Tiers of Grief and Regret

Jun 19 | Posted by: Fighter #1 | Tags: Waxing Sophistic

On thing that I’m pretty bad at (that my brother Dave - check out his sweet art - is pretty good at) is apologizing. Assorted celebrities also tend to be pretty bad at it, which is probably what got me thinking about it.

Now the standard “non-apology” is to say “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt” or something of that sort. Everyone knows that’s not a real apology. You may be sorry for the harm that occurred, but not for your actions.

When I was discussing apologies with my brother, he pointed out something interesting to me. When you’re participating in athletics and another participant is injured, you’re expected to apologize even if you didn’t hurt them intentionally or do anything wrong.

This leads me to think that there are really three sorts of apologies. They’re all encompassed by the phrase “I’m sorry”, but they’re all independent of each other. You can deliver any combination of the three regardless of the others.

  1. “I’m sorry for doing wrong” - This is the toughest kind of apology. This is when you admit that your actions were incorrect, that you made a mistake. An example of this sort of apology independent of the others would be if you used a racial slur in a group unaffected by that slur. Nobody is actually harmed by your words, but you may still apologize for having done wrong.

  2. “I’m sorry my actions injured you” - This is the sports example from above. You may not have done anything wrong, but you still apologize if your actions hurt someone.

  3. “I’m sorry you were injured” - This encompasses both the insincere non-apology and the “condolences on the passing of your grandmother” instances. You don’t necessarily admit to any wrongdoing or even involvement in the harm, but you express empathy and sorrow at the harm done to another.

So now, being aware of this idea, we can all apply it to our apologies. If someone seems upset, you can figure out your own level of culpability and apologize appropriately! Did they misconstrue something you said? Cases 2 and 3! “I’m sorry that my words hurt you.”

Did they rightly interpret something you said as hurtful? Cases 1, 2, and 3! “I’m sorry for what I said and that it hurt you.”

Uh… case 3 should basically never be used on its own unless you’re expressing condolences on the death of loved ones. If someone expects an apology, odds are good that you hurt them even if you don’t think you’ve done anything wrong. Apologizing just for the fact that they were hurt makes you look like a jerk.

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