Apologising is the hardest and easiest thing to do. Those who need it the most often do not receive it, and those who need it the least find themselves in surfeit. When did saying sorry lose much of its original form and meaning? Depending on the situation and the mode of expression, it can mean anywhere from thank you, an unwelcome sarcasm or a pointless affix to a statement. Sadly, most modern apologies are liable to fall into the latter category – just casual, meaningless words with little followup. They have become utterances we deftly know when to use, but don’t know how to see it through.
For an apology to have value, it must – like all other words with good intentions – be used sparingly, with the awareness that each repeated use is subjected to steep diminishing returns, and that mindless repetition only speaks more about our character flaws than its intended use for humility and contrition. This is something the Japanese know well. The late Nintendo CEO Satoru Iawata didn’t just give a public apology for the profit slump of 2013. He also gave a full bow, explained and took responsibility, but more importantly, he announced he would slash his pay by half for his failure.
Unlike his Western counterparts, Iawata wasn’t just willing to put up with public humiliation and shaming, he made sure that the gravity of his apology was commensurate with the action(s) he took. He may only have apologised once, but it was a heartfelt apology, and even those who weren’t its targeted recipients could also commiserate with him. And in comparison, how many of us truly mean our apologies to those we give it to? The tendency to casually say we are sorry in any and every situation has reduced its intended value to that of a fast food voucher.
And a genuine apology is more than the sum of its part. It’s not something you hold up a checklist for and proclaim grand promises. Sincere apologies are discreet and subtle, and assume the person you truly mean it for will be able to arrive at his own independent judgement without in-your-face reminders. Saying we are sorry is also not about the selfishness of wanting to feel less self-guilt, but wanting to make proper amends. To that end, an apology is never fully over until the other party has decided to let us off the hook.
Used to full effect, a single apology can completely overturn a difficult situation, heal a damaged relationship, and even make things better than they were before. But it’s only as powerful as the sincerity of its user. Everyone knows the words that need to be said, but how many know what needs to be done? Saying sorry isn’t a tediously solemn affair. It’s a remarkable chance to improve ourselves and show that something or someone is important.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) the value of an apology?