4 Ways People Hide Lies Inside of an Apology
We're all familiar with fake apologies, I'm sure, and if you're not, you sincere motherfucker you, Cracked has documented a bunch of them in one of those enumerated lists we sometimes do. In short, fake apologies are used by people who want (or need) to apologize without admitting any fault. Standards include "I'm sorry you feel upset" or "If you were offended by my remarks" or "These things happen you huge crybaby."
"I'm sorry that you're such a weeping sore of a human being. That must be awful for you."
But what we haven't talked about is why fake apologies are sometimes really valuable. Although the genuine kind of apology is always nicer to receive, even the fake ones work more often than not at placating someone. On top of that, fake apologies can have a wide range of positive effects on people who aren't even the ones being apologized to. So here, then, for the insincere bastards who I imagine make up the majority of my audience, are a bunch of reasons why it might be cool to lie your ass off.
The Apology Is Itself a Punishment
It's really hard to make someone feel something, especially if they don't want to. Well-laid arguments, carefully assembled pieces of evidence, and fierce shouting are often incapable of making someone open their eyes when they've made up their mind not to. The same goes for contrition. If you don't feel sorry, it will take a lot more than an authority figure to tell you to do so.
"What if I say pretty please? Will you feel sorry then?"
We've probably all seen a young child forced by their parents to apologize, only to deliver the sulkiest, shoe-staringest, least-sincere apology history has ever recorded. Clearly the child doesn't actually feel sorry. Actually feeling sorry takes reflection, a significant mental effort to put oneself in another person's shoes and understand how they feel. That's tough, and it's often bullshit -- that other person's shoes might suck.
"Do you store these in a bucket of warm piss, Gary?"
But actually feeling sorry is not the point of the forced public apology. It's at least in part a form of punishment, a public humiliation for the apologizer. Even if they aren't in the slightest bit sorry, seeing a bully stare at their shoes and hiss "Sorry" through clenched teeth is itself kind of fun.
Yeah, I'll bet you're sorry you got caught, you little rat-fuck bastard.
The Explanation Apology
It could, just maybe, be that a person who feels aggrieved by you and your actions and haircut is in fact mistaken. That there's some information they're missing that, once learned, will make them not angry with you at all. And so we have the Explanation Apology, which essentially goes: "I'm sorry. But here's what actually happened."
"Your cat was dead when I got here."
In this case, the sorry is but a lead-in, a magic word intended to temporarily calm down the aggrieved party to buy enough time to explain why all this business isn't actually your fault.
"I think he'd been suicidal. Did the mortgage crisis hit him hard?"
It goes without saying that the Explanation Apology is one of the most horrendously misused fake apologies out there. In almost every case where it's deployed, the explanation explains nothing at all, or explains something the angry person already understands and has taken into consideration and is still really fucking angry about.
"OK, yes, it was technically me that got your cat's name on my mortgage documentation."
In a portion of these cases, a mere 99 percent of them, the Explanation Apology comes off as a condescending mound of smoking horseshit, of absolutely no value as either an explanation or an apology. But that's no reason it couldn't work, theoretically. And so, if you're sure you're in that rare minority of situations where the aggrieved doesn't understand the facts, you're almost certainly wrong. Your brain is tricking you, because you are an asshole and so is your brain. But if you're really sure you're in that rare minority of situations where the aggrieved doesn't understand the facts, yeah, sure, go ahead and trot out an Explanation Apology. Let us all know how that works for you.
"For a time that cat owned more than all other cats combined. In a way, like, the truest way, I'm basically a hero."
The Token Apology
There's another kind of fake apology that doesn't attract the same ire as the "Sorry you're mad" variety. It's the Token Apology, an apology that's obviously insincere and offered almost out of reflex. You see this apology offered by customer service a lot. "We're sorry your purchase was damaged in shipment." "We're sorry there was a problem with your entrees." "We're sorry your Internet keeps going out."
"We're sorry you have literally no way to get Internet access without dealing with our horrible fucking company."
In these cases, because the incidents are so common and are handled in such a mechanical way, there's absolutely no feeling by either party that the apology is sincere. When you get one of these you know it doesn't mean anything. It's part of the script. The guy apologizing to you has to apologize to 70 people a day. He probably has a quota or something.
"Can you put your husband on? I'd like to apologize to him too. It's month end and I need to boost my stats a bit."
But because the apology is so insincere, so formulaic, that's a big part of what makes it so useful. It becomes part of the process. Even if no one actually thinks anyone's that sorry, hearing it is calming. It means the Apology Process is underway and that the Things Getting Better Process might start soon, or at least the Things Not Actively Getting Worse Process. The first step of solving something is admitting there is a problem, and the Token Apology is a pretty clear sign that all parties admit there's a problem.
"I'll open a ticket for you right away. And if it offers any comfort, ma'am, I assure you that I hate this company more than you do."
To Preserve the Social Fabric
Let's have a look at that sulky little kid being made to apologize again.
I just want to wring him out like a towel.
If you asked his parents, they'd acknowledge that no, he probably doesn't feel very sorry right now. Maybe when they get a chance to talk it over they might find a way to explain to him why he's supposed to feel sorry, why what he did was so wrong, and how awful it made the other kid or whatever feel. Or maybe they won't, because there are only so many hours in the day, and Christ, is it spaghetti night again, and oh let's just see what's on Netflix.
"Eh. Eh. Eh. Seen it. Eh. I've heard that's good. Eh. Eh. Hmm. Eh. Eh. Eh."
But they'd also say that that's not the only reason they made him apologize. They do it because that's what you do in these situations. An apology, even an insincere one, is at least an acknowledgment that an apology of some sort is warranted. It acknowledges that we're all playing by some sort of rules, that our personal feelings to each other matter, and that apologizing is one way to mend those feelings. Even if the kid doesn't feel sorry, understanding that there are things worth apologizing over is a valuable lesson.
Goddammit, why do I keep putting this picture of this kid here? I hate his stupid butt-dumb-faced stupidness.
And it signals the same thing to anyone who might be watching. For example, horrible sexist behavior in the workplace was pretty common for a time, until eventually the world smartened up and realized that women have, like, skills and aspirations and the ability to process pain. But not everyone smartened up at the same speed, and when some moron continued behaving horribly, there's a good chance he would have been made to apologize for it. And even though he probably wasn't that sorry, that apology would have sent a pretty clear signal to any other morons that this behavior wasn't acceptable. Sincere or not, that fake apology mattered, and after time and enough fake apologies, attitudes began to change.
And workplace sexism was solved forever.
For more from Bucholz, check out 6 Service Industry Code Words They Don't Want You to Know and 4 Offensive Words That Started Out as the Polite Alternative.