I’m sorry(ish)

2013-07-30 10:00

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Inspired by the abysmal effort of FHM writers Max Bareshenkov and Montle Moroosi, Kate Sidley gives a handy guide to apologising

Max Barashenkov and Montle Moroosi – aka the FHM corrective rape jokers – are the latest in a long line of public apologisers. Because the world is full of opportunities to stuff up royally, there are plenty of occasions where a good, grovelling apology is in order. But if you are going to do it, do it right.

Here is a helpful guide to successful sorries.

Getting to the apology itself, here’s how to do it right:

»?Get in quick.

First up, congratulations on having chosen the apology as your course of action. You get marks for that right off the bat, but it’s only a start. Speaking of starts, the sooner the better.

If you can see the writing on the wall, step up with a quick pre-emptive grovel. Waiting too long gives the impression of a lack of willingness on your part.

It’s hard to pull off the mea culpa decades after the fact when you’ve been tracked down to a South American country and hauled before an international tribunal. Best to apologise while the baying of the hounds is just a faint noise on the horizon, rather than wait until they’re slobbering at your neck.

»?Say sorry.

The English language has a very serviceable word for apologising – that word is “sorry”. For years, this word has been quite adequate.

It’s a little word, just two syllables, but it says just what you need to say.

It says that you are sorry. Other words that ostensibly do the same job often give the impression of the user trying to weasel out of a real apology.

“We deeply regret”, for example, removes the apologiser ever so slightly from culpability. If you are sorry, say so.

»?And then shut up. Take a moment. Let your sorryness do its job without rushing in after it with a whole lot of other bumf. In particular, there is one word that should not follow the word “sorry”.

That word is “but”. When you add the word “but” to the word “sorry”, that’s self-justification, not apology.

»?Admit you were in the wrong. Let’s be perfectly clear. An integral part of the apology is actually admitting you were wrong. There’s no getting around it.

It’s tough. Humans hate being in the wrong. It feels kak.

But you cannot make a real apology and continue to maintain that you were in the right. Impossible.

A popular, subtle version of this sort of not-really-apology is: “I apologise for any hurt this may have caused?.?.?.?”, which tries to give the impression that the incident in question had some sort of agency of its own and rushed off willy-nilly offending people all of its own accord.

“I was wrong. I was stupid. I made a mistake.” Nice and simple.

»?Make it short.

If your so-called apology stretches to five or six paragraphs, this is probably a sign that you are trying to justify your behaviour, not apologising.

»?Take it on the chin. Very seldom is a situation 100% cut-and-dried, or an individual 100% in the wrong. Yes, people overreact.

Yes, life is unfair. Yes, the zeitgeist runs against you. When called upon to apologise in public, you no doubt feel very hard done by, having to take the rap for something that really wasn’t that bad, when you consider all those murderers are running around scot-free.

Nonetheless, it’s not generally a good idea, when apologising, to try to explain the 5% to which you feel you were actually in the right. This is an apology. Suck it up and apologise.

»?Do not try to blame those owed the apology. “I am sorry that you were offended?.?.?.?” is not, I’m sure you agree, the same as “I am sorry that I was offensive?.?.?.?” The former implies that the offended person is an oversensitive little whiner.

The latter acknowledges that you, the apologiser, were in the wrong.

»?Don’t be a hair-splitter.

The FHM rape jokers tried that one: “There is little excuse for our words?.?.?.?” Imagine, for a moment, how different that phrase would sound if you replaced “little” with “no”. “There is no excuse for our words.” Better, hey?

»?Never be tempted to introduce the implication that the rest of the world is “politically correct” or “playing the race card” or some such.

See point seven above. Trying to claim the moral high ground by some sort of sleight of hand is not the way to go. Our friends from FHM provide an example: “We find honesty in the unfiltered horror of life, not in politically and socially correct reportage which trivialises the real issues.”

Their point seems to be that, unlike the rest of us, who are a bunch of politically correct trivialisers who miss the true horror of life, they are brave and honest.

And another example: “We hope that people will remember that the spirit of this country is based on tolerance and understanding, not on blind hate and public lynching.” In that sentence, the full stop would have been much better placed after the word ‘understanding’.

»?Don’t be a crybaby. You probably feel very sorry for yourself. You are embarrassed. Hurt. Confused. You know you’re not a terrible person, and yet, here you are, apologising for some minor misdemeanour that got out of hand or out of context. It’s tempting to whinge.

Don’t. People are not in the mood for feeling sorry for you right now.

»?Trust your fellow man. In the face of a truly heartfelt and reasonably abject apology, few people will feed you to the lions. We all make mistakes. You made a mistake. You are not Pol Pot. We’ll get over it.

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