6 Apologies You Don't Owe Anyone

A rather pugnacious friend leaned into another at a Brooklyn bar to tell her friend that he apologizes too much. The friend's response was a flurry of excuses. “That's how people from the South are,” he said, “I don't know, I guess I'm worried that I'm too strong of a personality. I just don't want to step on anybody's feet. Actually, you know what? You're right. I'm sorry. You're right.” She gave him a quizzical look, as if he hadn't really heard what she said.

I've never been one to apologize much. If I do apologize, it's usually sarcastic. When people call me out on it, I challenge them. Is self-effacing language really what you want? Or do you want actions? If I walked around holstering apologies, that wouldn't do much for the world.

So, here's my challenge: Identify when you're apologizing needlessly and stop it.

1. An Apology For Someone Else

It could be a drunk friend, or a drunk uncle, or a drunk brother. Whoever it is, they're usually drunk. In their belligerence, you say, 'I'm sorry.' Consider what you're actually apologizing for in that moment. Is it anything at all? Or is it a social queue akin to holding a door or saying 'bless you' at a sneeze?

When you apologize on your friend's behalf, you're robbing him of the responsibility to maintain composure. Instead, allow society to see him as he is. In the end, it will do him more good and save you your pride.

2. A Conflict Avoidance Apology

Face it: Apologizing at the outset of a disagreement to avoid conflict is cowardice. Maybe you're afraid of conflict itself, of defeat, that you won't control your temper, or that standing your ground will push the other away. They're all reasonable fears, but they're still just that – fears.

Fears, like apologies, are founded in diffidence.

Instead of escaping your fears, however rational they may be, choose to overcome them. All they do is control your identity. The same goes for apologies.

3. An Apology That Really Means 'Excuse Me'

Imagine walking through a crowd of people, brushing up against them. Invading someone's personal space is unavoidable in that situation. It wouldn't make linguistic sense to apologize, so we beg forgiveness, instead. We say, 'Please excuse me.'

There are times when your words or actions invade someone else's emotional space. Recognize that it's nobody's fault – only a product of circumstance. If the other person is understanding, they'll get over it. If not, then it reflects poorly upon their ability to see past themselves. That's not you're problem.

4. An Apology For Your Talents

Nobody is asking for smugness, but sometimes it's even worse to be forcefully humble. Boasting your talents puts you at risk to Kanye West comparisons. Behaving as though your talents aren't there is an insult to everyone's perception. You make your greatest mistake when you exercise your talent and apologize for having exercised it.

Refer to Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “A great man is always willing to be little.” An apology for your greatness is only referential of your inability to be humble, not of any situational guilt.

5. A Canadian Apology

We've really cut up apologies so far. A recap: Don't apologize when 1) You didn't do anything 2) You're afraid 3) It was an unavoidable accident and 4) It's reflective of deeper insecurity.

Number 5 – routinely apologizing – is the greatest crime. As the romantic says 'I love you' to the point of meaninglessness, so does the unconfident say 'I'm sorry.'

You may as well say, “I'm generally insecure about my actions, but I'm not willing to change them, so I use this meaningless phrase as a crutch. People perceive me as being polite, but wouldn't trust me at their side in battle because I'd probably just apologize to the enemy. It's also possible that i'm just Canadian.”

6. An Apology To Yourself

Critical theorists argue that language determines reality and that there is no experiential objectivity. In that line of reasoning, an apology is merely an attempt to organize yourself in relation to the rest of humanity. The rest of humanity, though, is only a product of your perception. That's all philosophical mumbo jumbo for this point: When you apologize, you are seeking forgiveness from no one but yourself.

The catch is that an apology doesn't absolve you, nor does it help those who have suffered your transgressions. That's why even the biggest mistakes are better served by action than by apologies alone. In acting upon your mistakes, you work towards forgiving yourself. A forgiven self is a gentler, more empathetic self. A forgiven self is one at peace.

Cutting misguided apologies out from your lexicon will force you into action. The result will be a more confident you, free from the burden of the past and able to move forward with grace and compassion.