It's never too late to apologize
Supposedly we 20-somethings have trouble saying a particular grouping of three little words. But it occurred to me the other week that there’s another set of two words that seems even harder for people to say, myself included. It’s a lot easier for us to string together a “screw you,” or an even harsher variant, than a simple “I’m sorry.” Apologies are important because they acknowledge you made a mistake and assure the other person you care about his feelings.
And even when it is easy enough to drop an “I’m sorry,” it’s something entirely different to mean it and to convey your regret. Even if you do mean it, your sentiments can be difficult to express. The thing is we’re all human, and as trite and cliché as it sounds, we all make mistakes. What matters more is how you deal with them. From inebriated accidents to practical jokes gone awry, our mistakes are everywhere.
In the past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about apologies; specifically what makes a good one. After having countless chats with friends and watching more reality TV shows than I’d like to admit, I’ve developed a foolproof formula to remedy whatever situation you’ve gotten yourself into. It has four distinct parts.
First and foremost, simply start with those two words that can be so difficult. Specify why you’re sorry. Here actions beat emotions. For example, “I’m sorry that I threw everything I could find at your face,” totally trumps “I’m sorry I got so upset and acted irrationally.”
But there’s a loophole here. “I’m sorry you feel that way,” is a cop out. It turns it back on the one who has been offended. Beware of it, but also use it sparingly to your advantage. Also, beware of the apology that makes no attempt to make amends. For this prime example, look no further than Gretchen Weiners: “I’m sorry that people are so jealous of me, but I can’t help that I’m so popular.” Let’s not forget where Gretchen Weiners ends up — on the floor after her trust fall.
The next step includes an attempt to explain your actions. “I’m sorry, I thought you would find it absolutely hilarious that I tp’ed your room.” Then, follow up quickly with why you were obviously wrong. “But it was obviously not funny, very immature, environmentally unfriendly and rude.” As a rule of thumb the more adjectives you can pile on here, the better. It’s definitely better to overcompensate because the person to whom you’re apologizing will undoubtedly fill in any blanks you leave.
Next, offer to rectify the situation, by volunteering to clean up the mess you made, literally and figuratively. Now’s the time to insist you clean up all of the toilet paper or do your best to rescind your unkind words.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, a good apology includes some sort of an “I will not do this again” sentiment. Without this element, you’re basically guaranteeing it’s going to happen again, likely soon. Moreover, you’re treating the apology like a get out of jail free card with an unlimited number of uses, and we all know that’s just wrong.
So, these steps are sure to get you out of the doghouse and even absolve some of the guilt you may have been harboring, depending of course on the situation. Feel free to work off this template; it probably will work about as well as that cover letter template you found on wikiHow — both provide the basic guidelines, but only you can make the final product meaningful.
I’ll admit it; this column was first intended to be a passive aggressive message for some of my friends. But in the past week, my anger has dissipated, and I’ve come to realize that life is too short to be angry and hold grudges. Be quick to apologize and be quick to forgive, with that you can’t be wrong, at least for very long.
Abbi’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.