I’ve noticed a shift in the way apologies are offered. This seems to be affecting both online and real-life interactions, but online things seem, as per usual, worse.
First and foremost, I’ve noticed a decline in people’s willingness to apologise. I’m routinely seeing people engage in the most vitriolic one-sided arguments imaginable. They just start attacking someone and don’t stop until they run out of gas. When they shut up long enough for people to be able to explain that they’ve gone off on one over nothing, or over their own misinterpretation of events, they seem unable or disinclined to utter the short word “sorry.” On the contrary, half of them seem to demand some kind of retribution or apology for the waste of time and energy the exchange caused them. “How dare you cause me to scream at you for three hours solid because you did not state X thing simply enough for me to understand it?” If that was applied to physical violence, it’d be like demanding that someone gives us first aid because we hurt our knuckles on their face after assaulting them. It’s uncanny.
When people do offer apologies, the vast majority of the times they couch them in language that suggests, to me, that they aren’t apologising at all. That might well be entirely my fault, though. I cling futilely to the notion that when people use words to communicate, they select those words in order to best convey what they mean. I like to think that they’re even more likely to do so when the communication is important; when, for instance, it could mean the difference between mending and burning a bridge.
“I’m sorry for getting my information wrong.” This is becoming common as hell, particularly after vehement arguments, including public ones. They are sorry because their actions were based on incorrect information. Hmkay. But are they sorry for bitch-slapping someone in public? No mention’s made of that. Are they sorry for the emotional impact of their actions on the person they just pilloried? Are they sorry for doing something specifically designed to hurt that person’s feelings?
…and before anyone jumps down my throat about how feelings are not important: they are. Firstly, the vast majority of the time, when people interact only briefly they have no idea who they are talking to. They do not know how that person feels, how strong they are, what their life is like in general, or what just happened to them. That person may be struggling with grief, depression, anxiety, or stress, and barely managing to keep it together. They may have just been diagnosed with an incurable disease, buried a child, or been fired. Straws and camels’ backs, people. We’re all breakable. And some of us live closer to our breaking point.
Secondly, there are plenty of scientific studies showing physiological changes after a positive and negative social interactions. An internet scrap can have a measurable impact on someone’s physiological state. And yes, we can all train ourselves to be more resilient against this kind of thing; however, that doesn’t detract from the fact that the vast majority of these interactions are conducted as they are specifically to upset somebody. If these people think that public shaming, threats, or insults shouldn’t work on us, then why the hell are they using those tactics? They can’t have it both ways. And if they do something specifically designed to hurt somebody, should they not be apologising for that?
There are even worse apologies out there. “I’m sorry if I did this entirely inappropriate thing that I do all the time because that’s just what I do.” “I’m sorry if I say inappropriate things, I just don’t have filters.” Those are not apologies at all. They’re weaselly requests that you forgive all past trespasses and enable future ones. People saying something like that have no intention whatsoever of stopping, and they’re trying to get you to stop trying to stop them. Furthermore, if they know that what they are doing or saying is inappropriate, they do have filters. They’re just choosing not to use them.
Crowbarring a “sorry” in a sentence doth not an apology make. My least favourite non-apology of all time, the one that really sets my teeth on edge, is “I’m sorry if I came across as an X”. Insert whatever word you’d like under X, it all amounts to the same. I look at that sorry excuse for an apology, and all I can see is the glaring holes in it.
It doesn’t say they are sorry for doing what they did. It doesn’t say they are sorry for the impact their statements or actions may have had on those at the receiving end. They know what they did was wrong, because it made them come across as an X, and an X, by their own admission, is not a good thing. But they don’t seem to care about the wrongness per se. Taken literally, the apology seems to have to do more with the fact that they misrepresented themselves. Are they sorry for their actions, or just the impact of those actions on their image?
And… are they going to do it all again?
Maybe I’m too damn picky, but for me, that kind of apology just doesn’t cut it. And I can’t find it in my heart to be sorry about that.