The other day at the grocery store a woman wearing yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt ran over my foot with her shopping cart. Despite reacting like I’d been hit on the toe with a ball peen hammer, the damage was minimal and the woman threw me a quick “I’m sorry” before disappearing down the cereal aisle. This event got me thinking about two things. One, how 90 percent of yoga pants seem to be worn by women who have obviously never stepped foot inside a yoga studio, and, two, how easy it is to say we’re sorry—until it really matters.
For a few weeks in the fall of 1982, Chicago’s “Hard for Me to Say I’m Sorry” was the number-one song in the country. It’s a forgettable tune, but I’ve long thought news channels are missing a golden opportunity in not playing it during televised apologies. You know, the press conferences where celebrities and politicians say things like, “I’m sorry if my remarks offended anyone” or “I apologize that my comments were misconstrued” or the granddaddy of them all, “I deeply regret any pain my actions may have caused.” These phrases are examples of what has become known as the “Nopology,” the act of apologizing without really admitting to doing anything wrong.
We are all guilty of the Nopology, especially when the stakes are high. Run over a foot with a shopping cart and “I’m sorry” comes quick and easy. Run over a foot with an SUV, and the apology is much more complicated and couched in excuses.
Run over someone’s feelings or trust, and the apology becomes a very delicate and painful operation.
I’ve certainly offered my share of Nopologies over the years. They usually begin with “I’m sorry, but . . .,” which is then followed by all of the excuses for why I did what I did. The first time I tried this with the beautiful blonde who inexplicably enjoys my company, she said, “Everything before the ‘but’ is BS.” Meaning if your statement includes the word but, everything that came before it can be disregarded. As in, “I’d love to go with you to visit your mother, but this sock drawer isn’t going to organize itself.”
Now when I apologize, I simply say I’m sorry, with sincerity and most importantly, empathy. And when it comes down to it, isn’t that what we really want out of an apology, to know that a person understands how their actions affected us? I think politicians and celebrities and others who give Nopologies do so because they believe to offer an apology is a sign of weakness. But actually nothing could be further from the truth. Acknowledging that you’ve hurt someone and taking responsibility for your actions is one of the strongest things a person can do. Chicago was wrong. It’s easy to say you’re sorry. What’s hard is to mean it.