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What does an apology truly mean?

It may not sound like a profound question but I believe it is worth taking a few moments to consider. Far too often I hear people utter words that should, in theory, let others know one has acknowledged some transgression or misconduct, that one has felt some degree of remorse, and that one would wish to make amends. I’m not going to focus on apologies made by governments as a result of war crimes, atrocities, and other injustices because those apologies encompass a whole different beast. In fact, I may be quite generic in my “analysis.” My focus here will be to address what I feel apologies have become, what I think they should be, and hopefully, by the end of this, you will question what you accept as an apology.

“I’m sorry.”

“I apologize.”

“I didn’t mean it.”

“My bad.”

“My fault.”

These phrases and others like them litter our vernacular and are spoken so frequently that I fear they have become vacuous – fillers occupying space, carrying no real meaning. Apologetic utterances come in a variety of lengths; my quarrel lies with the frequency and thoughtlessness with which they are regurgitated. Perhaps people consider them the magical incantation that would absolve one of all guilt. “My bad” would be a poor and unwelcome response if uttered by a serial murderer. But it is worth considering that perhaps the murderer sees his task done and his conscious wiped clean – after all, he did apologize.

On the same token, a lengthy, heartfelt apology is not required for offensive flatulence. I find myself hard-pressed to think of an instance where a tearful… Moving forward! Crude attempts at panache can lead to troublesome and verbose speeches that sound doctored and insincere. Thus, it would behoove oneself to speak from within, to choose one’s words wisely, and to judge when the apology needs to be a “short and sweet” or a loquacious endeavor.

A quick search on Google and one will find that apologies are rampant. Bill Clinton, Michael Richards, Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Kanye West, Adam Richman, and Luis Suarez. Apologies are certainly messy business. It was fortuitous that, when drafting this post, Luis Suarez posted a public apology. An excerpt from Suarez’s follows.

“I vow to the public that there will never again be another incident.” [emphasis added]

Somewhere among several errors in translation (if possible, you should read the Spanish version since it reads with more ease and clarity), one could arrive to the conclusion that Suarez was and is truly sorry for the event that transpired. A bold vow of that magnitude certainly cannot be overlooked. Well – except when one has access to Google. Anyone who pours through a search of Luis Suarez will come to learn that the bite was not his first offense. I’ll leave the details of his transgressions and punishments to you but if you ask for my opinion: Suarez’s apology is disingenuous at best. It should go without saying that repeat offenses ruin one’s credibility and effectively guarantees that all future apologies will be dismissed. A question before we leave Suarez… would an apology have been issued had he not been banned by FIFA?

Words alone do not an apology make. A true apology is nothing without the actions that follow. Once the transgression has been acknowledged, active and meaningful effort must now be put into ameliorating the situation. Careful reflection and introspection must take place in order to avoid repeat offenses and to reestablish rapport with the offended party. Again, the emphasis should be on active and meaningful effort. By active, I mean that one purposefully and willingly searches for solutions such that they are conducive for the mutual good. An introspective approach requires that one look deep within in order learn themselves and to find the answers that best remedy the situation. One could also seek help from friends and family by asking their opinion on the matter.

By meaningful, I mean that the changes one makes towards reestablishing rapport is congruent with a mutually agreeable outlook. Firstly, the change (or changes) must conform with one’s views and outlooks. Once the answer to that question is “yes“, then can one consider if the change will be agreeable to the offended party. This may sound selfish but consider the changes one makes that only benefit one party, namely the offended party. Such a scenario would make for an unbalanced relationship, may lead one to resentment and bitterness, and may result in problems in the future – perhaps repeat offenses and empty apologies.

Please do not think that I believe indiscriminate apologies vitiate the very fabric of our society. But I to think they are worth considering in the context of relationships – friendly, familial, and romantic. I feel that compulsory, vacuous apologies are too pervasive in our vernacular and that we would fare better without them. Beware of the apologetic utterances from the mouths of those who would brazenly and thoughtlessly regurgitate them on command. Be critical when evaluating the best course of action and ensure that the remediation is agreeable to all parties involved.

I leave you with a variant of my opening question: what does an apology mean to you?

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