Apology - CortezLet me start off by apologizing for this week’s column – something I should probably do every week about this time.

Apologizing is as old as mankind. The very first recorded apology took place in the Garden of Eden, when Eve apologized to Adam for goading him into taking a bite out of the apple. An ancient Greek translation of her apology roughly translates to: “Sorry about that, Adam. But you have to admit that I look pretty amazing now that you realize I’m naked, right?” 

Anthropologists have found what they believe to be the earliest preserved record of an apology in a 17,000-year-old cave paintings in Lascaux, France. It appears to depict a dejected male apologizing to his female companion for failing to bring back a hyena for dinner. Or it might have been a small mastodon. Hard to say which. The brush strokes were early impressionist.

Throughout history people have apologized for doing bad things and making egregious decisions. There is evidence that in ancient Egypt even the great Pharaoh Khufu may have issued an apology of sorts for causing the deaths of more than 20,000 men who gave their lives building his Great Pyramid. Hieroglyphics found on an interior chamber wall translate loosely to “Sorry for all of you who died making this cool burial shrine. In retrospect, I probably should have thought to suggest using pulleys and levers. Sorry I did not think of that till now. Oops.”

Apology - Cruise ship

The Captain of the Titanic famously apologized for driving too fast and hitting an iceberg, but said in his defense that “the manufacturer told me this ship was unsinkable. Besides, it was built by a bunch of Irishmen, so you can’t pin that on me.”

Even God has been known to apologize, most notably for his poorly thought-out design resulting in the duck-billed platypus. Years later, religious scholars still have no idea what God was thinking.

More recently, Donald Trump stunned everyone by publicly apologizing for… no, wait, that’s wrong. The Donald has never apologized for anything. I apologize for this error.

In the last century, the apology has continued to evolve. In the past fifty years, it has been frowned upon for business leaders to apologize for any mistake. When caught in a scandal – say, defrauding investors – the preferred method is to vehemently deny having done anything wrong, at least until sentencing.

Apology - Lance Armstrong

In 21st century politics, the word apologize has actually been banned from the vocabulary of any politician. When a politician is found guilty of misusing public funds or getting caught in a tawdry sex scandal with an underage prostitute, they are required to deny they did anything wrong unless the accuser can produce a YouTube video showing them in the act. 

In that event, they are obligated to conduct a hastily assembled press conference during which they proclaim how they have been humbled, learned a powerful life lesson (about not performing sex acts with an underage prostitute in front of a camera), explain how in the past 48 hours they have found God, and proceed to make a compelling argument about how their newfound faith makes them uniquely qualified to be your next Senator from the great state of Mississippi.

In doing my research for this article, I discovered that throughout history there have been essentially four acceptable types of apologies:

  • It’s not my fault: “I’m sorry about that. But it’s not my fault that I hit your car when I ran the stop light while driving drunk. How was I to know that the bartender wasn’t going to cut me off until my ninth vodka sour?” 
  • I did not understand: “I’m sorry. I did not understand that the report was due today. When you said it needed to be completed no later than noon this Tuesday for the Shareholders’ Presentation, I thought you meant this Tuesday three weeks from now. You should have been more specific about which this Tuesday you were referring to.” 
  • You did not understand: “I’m sorry you thought you were going to get a raise when I told you last month, ‘You are going to get a raise. What I meant was that eventually somebody is going to give you a raise for your decades of hard work. You wrongly assumed that the raise was going to come from me. That’s your fault for misinterpreting my words.” 
  • I’m sorry you feel that way: “I’m sorry you’re upset that I borrowed your iPad without asking and then accidentally dropped it into the bath tub while playing Sudoku. You know, you really shouldn’t be so obsessed with material things. It’s just a computer. Get over it.”

Apology - Bernie MadoffSome historians speculate that there may once have been a fifth type of apology – one in which the person offered a sincere message of remorse, taking full responsibility for their harmful words or actions without making any excuses. Of course, some historians also believe there was once a magical kingdom called Camelot.

One significant change in the modern-day apology is that, thanks to social media and technology, it is now considered extremely bad form to issue an apology consisting of more than five words. Example: “Dude, sorry about shooting your —“. People simply don’t have the time to read lengthy apologies anymore – let alone write them. Among people under the age of 21, most apologies are expected to be no more than two words: My bad.

Well, that’s it. If you were hoping this week’s post would be funnier, all I can say is I’m sorry you feel that way. I did not understand. You did not understand. But it’s not my fault.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. If so, my bad.

Tim Jones - Profile at Safeco - TinyPS:  If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a thumbs up or sharing this post on Facebook. And if you didn’t enjoy this week’s post, you have my humblest apologies. I’ll try to do better next time.   

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2013

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