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I am sorry (but actually I am not)

July 3, 2008

Got a bit of time this morning so I’ll sneak in a post. Every once in a while I come across apologies by people from both sides of the causeway and I’ve been noticing a strange pattern.

“I apologize if I had offended anyone.”

Does anyone find anything wrong with that sentence?

Let me apply the same logic to another situation. “I will buy it if you’ll give me a discount.” Which is just another way of saying I will not buy it if you don’t give me a discount. Putting deal breakers like the conditional “IF” is normal if you’re buying things but in an apology?

But it seems that is the way to go for Malaysians and Singaporeans. When feathers must be soothed, people crave for that single word “apologize” without paying much attention to the qualifiers that come with it. If you can spot that little chink, you can make all kinds of hilarious statements to make people think you’re apologizing when actually you’re not.

So what’s wrong with, “I apologize IF I had offended anyone”? Look closely. First, it is based on the idea that a wrongdoing is not a wrongdoing if you’re not the victim. Seriously, would a robbery be less of a crime if the victim was your neighbor and not you? I actually see 2 victims there: the one that gets robbed and the community whose right to a crime-free environment is violated. If you don’t see the connection, ask yourself why you do you spend more for increased neighborhood security when it wasn’t even your house that got robbed.

Second, and this is the bigger part, it reveals the apologizer’s “so-what” attitude towards the screw up. When you accept that you’ve hurt someone unjustly, you also accept that your poor judgement has made your a smaller person. Most people fix their injured conscience with honest penitence, one that reflects remorse. But when you offer a conditional apology – I offer this IF you are that – you are not apologizing. You are cutting a deal.

And that’s how you apologize without really apologizing. Not that anyone cares, I guess.

For myself, when I do need to give an honest apology, I give a simple, “I’m sorry. My bad. I screwed up.” No ifs and buts, no strings attached, and it sure as hell feels a lot better than all this “IF” business.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. LC Teh permalink
    July 3, 2008 10:46 am

    Great examples: our politicians. They’ve become masters of non-apologetic apologies, boomerang apologies, face-saving apologies, party-loyalty apologies, pusing apologies… you name it, they tried it. It’s not the hardest word. It’s an easy way out.

  2. July 3, 2008 4:11 pm

    I have another perspective on the statement. Maybe the person is blur or do not know whether he has offended anyone. Just to be polite, he said that. A lot of my ang mo colleagues said that even though they haven’t offend anyone. So think positive!

  3. Damien permalink*
    July 4, 2008 9:05 am

    @LC, yeah politicians too, although I was thinking of a Singaporean blogger that got into trouble for insulting people and he posted a “sincere” apology that didn’t look like an apology to me. I was rolling on the floor laughing when I read it.

    @mybabybay, you are actually right. That form of apology could be hard-wired into our brains and it comes out almost preformatted. Guess most people would just be happy to hear the word “sorry” and not bother with anything else. People like me who have to proofread and occasionally write programming code are cursed with word precision unfortunately.

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