What is the point of an apology?

“I’m sorry.” “I apologize.”
What do these statements mean? I think they r just a formality, just something people expect u 2 say so we say it to keep the peace. ITS NOT A STATEMENT COMING FROM THE HEART BUT FROM THE HEAD.
Many dont actually feel sorry, and to say “I apologize” means what exactly? Do people ACTUALLY want others 2 ‘excuse them’, do they honestly care or is it a knee jerk response?

The point should be to acknowledge a wrongdoing against another, and it should be sincere. To my mind, if you have to demand an apology from someone, you’re not likely to get a real one. Yes, sometimes you may not realize that you hurt or offended another, and you truly are sorry when you are made aware, but I expect most of the time, an apology offered in response to someone asking for one is mostly lip service, if not a total snarky mockery.

Every time a politician *demands *an apology all full of righteous indignation, I just shake my head at the bad theater. Every news commentator who opines that this person owes that person an apology needs to be told to butt out. If you haven’t managed, by adulthood, to learn something as basic as being aware of another’s feelings, your attempts at contrition are suspect.

At least that’s how I see it.

It may not come from your heart, but, I think you’ll find others do apologize from the heart.

It’s about ownership, I think. When you have hurt or wronged someone, in some way that cannot be undone. It’s a way to tell that person that you are ‘owning’ that your behaviour hurt or harmed them, and you regret that.

That’s why, ‘I’m sorry you were offended!’ is a non apology - no ownership, just weaselling. It’s like saying “I regret you got hurt - but not my actions!”

People who apologize with sincerity often include, “I was wrong to…I’m sorry that I…I deeply regret my behaviour, etc.” less weaselling more ownership.

If you’re receiving an apology and it doesn’t seem sincere, you can speak up and say, “I’m not certain you truly mean that, or feel regret.” If their response is miff and impatience, you’re probably right, they were just going through the motions. Some people do just go through the motions when they have to deal with their own bad behaviour. And they can fall into a way of just blurting out insincere apologies, assuming it clears them of any further obligation, like to behave better next time.

If someone forgives you, but remains mad, give them some time. And people are entitled to appreciate the apology, and offer forgiveness and yet still choose to step back, should you behave in a way that is a deal breaker for them. It doesn’t mean they were insincere in accepting the apology, offering forgiveness, etc.

The point is to take ownership of your actions, to express regret for them and to express to the injured party that you are aware you were in the wrong. It is often uncomfortable for people to apologize with sincerity, but having to own your shortcomings turns you into a better person and, hopefully builds character. It is helpful in that it encourages one not to repeat such behaviour.

Welcome to the SDMB, Gateway. We put different kinds of conversations in different forums. Since you’re looking for opinions, I’ll move this to our forum for polls, opinions, and advice, IMHO (from MPSIMS).

What I teach my kids is that a REAL apology is a multi-step process.

  1. Acknowledge what it was you did that was wrong.
  2. State your regret
  3. Say what you’ll do to avoid doing that again
  4. Offer to make amends. If you can’t figure out how to do that, ask them.

“I took your earrings without asking, and I shouldn’t have done that. I stole, and that’s not something I’m proud of, and I made you worry, and that was inconsiderate. I’m sorry I did that. Next time, I will ask you if I can borrow them, and if you say no, I’ll wear my own. I put your earrings back where they were, is there anything else I can do to make it up to you?”

“I stayed out late without calling. I made you worry, and I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry. Next time I’ll set an alarm in my phone to remind me to call or text when I’m late. I know you didn’t get much sleep last night because you were worried, so tell me what chores of yours I can do today to let you rest.”

It’s really hard to stay mad at someone when they clearly state that they understand what they did wrong and they legitimately try to prevent recurrence and make up for it. Those are the important parts of an apology, not the words, “Sorry, dude.”

A sincere apology can prevent relationships breaking down. Everyone makes mistakes, but someone who keeps on doing so without acknowledging that they were at fault, is a jerk.

Even a forced or insincere apology is kind of a step in the right direction, honestly. Even if the person doesn’t want to apologize or doesn’t feel truly sorry about it, the fact that they did apologize still acknowledges certain truths. The truth might be “What I did got the press so upset that I had to apologize in order to get re-elected” or it might be “My dad will whoop my butt if I don’t say the right thing” or “My wife will leave me if I don’t apologize.” So even if you’re not truly sorry, you are verbally acknowledging that you can’t get away with what you did without some kind of consequence.

But there are many apologies that are truly heartfelt, and those are an important step in repairing the relationship between two people. The verbal apology isn’t the only step, but it’s pretty hard to move on as friends/co-workers/lovers/etc. if you’re not even willing to say that you’re sorry.

