Sunday, May 17, 2009

Types of Apologies

You don't have to live for very long before you witness an apology or offer one of your own or even receive one from someone else. What is ironic is that we tend to gloss over what the apology really means or we just presume a meaning which may or may not be entirely accurate. Sort of like when you ask someone how they are doing today and you only half listen to the response which will usually be "I'm fine thanks, and you?" Its the kind of ritual we do that can get lost through repetition. Do you really care how a colleague you only see for seconds a day is doing? Will that colleague express his sadness of having had an argument with his brother or sister about who will bring mom to the hospital next for her check-up to see if she needs new medication? Chances are you don't want to hear someone else's problems because you have enough on your own, so the ritual continues: "Hi Fred, how are you today?" "I'm doing great!" And off you go and repeat: "Hi Sue, how are you today?" "Happy as can be!". We all perpetuate the illusion of having happy little lives and that all the problems are manageable.

But the focus of this particular blog is not to look into how we don't really communicate what we really want to, but rather how similar our apologies are to the way we ritualize our polite greetings. So if you hear an apology, how genuine is it? If you offer an apology to someone, what are you actually saying? You could seperate apologies into different types from worse to best. Naturally it is difficult to interpret which type a person is using because you are not a mind reader or a heart reader, just like you don't know what a person is thinking when they say hello to you with a smile. (Is he thinking about that goal that was scored by his favorite sports team or does he think that your shirt looks funny?)

The 1st type of apology (being the worse) >>I HAVE TO APOLOGIZE<<

I am apologizing because my position forces me to say sorry. I still think you are completely in the wrong and that you should not be doing activity X, but because I want to keep my job/career/position of prestige I must offer you some kind of apology to satisfy your ego or power trip by losing my dignity in preference to your superiority. This is the kind of apology you will see waiters giving to obnoxious clients in a restaurant who are annoyed that the steak they ordered 20 seconds ago has not arrived on their table before they even picked up their menu to decide what they were going to order. And I have witnessed this kind of situation many times. I think this is the worse type of apology because the person offering it is demeaning himself while the person receiving the apology gets high on a false premise and is encouraged to demand more apologies if he can not have his cake and eat it as well. Some rich people can get trapped in demanding apologies from the poor on anything and everything, it becomes a psychological drug/domination.

The 2nd type of apology (being the next worse) >>I GOT CAUGHT<<

Well I am apologizing to you because you caught me doing something genuinely wrong and I know its wrong. I apologize because if I don't, you will punish me worse and I want you to think that I will not do it again so that we can forget about this and I will find new ways to do the same wrong thing again without getting caught a second time. You can recognize this when the first thing that is asked by the person who got caught is this: "How did you catch me?" or "How did you know it was me?"

Our entire legal system, in order to protect the innocent from being jailed, proceeds with the explanation of how the person was caught to prove to the jury that the crime actually did take place. Now this legal system does help the innocent in defending themselves and this is admirable; unfortunately, on the flip side it also gives ammunition to the guilty to become more and more shrewd so that they are that much more difficult to get caught.

Just watch a child who was caught taking cookies out of the cookie jar when he was not allowed to take cookies without permission. You see the crumbs around his face and you point it out to him. The child apologizes for taking the cookies. Next time, he will wipe his precious little mouth so that you do not realize that he took more cookies. You point out that there are crumbs on his shirt and he will wipe the crumbs off there next time.... and on and on. Now if a child is cunning, how much more is the adult who gets caught?

3rd type of apology (least worse, but not the best) >>I REGRET THE CONSEQUENCES<<

This seems to be the most common form of apology we use as a society and as individuals. I am sorry of the negative consequences that my actions have caused, it is most unfortunate and I hope that these consequences do not happen again when I continue to do the actions which caused the negative consequences in the first place. I do not believe that my actions should be modified in any way but I do feel bad for the negative consequences which I refuse to believe are directly linked with my actions so I will continue in my wrong behavior and apologize for the unfortunate side effects.

This type of apology is currently being used to make us feel better for our current economic downturn. We all know what caused the recession, and to solve it we continue to do the very actions that put us in this mess in the first place. On more individual levels, this is where you see the song "Cats In The Cradle" by Ugly Kid Joe make sense. In it, the dad is constantly apologetic for not being there for his son because of X, Y or Z reason. The son accepts the apology and grows up still requesting the dad's attention and the dad regrets and apologizes, yet continues with the wrong action..... Of course the song gives us the negative results of these kinds of apologies and the dad loses his son as a result in the end because the son imitates his dad so well and apologizes to him the same way for not being there.

I am so sorry that I ended sleeping with someone else because I got drunk at some party and left with that person..... I deeply regret the consequences of this action..... and what shall I do next weekend? Well I will go and get drunk again (and hopefully not repeat the negative consequences).

I consider this the least worse of the apologies but I still categorize it as in the worse category nonetheless.

4th type of apology (the one we should strive for) >>I REVERSE MY PREVIOUS DIRECTION<<

I apologize for what I have done and will avoid doing any action that will encourage me in any way, to do this again. In other words, if my job prevents me from seeing my baby's first steps, I will strive to limit the hours at my work so that I can enjoy the true joys of life: my family. I regret that I missed the baseball game where my child got a homerun, I will attempt to find a job that enables me to spend more time with my family. I apologize that I slept with that person, I will strive to limit my alcohol consumption and ask friends to help me out if I start getting flirtatious with a stranger so that I do not betray my true love.

Our society apologizes that our current system puts decent people out of work and rewards leaders who steal our money from our pockets, our society will stop using consumption and greed to encourage economic growth and impose 99% WORLDWIDE taxes on profit to recuperate our stolen money and redistribute the 90% of the wealth in the hands of 10% of the population to the rest of us. Our society will no longer complain about the limited government budgets that are funded by the poor to serve the rich and constantly struggling to pay for deficits and health care and education, our society will get the money where it happens to be located and pay for these services that were promised us 200 years ago.

Perhaps we should start a timer where everyone gets an equal amount of resources/money and allow the current capitalist system to run for 50 years, then stop the clock, redistribute everyone's wealth again equally and restart the race. How would you like to start the year 2010 with 25 million dollars in your hands? Every other human on the planet starts with the exact same amount, and off you go.... if you succeed: YAY, and you will be honored at the year 2060 as you give away your extras.... if you fail: too bad, but there is hope, because on 2060, you will get a fair shot again..... just try to survive until then (much like 75% of the population have been doing the past few centuries). Could you accept this kind of apology from society for the current wrongdoings? Or shall we tolerate society's 3rd type of apology that it is currently giving us?