Recently a friend of mine with whom I am very active in the musical aspects of our local congregation posted a sermon given by a minister within our denomination about the subject of apologies. That night, independently, a separate member of our congregation whom I would consider an acquaintance sent a group of people (in which I was included) a link to the same message that I had already listened to. It was a good sermon, and I didn’t mind getting notice about it twice. There are a few conclusions one can come to when a sermon message like this one fairly quickly goes viral. As an aside, I hope he doesn’t mind my own discussion of the subject matter of his message and my contribution to its spread. For one, it is a recognition that the message is a good one, and it is both good and short (at least by the standards of a sermon, at 45 minutes or so). A second conclusion that one can come to easily and quickly is that the subject of apologies is one that resonates with a lot of people.
I know that is the case for me. Readers of this blog will not find it hard to understand that the subject of apologies is one I have mused on often since beginning this blog . In fact, the first post of mine that went viral did so relating to the subject of apologies. I have written and reviewed books on apologies. I have written apology notes to the readers of my blog for not having enough time to go into more detail about some things, written apology notes to myself as part of a self-chosen exercise in self-forgiveness, written apology notes that went spectacularly awry, waited in vain for apologies from others, received non-apology apologies from people who should have known and done better. Likely there are people waiting for apologies for me that I have no clue about because of being absent minded and self-absorbed in my own ways. To say that I have an awkward and long and uncomfortable history with apologies is a serious understatement. Nor do I think I am alone in that, as the record of my own history with apologies makes clear, since my own complicated history of apologies involves a lot of other people who have their own complicated histories with the same subject, at least in part due to me.
What is it that makes apologies awkward? I am not talking about the non-apology apologies that we use to rid ourselves of the awkwardness of having caused offense and being confronted by it in particularly forceful ways. I mean, the act of genuinely offering an apology for a wrong that we recognize. I think there are many reasons. For one, offering a genuine apology really hurts our own ego, our own belief in ourselves as good people who are socially competent and who really care about those around us and who are a force for good. Offering a genuine apology involves first admitting to ourselves, and then to others, that we did wrong, and it means having to face the damages and repercussions of what we may have done with good intentions, or with no thought at all to how what we said or did affected others. This is painful and unpleasant for all of us, and if done right involves a great degree of soul-searching as we empathize with those whom we have wronged. It is little surprise that this process is so painful and unpleasant. It is more of a surprise that many of us feel compelled to do it at all given this.
Even while writing this entry I received a brief apology from a friend of mine who was slow to reply to a message because she was busy cleaning, which is evidence, if any were needed, of the compulsion that some of us feel about apologizing. I know that I try to make those who apologize to me feel as little awkwardness as possible. The reasons for this are rather straightforward, as one might imagine. Being a person of spectacular awkwardness myself in all of my dealings, I know all too well what it feels like to be out of place and uncomfortable, something that is true nearly every moment of my existence. And since I feel uncomfortable when those around me are uncomfortable, I tend to have a high motivation in making others feel at least a little more at ease so that I may have at least a few less reasons to feel uneasy. I would like to think that I am not a hard person to apologize to, and that I deal with apologies graciously and kindly, but all the same I wonder if I am unreasonable in expecting more apologies from others than the modest number I actually end up receiving. One does not want to have unreasonable expectations from others, after all, concerning how they think of others and how aware people are of the sort of difficulties they cause to others.
There is plenty of evidence, after all, that all of us acquire during the course of life that other people are simply thoughtless when not being cruel. I can think of plenty of examples, but there is no need to dwell on such matters here. It is more profitable for us to ponder the ways that we are thoughtful with others, and how we can be more proactive about handling the apologies we need to make. Given our experiences with people who have either apologized badly or not at all, and given our own experiences as people who apologize badly or not at all, there are at least a few options available to us. We can work on communicating with others as to the nature of our offenses against them in ways that are nonthreatening, and we can work on putting others more at ease and overcoming our own awkwardness to the greatest extent possible. Perhaps we ought to change our perspective as well, as the fact that we feel unhappy and uncomfortable about apologies can be a sign that we care about others and do not like to see them hurt, especially not by us. How can we leverage this concern into behaving better, instead of feeling bad about ourselves?
 See, for example: