Apologizing used to happen more frequently than it does today, and it used to have more meaning. People like it when others say they are sorry for things they have done when the apologies have the ring of credibility. You have to convey true contrition, which is something everyone can relate to. Even some catastrophic mistakes can begin to be undone by sincere remorse. A small cadre of physicians has learned that you can prevent some lawsuits by owning up to a medical error, as long as you are truly sincere in the apology.
The trouble is that so many of our leading lights today seem to think that a phony apology will get them out of trouble. Some dont even bother to try to sound sincere, and wind up further insulting those they offended in the first place.
In this age of arrogance, people in public life seem to think its OK to insult others, even entire classes of people. If the heat comes back at them, they murmur an ungracious or fatuous apology and think they can go back to their old ways. In a way, that is amazing, given how many of them have suffered and even lost their standing entirely after a stupid remark or two. Think of the comedian and actor Michael Richards, whose career has been destroyed by a stupid remark and an initial unwillingness to apologize.
Many people, even the nonfamous, feel that to defer to anyone is to somehow diminish their own self-worth, giving an impression of subservience. This may be why good manners are going the way of the woolly mammoth, as people go through life in blissful ignorance, offending others just about everywhere they go.
Of course, everyone makes mistakes; its part of being alive. Its why we respond so easily when someone admits they were wrong and seeks forgiveness. But when someone who has harmed us or a family member in any way doesnt even take the time to say sorry, it rubs us the wrong way.
The willingness of some physicians to apologize for mistakes was greeted with all kinds of fanfare by the media, but most of us know already that we are willing to forgive someone for just about anything if they express true contrition. Most people have enough empathy that they can find it in themselves to forgive. But too often an offending party doesnt have the character to admit they were wrong. They stonewall even when faced with the evidence they have done something terribly wrong. They just cant bring themselves to say Im sorry, or if they do, it reeks of phoniness.