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The Daily Tar Heel

Sorry, but I’m not really sorry

There are two types of apologies that I have seen used throughout my life: The bad, fake apology and the good, awkward apology.

The first, which frequently uses the word “but,” is more commonplace and reflects the Greek apologia, which means to speak in defense of a belief or action.

This apology makes me cringe — not because we are invoking our Greek ancestors with its use, but because we are disguising stubborn self-righteousness as a genuine apology.

For example, “I’m sorry for taking that tone, but you really needed to hear that,” tries to excuse a condescending tone that most likely hurt your friend’s feelings, even if they “really did need to hear that.”

“I’m sorry that I missed getting lunch with you, but I’m really busy” forces your friend to either feel bad for you or bad about themselves for not being a priority in your life.

Or, “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me, but I can’t help it that I am so popular…”

Okay, I took that from “Mean Girls,” but I think you get the point: The word “but” distorts the positive impact of an apology.

I admire the second definition of apology, one that is rare in comparison to its counterpart and reflects the accepted contemporary meaning of the word itself: An admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.

This type of apology is genuine in that it requires one to recognize mistakes, reflect on how those mistakes can be mediated and ultimately express remorse for those mistakes to a victim.

But when I see this type of apology enacted in life, it is usually accompanied by awkward tension.

The transgressor feels uncomfortable in that they are about to apologize for something they did, and the victim feels uncomfortable in that they will need to react to an apology that is not excused or justified by a “but.”

I think that we muster awkwardness around genuine apologies as a means of deflecting feelings that make us uncomfortable, such as vulnerability.

Rarely are we comfortable with expressing vulnerability by admitting our faults or letting go of resentment.

Research suggests that fake apologies are unhealthy.

Genuine apologizing and forgiving are positively related to various measures of physical and psychological well-being.

Providing excuses for one’s actions or blaming others for one’s hardships via resentment and sustained hostility are physically and mentally harmful.

Though we learn about the genuine apology at a young age, it seems the words “I am sorry” start to become coupled with the word “but” as we enter adulthood.

I advocate for embracing the awkward apology, so it will become less awkward and more common.

We are always making mistakes. Let’s be comfortable and genuine in how we apologize for them.

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