The Extinction of the Apology

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By Mary Fagan

I experienced a mix-up recently – one of those things. When I inquired about it, a very nice young man thanked me and told me it would be corrected. But something was missing – the apology.

I figure this young man must be either single or newly married as a wife of some years would have ingrained its importance into him…repeatedly. And obviously, he didn’t have a mother like me or he would have been really sorry. I am a dinosaur and expect the perfunctory apology, which was once commonly used when a mistake was made.

Throughout that day, my maternal instincts gnawed at me. I let this young man down by not asking for an apology. To atone, I’ve assembled the following “Apologetics of the Apology” as penance.

The apology has been around for decades, even centuries, and has served mankind well. Recently discovered cave drawings have a man with wildflowers offering meat. (In later scenes farther down the cave wall, all of his parts were still intact.) The evolution of the apology went from the formal “I am sorry. My apologies, Madam” to the contracted “I’m sorry” to the abbreviated “Sorry” and then to a shrug. I appreciate most of the above – apologies delivered from above the shoulders, that is.

Finally, in our day, the apology has become vestigial. It has been cut out – an amputated appendage – like a tonsil or an appendix. We once thought those organs were useless, leftovers from a bygone era. But scientists have now discovered they really do have a purpose: They absorb germs and nasty things that would otherwise infect the body and make you sick. They are purifiers! So it is with the apology. Luckily, it’s not too late to stop senseless apologectomies.

A good apology is easy to formulate. Even my kids and spouse have mastered the mandatory parts of satisfying contrition, and after one or two uses, they become second nature. The basic components are:

  1. A verbal statement such as, “I made a mistake, I’m sorry, Please forgive me” or the like. The verbal part is very important. The ability to use words to communicate is what separates us from the animals. Snorting and grunting are for lesser creatures.
  2. Identification of your specific error or mistake is standard for women. This can be optional for men. DO NOT follow this with a “but” statement. The “but” negates your ownership of the mistake and you could end up landing on yours.
  3. An admission, inference, or slightest hint that you will try not to repeat it. This can be stated directly, or it can be implied using the proper tone for effect. (If you can muster an English accent, it can be very moving. Ladies, think of Peirce Brosnan saying,” Please forgive me. I have tripped and fallen right on top of you.” Men can use Margaret Thatcher in this example. Both instances, one prompting instant forgiveness, the other instant forgetfulness, clearly illustrate my point.)

It’s important to note that the effects of a good apology are disarming. Apologies can make parents lessen the severity of a punishment, shock an officer of the law into delivering just a warning, or turn a store clerk into someone who respects you for your courage to admit that you can’t add properly. (They might also take it as an admission that you’re an idiot, but I prefer to think positively.)

As you can see, apologies grant powerful immunity, are a vital part of setting things straight, and should be removed from the endangered list. If not, some silly woman will write about it and then we’ll all be sorry.