I think Gateway really ought to apologize for posting this in the wrong forum.

I think that to ask such a question, you have to be approaching social issues from an algebraic viewpoint. That is, if you’ve done an injury, there’s nothing that can undo it so an apology is a meaningless effort. A lot of questions get asked in this vein and the person asking is usually young and/or socially inexperienced. (“All this courtesy stuff is for dimbulbs!”)

The real answer, I think, is that there is more to human interaction than quantifiable actions and events; in this case, letting a person know that you are aware your action or statement was wrong helps balance the social equation, if not any physical or “real” one.

I don’t think a sincere apology needs to include that you were wrong. It’s possible to truly and deeply regret that you caused harm to someone, but also hold firm the belief that what you were doing wasn’t wrong. Sometimes things are just bad situations, and you can be very heartfelt and sincere that you did not intend for your actions to harm another person – but the harm was a side effect.

An example was when I told a joke about garroting around somebody whose son was garroted. However, I didn’t know that until she said so after I had already told the joke. I am truly, deeply sorry that I brought up that memory and never, ever brought up garroting around her again. But I still don’t think the very action of making a snide wisecrack where somebody gets garroted is wrong, or that I did anything wrong by telling a joke that was very statistically unlikely to hurt anybody’s feelings. It was a bad situation – I don’t feel I made an error in telling the joke, and I don’t feel she was wrong in being hurt by it. Wrong action, wrong time, wrong place. But I can still apologize and feel really, truly bad for injuring her and mean it.

I agree with Jragon

There are four types of apologies.

Insincere ones - in which case, yeah, don’t bother.

Meeting the form of polite society - bump someone with your shopping cart - “Oh, I’m sorry.” You aren’t really filled with regret, but its an acknowledgement of a social oops.

Sincere ones where you apologize for your behavior. WhyNot’s formula is excellent.

Sincere ones where you apologize regarding someone’s feelings. This can be “I’m sorry I made that joke, I hadn’t heard about your son and under the circumstances, it was really tasteless.” or it can be “I’m so sorry that your father passed, I remember him being so cool when we were kids.”

Absolutely agree with this. Apologies can go a long way toward righting an error or healing an unintentional hurt, even if there was nothing “wrong” done.

Yes, I agree too. Perhaps a better way to phrase it would be: 1) Acknowledge how what you did wronged the person. You can absolutely innocently hurt someone in a way which merits an apology, and not be wrong to have wronged.

My father went through life hurting people. He did some wonderful things too, but they didn’t erase the hurting. I don’t recall him ever apologizing for anything; in fact, I can’t even imagine him apologizing. A simple apology - just once - would have gone a very long way.

A genuine apology takes responsibility for what you did and shows real contrition.

The opposite is the politician’s apology: “If anyone was offended by why I said, I apologize.” This tells those offended that he’s not doing anything wrong, but is giving an apology to mollify them. He hasn’t done anything wrong, but if you want to make an issue about it, he’ll apologize. This is extremely frustration to those how are upset.

I once avoided a major shitstorm by telling someone to drop the politician’s apology he was going to say and go with an honest and straightforward, “I made a mistake and I’m sorry.”

One thing I was taught early on. In most cases they may mean the same thing.

…except at a funeral.

I did the exact same thing with a joke about being eaten by wild animals in the resence of a woman whose brother was eaten by a crocodile. I didn’t learn this until later when other people who were in the same group told me, so I never had a chance to apologize.

IMO, the vast majority of people - myself included - would use words such as “apology”, “thanks” and “welcome” just to smoothen social interaction, keep it polite and avoid offending the other person. I dont think anybody sincerely means to apologize/thank from the bottom of their hearts in most mundane social situations.

A few days ago, the girl that took my order at Taco Bell screwed it up, delivering an item I hadn’t ordered, and one item missing. I pointed this out to her, and she said, “I’m sorry, sir” but she must have been thinking, “what a pain in the ass.” Her expression was anything but apologetic.

I have also offered sincere, heartfelt apologies or thanks when something happened that deeply moved me. Others have with me, too. I guess normal social interactions simply lack enough depth to make you say something in a deep or heartfelt way. If the emotion on the face compliments what’s coming out of the mouth, I guess that’s par for the course in most normal interactions.

And I think that’s pretty normal, too. (Imagine the effort involved in producing a heartfelt “THANK YOU” a 100 times a day. You’ll just run out of emotions after a while!)

It means different things in different circumstances.

I will say this though: If you don’t know how to apologize sincerely, you’ll never have a successful marriage. Two people can’t live together without inadverdently hurting each other once in a while.