Blank apologies: value of apologizing "for whatever I did"

I had a close friend that I ditched. For the sake of this thread, the details of our falling out are unimportant. Bottom line: he had a long-term pattern of being a disrespectful jackass all around. I called him on it a few times, carefully explaining that I felt he was being a douchebag (worded more diplomatically), but there was no improvement, and he continued douchebagging. So he’s not on my list of “righteous dudes who are my friends” anymore.

So now… months later… he’s finally tweaked to the fact that he hasn’t heard from me in awhile, and sent a short note, along the lines off: “Merry Christmas, hope all’s well with your family. I assume your pissed off at me. So, I apologize for whatever it was I did.”

That got me thinking. Is there really any value to an apology given that doesn’t actually acknowledge wrong-doing?

I don’t just mean in this specific case, though. Like what if you realize you’ve offended someone but you don’t know why? Like maybe you made a cultural faux pas that you were unaware of.

On the one hand, “I’m not sure what I did, but if I’ve offended, I am so sorry” could carry weight, because there would seem to be a genuine intent to make amends and a willingness to learn what was the source of the misunderstanding. On the other hand, my former friend, the douchebag, probably doesn’t actually care what he did, he just want’s me to stop being pissed.

Anyway, I’m not looking for advice or anything, I just thought I’d toss this out there to get various opinions on how you guys feel about Blank Apologies.

Blank apologies like your ex-friend’s are pretty meaningless.

But I can see some merit in some rather general apologies in some situations. The type of situation I’m thinking of is when 2 people are disagreeing about something limited, and one person just wants to end that discussion and get on with other things. In such situations I think the person who wants to “resolve” a matter that the other person considers insignificant may possibly be as much at fault as the “transgressor.”

(And take a wild guess which side of the argument yours truly finds himself on more often!) :wink:

The subtext of what he said seems to be “I don’t know what I did wrong, but I’m sorry I did it and sorry I hurt our friendship.” Seems sincere enough to me.

In your particular case; your friend is being a douche. He knows what the fuck he did. He’s just playing stupid. So F him.

OTOH, I’ve had GFs who would get pissed at me and then not tell me what the hell they were pissed about. This is stupid mind game BS. If they would just come out and tell me what the hell I did; I’d apologize, providing they had reasonable cause to be pissed.

So I’d say it all depends on the “victim” so to speak. If the victim isn’t forthcoming with the offence; then they shouldn’t get all up in arms if they get such a generic apology.

That’s where I think it would have the least merit as it would seem to be almost completely dismissive of the person who perceives themselves of having been wronged’s feelings. That kind of perfunctory apology tends to have little value.

I think one of the factors is the level of bewilderment (as opposed to the level of exasperation) expressed in “whatever I did wrong.”

Not necessarily. Since he was being socially clueless before, he might still be socially clueless. It’s amazing how you can point out the bloody obvious to people time and time again and they just never get it.

It depends, definitely. If someone is saying “I’m sorry for what I did to make you mad,” for some people that’s their way of hoping you’ll respond in detail and let them know so that they can change their behavior.

But this guy knows he was a douche, you told him many times. And he didn’t change. At this point he’s either thick or just too much of a douche to get it.

I’d probably just wish him a Happy Holidays back and respond with a brief note saying you don’t really feel you guys are compatible as friends. He’s an unapologetic ass, you don’t want to hang out with asses, so that’s all there is to it.

Not related to the OP directly, but most times I don’t really care to hear people say “I’m sorry”. I am much happier if they would say “I won’t do it again.” They might not be sorry, because they think what they did is no big deal. Fine by me. As long as you stop doing the thing that hurt/annoyed me, out of respect for my feelings, that’s all I care about.

In his particular case, that’s exactly how it went. He has been called on his douchitude several times, by several people, and explicitly told which behaviors were unacceptably douchey.

In general though, I’m assuming Blank Apologies can only be weighed on a case-by-case basis. Like this guy knows damn well that he’s been a douche, he just never thought that I’d be one of the people to say “enough is enough”. He’s one of those guys that everyone really wants to be friends with, even though he generally treats people selfishly. (E.g. He always has had the most awesome girlfriends, never appreciates them, then dumps them, then later complains that his relationships with awesome women never work out.)

If he’s been called on it, then a generic apology is pretty much empty because he knows what he did. It could be he’s genuinely forgotten, but then it wouldn’t be too much for him to ask “What is it specifically you’re still pissed at me about?” and offer a sincere, specific apology.

If someone’s pissed at you and you honestly have no idea why, then saying something along the lines of “I don’t know what I did, but I am genuinely sorry for it” does carry weight. It’s worked wonders for me on more than one occasion. Dude, here, however, pretty obviously doesn’t mean it, so don’t give it much thought until he actually calls up and offers to go out, grab a beer or two, and clear the air.

