A Nation of Sorry Apologists
"I'm sorry" is one of the sorrier terms in the English language. "I'm sorry" is repellent. When uttered, the natural reaction is to flinch away from the one whose lips it passes. If you want to show the world the degree to which you are a recreant, a subaltern, a prevaricator, a narcissist, the frequency and amplitude with which you use "I'm sorry" will do it.
"I'm sorry" is appropriate in the most limited circumstances, and mostly those that involve no forethought. Such circumstances should always be accompanied by an offer of restitution. You reach across the table and tip over a glass: "I'm sorry. Let me clean up and recharge your drink." You mess up the numbers in a financial report. "I'm sorry. Let me change that number and recalculate the total." You back your car into another car in a parking lot. "I'm sorry. Let me pay for the damage."
Outside those and other similar accidental incidences, you'll be far better off keeping "I'm sorry" to yourself, because you will likely do more harm than good. Rarely should anyone offer "I'm sorry" for deliberative action or words.
By all means, never say "I'm sorry" for unknowingly repeating something someone else has said or has done, or for any such innocuous faux pas. When you say "I'm sorry" for nothing, you diminish your worth. If "I'm sorry" is the instinctive blurt for every slight transgression, you end up apologizing for your very existence. You become a non-entity.
Though you might be tempted to say "I'm sorry" for a stupid act that produced an unintended consequence, don't. If you speed down your neighborhood street and run over the neighbor's cat, don't say "I'm sorry." You didn't mean to run over the cat, but running over the cat was a possible consequence that would have been avoided had you not acted stupidly. "I'm sorry" won't bring back the cat, nor return you to the good graces of your neighbor.
Similarly, don't say "I'm sorry" for a rude remark or an ad hominen directed at friends or family. Sure, you've made an ass of yourself, but saying "I'm sorry" won't raise your lowered standing. This is something to consider when drinking.
Though you will be sorely tempted to say "I'm sorry" for deliberate actions to relieve your conscience, you're better off keeping your mouth shut. If you are caught cheating on your spouse, don't say "I'm sorry." If you lied on your resume, don't say "I'm sorry." If you murder someone, don't say "I'm sorry." You and everyone else knows you're not sorry for your action; you're sorry only that you got caught.
On the other hand, never feel remorse and never say "I'm sorry" for voicing a contrary opinion or stating the obvious that goes unsaid for fear of offending delicate sensitivities. Something is evil -- call it evil; something is a fraud -- call it a fraud; someone is lying -- call him a liar. Better to offend than to fall into the ugly and inaccurate euphemisms George Orwell lambasts in his brilliant essay "Politics and the English Language."
Take pride in the enemies you cultivate, and take pride in offending your enemies as often and as deeply as you can. Never give in to their shrill importuning for an apology. Those who demand an "I'm sorry" are the least worthy recipients.
Similarly, never say "I'm sorry" for a justified action. If George Zimmerman believed he was defending himself, he was a fool to apologize for doing so. Besides, whom was he apologizing to? Trayvon Martin's family would never accept his apology. "I'm sorry" in this instance was far worse than meaningless; it diminished Zimmerman's credibility to the point that it could cost him his freedom.
What is more, Zimmerman exacerbated his plight by publicly offering his apology. The public "I'm sorry" is the province of the self-immolating celebrity and politician. How often have we heard an "I'm sorry" from grandees that were directed at everyone, but pertinent to no one?
Perhaps Zimmerman was simply following precedence. Tiger Woods cheats on his wife with a bevy of harlots. He's caught, so he offers an "I'm sorry" to anyone who will accept it. To be sure, social media has made it easy to live vicariously through celebrities, so a clique of offended imbeciles will live for a celebrity's apology. The rest of us -- the adults -- either cringe or smirk. Woods' "I'm sorry" was like saying "I love you." His "I'm sorry" wasn't meaningful even to his wife; how, then, could it be meaningful to strangers?
The blanket public "I'm sorry" is just below the sociopath's "I'm-not-sorry I'm sorry," in narcissism and self indulgence. Bill Clinton was the master of the sociopathic "I'm-not-sorry I'm sorry."
In 1998, Bill Clinton apologized -- though avoided saying "I'm sorry" -- for seducing the jejune Monica Lewinsky. Early in the apology, Clinton is contrite and accepts "responsibility for his actions," a term that exceeds "I'm sorry" in vacuity and insipidness. As the apology proceeds, Clinton's tone and demeanor gradually shift to the offensive from the defensive. By the end, Clinton has so manipulated his apology that he ends it attacking those who forced him into his embarrassing predicament.
The sociopath's "I'm sorry" is outdone in degree of reprehensibility only by the messianic "I'm sorry," which is reserved for the upper-echelon politician. These self-anointed messiahs are only too eager to say "I'm sorry" for government atrocities that occurred decades or even centuries ago, where most everyone involved in the atrocity is dead.
The political messiah takes it upon himself to take the country's sins, virtually all committed by government, upon his narrow shoulders and publicly and solemnly pronounces, "I'm sorry." Tony Blair says "I'm sorry" for the United Kingdom's role in the Irish famine; Tomiichi Murayama apologizes for Japan's role in the Second World War.
Here again, Bill Clinton is unmatched in degree and magnitude of messianic complex. Though loath to say "I'm sorry" for his own transgressions, Clinton has always been more than willing to spew "I'm sorry" for transgressions committed by dead government workers to people either dead or to whom Clinton has no personal connection. In 1997, the victims -- mostly dead -- of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study receive a heartfelt, lip-biting "I'm sorry." A year later, during a 1998 tour of Africa, Clinton says "I'm sorry" -- not once, but twice -- for America's role in the slave trade.
Mrs. Clinton has subsequently assumed her husband's messianic mantel, offering her own meaningless, restitutionless, somber apology, in 2010, to Guatemala for a separate syphilis study conducted in that country in the 1940s. Messianic "I'm sorrys" are reprehensible not only for their lack of sincerity and the presumptive gall of the messiah, but for their promotion of a political interest.
The world would be a more comfortable, more honorable place if we could learn to live by Benjamin Disraeli's exhortation to "never complain and never explain" and by the corollary to never say "I'm sorry." We can do that by avoiding actions and words that we'll feel sorry for.
Stephen Mauzy is a financial writer and principal of S.P. Mauzy & Associates. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.