“Never apologize.  Sign of weakness,” barks John Wayne in Fort Apache (1948).
I remember chasing down my son’s school bus when he was five.  I’d said something hurtful (no idea what) and felt so bad I followed him to the door of his kindergarten classroom to tell him I was sorry.
He looked a little bewildered, as I recall.  But he hugged me and ran off to do his five-year-old day feeling, I like to think, a little lighter inside.
It’s a memory I hold onto.
Look.  Apology is one of those simple human tools we use to smooth our path through life, and the path of those with whom we travel.
It’s a sign, not of weakness, but of strength.
Also of honesty, courage, and love.
Also intelligence.   (John Wayne notwithstanding, anyone who reaches maturity believing only weaklings apologize is just plain stupid.)
That said, please note:
Compulsive apologizing is a whole other animal.
We all know people who say I’m sorry reflexively and repeatedly.
That’s not apology, guys.
That’s anxiety.
That’s not I’m sorry if I hurt you.  That’s Please don’t hurt me.
It’s not the voice of an honest adult taking responsibility.  It’s the voice of a frightened kid deflecting punishment.
As such, it’s a good habit to break.
Just as genuine apology is a good habit to practice.

3 responses to “Apology

  • barbaraanneoneill

    I have been a chronic apologizer all my life. I say “I’m sorry” over and over again for the same transgression – even minor ones. I never realized this until recently when I read it in a book. That’s why this column was so timely for me, and identified it as anxiety. This was an “aha” moment for me. It is exactly why I over apologize – my fear of being hurt by someone or them not believing my first apology. I am making a conscious effort to apologize once – and then let it go.
    As always, Steve, your insight is brilliant.


  • Steve Hauptman

    Been there, done that. Even after I trained myself to stop verbalizing the “I’m sorry” it took a while to stop feeling apologetic, because I was still scared. Now I can’t help remember that whenever I’m with a compulsive apologizer. It’s like I see a big I’M SCARED OF YOU sign over their head.

  • woodswalker218Carol

    ouch! I just realized what I am actually saying – please like me,
    I’m not good enough but please please like me anyway. You help me to remember I am not 5 years old any more.
    Thank you.

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