Yes, but there is a certain point where social Darwinism takes place. He was a casualty to his own cluelessness, too bad. I don’t need the ongoing douchebaggery or the disrespect, and neither does my family.

Sounds a tad too close to the classic ‘I’m sorry you got offended’ non-apology. But then, there’s no time like the holidays for forgiveness! (Unless maybe his douchiness was tied to alcohol abuse.)

Actually, now that I think of it. If someone offended me but honestly didn’t know why, I think I would actually appreciated a well-intentioned question: “Did I do something wrong?” or “What did I do?” much more than a “Whatever it was, I’m sorry.”

The former, makes the apology a measured choice, not a perfunctory fix-it now kind of thing.

Person #1: “You seem upset with me. Did I offend you?”
Person #2: “Yes, you did. You implied that I treat my loved ones like poo!”
Person #1: :: pondering, weighing the matter, considering intentions :: “Oh, dear! That was certainly not my intention. I apologize unreservedly!”


Person #1: “You seem upset with me. Did I offend you?”
Person #2: “Yes, you did. You implied that I treat my loved ones like poo!”
Person #1: :: pondering, weighing the matter, considering intentions :: “I see. Yes, I realize that it might upset you, but I’m afraid I do think you treat people like poo, and you tend to take your loved ones for granted.”

While I think I would appreciate the goodwill of wanting to smooth things over, if the apology isn’t really considered, then I’m not sure I can say it is totally valid.

I recently had someone get mysteriously mad at me (which never happens), and I said, basically, “I don’t know how I’ve offended you, but please understand that I respect you tremendously and whatever I did to cause offense was the result of carelessness or misunderstanding, never malice or intent”.

I was trying to convey that I took their emotions seriously–I wasn’t blowing it off just because I didn’t understand it–but that I was truly clueless and certainly hadn’t done anything on purpose (and wasn’t going to blankly apologize as if I had).

That’s not as bad as what somebody told me a while back- “I’m sorry if you think I did something wrong”. WTF does that mean, besides nothing? At least he was honest about not giving a fuck about what he did.

I like the distinction between sincere if tentative apology for something unrecognized that nevertheless apparently hurt somebody, and an empty apology. In fact there are a few interesting flavors of empty apology.

There’s the apology that doesn’t acknowledge any real offense.

There’s the apology that somehow makes it the victim’s fault - “I’m sorry you were offended by what I said”.

There’s the apology that mischaracterizes the misdead (a big favorite with politicians) - “I’ve made a mistake”. Bull. Thinking your rent-a-truck was going to fit under that bridge is a mistake. Stealing funds from that charity wasn’t a mistake, it was a vile crime.

Honestly, from what I read, he really wasn’t paying attention when you told him about his douchiness. He’s the “jerk people still like to hang with,” right? So he’s probably heard that sort of thing before, and yet nothing negative happened because of it. Lot’s of people will call such a person out, and, once they get an apology, put up with him doing it again later. He’s probably gotten used to tuning such comments out.

Still, the fact that the guy is sending a Christmas note means he might actually be at the point where he’s willing to actually try to change. I’d suggest pointing out that you’ve already told him what he did. Tell him just enough to remind him of what you’ve already said. Point out that you gave him chance after chance to make amends. If he wants to still be friends, he needs to stop doing whatever it was.

Also, remember that, just because someone knows something is bad, that doesn’t mean they won’t accidentally do it again. Jerkish behaviors are often hard-to-break habits. Don’t expect people to be able to magically change their entire personality overnight. Heck, if this guy’s personality completely changed, he wouldn’t even have the part that you actually found good enough to have become close friends in the first place.

No, the politician’s apology is “If anyone was offended by what I said, I apologize,” indicating that it was the fault of the people who were offended. Better to say, “I apologize to the people I offended.”

To me, generally (the exception being the kind of thing MandaJO cites), an apology also conveys the idea of: I’ll try not to do that in the future.

If I smack my kid in the head every time I walk by her, and apologize every time, does the apology really mean anything? Nope.

If I continually leave my shoes in the middle of the floor, and people are continually tripping over them, even if I apologize ever time it happens, it means nothing because I’ve done nothing to attempt to change the behavior.

If I don’t know what behavior I’ve demonstrated that made you angry/hurt, I might issue an apology thus: “I’m really sorry that my behavior has hurt you, and would like to be able to resume a relationship with you; is there any chance you’d consider meeting up for coffee or something so you can tell me what it is that’s upset you, so I can alter my behavior in the future, so as not to offend you?”

That’s wordier than it would need to be, of course. I’d tailor it to the specific situation. But I hope you get the idea.

But I have one person in my life who habitually apologizes when jumped on for unacceptable behavior, and I get the distinct impression that for them, they’re not sorry in the least for the behavior, just sorry they got busted for it.:rolleyes:

If you don’t know what you did wrong then you can’t realize it was wrong, by definition, and so the apology must be insincere and therefore worthless.