The Science of Sorry

//The Science of Sorry

The Science of Sorry

Note: I’m writing this at 1AM after a day of being barely conscious. It might be gibberish.


I was thinking earlier today about the nature of apologies. I feel as though I give them out much less frequently now than I used to. There are a few reasons for this that I wanted to talk about. First why do we say “Sorry”. The reason that you would say you are sorry is because you have made a mistake and wish to acknowledge that you have faulted and that you recognize that fault. Further you are admitting that you will try your best to not replicate that scenario that you’ve recognized.

There are plenty of reasons to do this. Maybe you snap and start calling someone terrible names or perhaps you aren’t paying attention and in your reckless flailing you sock someone in the eye. These are incidents that have a direct negative impact. Furthermore that impact is effectively 100%. There are very few people in the world that would be happy to be berated (especially if they knew that anger and contempt was genuine). Similarly you will find few people that are happy to get punched in the eye. Exceptions naturally existing.

My problem comes from people apologizing when they “offend” somebody. This is something I just can’t muster the energy to do anymore. Someone being offended is not my problem. I don’t mean this in the sense that I don’t care, I do care and I want people to be happier. My problem is that you cannot accurately predict what will offend people at any given time without a very large pool of information about them. Some people find rock music offensive but I don’t think anyone listening to that should apologize to them for offending them. Their state of “offense” is their own problem and one they should resolve themselves.

Apologizing for offending people only reinforces this bad habit. They will be more likely to be thin skinned in the future and you create a very unproductive closed loop. Originally when I was thinking about this earlier I realized that I couldn’t quite quantify why this bothered me. I also couldn’t quantify when I felt it was appropriate to apologize for hurting someone’s feelings. After some talking with the Liz I realized the only time I feel that you may wish to apologize for commentary that hurts someone’s feelings.

If you make a statement with intent to harm and you regret that action then you should apologize.

That’s it. That’s the only time I can think at this time that I feel anyone should apologize. In most situations the correct answer is not to apologize but instead if a person says “that offended me” you can choose to recognize it and not do it again if you value their existence in your presence.

Otherwise I don’t think its a good idea. You cannot control how people construe what you say and it shouldn’t be your job to. If someone takes your words and runs off with them that is not your problem and it shouldn’t be. They have made that decision and it should be their job to live with it not yours.



PS. To be clear it is best to just be nice. But offending people is unavoidable and it should never be your duty to feel bad for something unavoidable. It’s like apologizing for a fart, it probably shouldn’t be done [unless its a joke].

By | 2013-08-21T01:37:48+00:00 August 21st, 2013|Journal|Comments Off on The Science of Sorry