appointing themselves figureheads in a position to demand and receive apologies. For a long time we had Oprah as kind of the de facto Chief Confessor, not sure who's going to take her place now. The first one I can remember is Hugh Grant, going on to ritually apologize in that boyish manner of cultivated diffidence, for getting some oral action in a car. Because you and I needed an apology for that, somehow. More recently we have Lance Armstrong representing a public offence which is certainly different in degree and given his explicilty accepted figurehead status in matters of health and fitness, probably a good deal more warranted. And then we have the criticism of non-apology or insufficient apology: again in Armstrong's case, probably easily warranted, but also the relentless quacking of our self-appointed apology vicars for MORE AND BETTER APOLOGY from pretty much everyone else as well. Which is one of the reasons I still have a sneaking regard for Charlie Sheen.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:30 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


While my natural inclination is to apologize if I feel it's warranted, I've learned not to in some circumstances if it can be avoided; generally this is when I'm obliged to interact with assholes -- because even if I don't see apology as weakness, they do, and if you apologize they will grasp at it and they will exploit it to oppose you in matters well beyond the range and magnitude of thing that the apology covers.

I find this interesting, because when I'm dealing with this sort of person a sincere apology from me seems to really throw them off guard. Maybe because I have never found the act of apologizing disempowering- in fact, taking responsibility for things* makes me feel more powerful. I have far more respect for people who don't pass the buck than I have for people who refuse to apologize. I've never understood why people see it as some sort of sign of strength, when admitting you made a mistake but will deal with it because you are so capable already that issuing an apology is in no way detrimental to your competent self, is totally kick-ass. To me, refusing to apologize looks weak and lacking in confidence.



*Things I am actually responsible for, of course. I don't take responsibility for other people's dumb behavior.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:42 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The end member might be Tiger Woods apologizing for banging all those strippers and porn stars.

Is there one single human on earth ever believed he was sorry he banged all those strippers and porn stars?
posted by bukvich at 9:43 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


At the same time, I agree that the trend for public apologies for something that no one in the general public needs an apology for is really stupid. But it comes from the place of "apologies make you weak", hence Fox News wanting Obama to apologize to George Bush for remarks made during the 2008 elections, and their obsessing about his "apology tour".
posted by oneirodynia at 9:45 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


So basically, it's like saying "Everyone knows stealing is bad. But there may be benefits to stealing! For example, you now have more cool stuff, and did not have to pay for it."

"We have cameras."
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 9:45 AM on April 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


It can also come down to what is the intent and context of the victim and the general bystanders. If the social context is demanding only that the wrongdoer acknowledge that they did something bad and then everyone can move on, then that's a relatively evenhanded context in which the socially gracious thing to do would be to apologise. In this context a sincere apology would be something along the lines of "I regret that I did the bad thing that I did."

But there's also other possibilities, where what's being demanded is less like an apology but is instead something more akin to public shaming, which has a lot in common with the idea of an apology making someone look weak, but isn't quite the same thing - because it's being enforced by the victim and the bystanders, and isn't related to the wrongdoer's internal monologue. In this context, the apology being demanded is closer to "I did a bad thing because I am a bad person. Everyone come and look at the bad thing I did so you can agree how bad a person I am." Making that kind of apology is a lot more damaging to the wrongdoer, even if they themselves would feel equally regretful and apologetic in either context.
posted by talitha_kumi at 11:44 AM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


In that context, I have always enjoyed this apology from MeatBomb.
posted by jessamyn at 11:53 AM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, we have to differentiate between apologies and fauxpologies, like the Lance Armstrong one. I think the study only deals with apologies.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:06 PM on April 2, 2013


There was an article in The Walrus a few years back about official apologies from the Canadian government which has recently been made into a documentary. The author, Mitch Miyagawa, is part of a family who's received official apologies for the Chinese Head Tax, internment of the Japanese in WWII, and Aboriginal Residential Schools. Really interesting read.
posted by emeiji at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Difficult? People in my social circle preface judgmental or controversial opinions with "I'm sorry but..." all the time.

"I'm sorry but" is not an apology; it's a euphemism for "you're wrong and I'll tell you why"

Mr HotToddy, I notice, has also started to apologize more often for his marital misdeeds rather than go into autodefend, and things are much better between us because of it.

I pretty much put people into 3 camps:

* Those who can say "I was wrong" and earnestly apologize
* Those who can do one or the other
* The rest of the jerkfaces (too many)

Fascinating, fascinating study. Thanks for posting. It seems like another case where peer-pressure/shaming can work positively. For forcing a kid to submit/apologize for accepted bad behavior (hitting, teasing, stealing), you are (based on this research) making her a better person.

I apologize 20-30 times a day. I fuck up a lot, and as others have said, it's incredibly relieving to accept responsibility for shit you do wrong, then move on. My 4 y.o. REALLY struggles with it, so now I feel better about FORCING her to do it.

A sincere apology means "I get it, I'm on it, I'll do my best to ensure it doesn't happen again." It is the only thing that gives all parties involved the opportunity to move on.

...

I dunno though, headnsouth, I think sometimes a sincere apology isn't just about resolving the issue but also about acknowleging the other person's feelings directly. Which is also relevant and valid.


Exactly. The most important part of the apology is the contrition, i.e. the understanding of why what you did was wrong, whom you hurt by it, and why.

"I'm sorry that offends you; I won't do it anymore" is 1/2 an apology. Recognizing and acknowledging your damage is a big part of it, imo.
posted by mrgrimm at 12:35 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


[Otto dangles Archie out a window]
Archie: All right, all right, I apologise.
Otto: You're really sorry.
Archie: I'm really really sorry, I apologise unreservedly.
Otto: You take it back.
Archie: I do, I offer a complete and utter retraction. The imputation was totally without basis in fact, and was in no way fair comment, and was motivated purely by malice, and I deeply regret any distress that my comments may have caused you, or your family, and I hereby undertake not to repeat any such slander at any time in the future.
Otto: OK.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:29 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also know people who do the "sorry, but..." thing followed by the Highly Controversial Opinion.

To me, this usually translates out as "My opinions, and what I have to say, are terribly, terribly important. And knowing this, I am thoughtfully giving you advance warning that what I'm about to say may BLOW YOUR LITTLE MIND, break your heart, or both. Because I know you all hang on my words so much, but I also know that sometimes what I say is just too damn real for some people to handle, you know?"

Or words to that effect.
posted by Broseph at 2:40 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


Maybe because I have never found the act of apologizing disempowering- in fact, taking responsibility for things* makes me feel more powerful. I have far more respect for people who don't pass the buck than I have for people who refuse to apologize. I've never understood why people see it as some sort of sign of strength, when admitting you made a mistake but will deal with it because you are so capable already that issuing an apology is in no way detrimental to your competent self, is totally kick-ass. To me, refusing to apologize looks weak and lacking in confidence.

This.
posted by eviemath at 2:54 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Comedian: What's your name, miss?
Audience Member: (says name)
Comedian: I'm sorry?
Audience Member: (says name louder)
Comedian: No, I heard you--I'm just sorry.
posted by ostranenie at 7:33 PM on April 2, 2013


A good way to cure crushing depression is to mentally take back every apology you ever made.
posted by turgid dahlia 2 at 5:14 AM on April 3, 2013


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