Apologies shouldn't be easy

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The overuse of the word “sorry” has diluted its meaning.

This summer, I worked at a camp and saw that firsthand. One child in particular stood out: he bullied other children without shame and being reprimanded irritated him, but I never saw any remorse after he was punished.

One night, this camper swore at another one. When I asked him to apologize, he refused. “I’m not sorry,” he said. “I would do it again.” As the girl became more upset by his lack of apology, my automatic response was, “You don’t need to mean it. You just need to say it.”

I was caught off guard by my reaction. I had heard this sentence so many times as a child or when I worked with children. “Sorry” was a magic word that immediately absolved a person of their faults. Saying it has become reflexive, requiring no deeper thought or meaning.

Its meaning is negligible.

An apology should come with backup: the reason for the mistake and why it matters. Anything less doesn’t mean much.

I soon realized that when I was speaking to a remorseless child at camp, I was insisting they apply my own pet peeve of insincere apologies.

I did it because it was easy—and because it was something I learned from a young age.

Authority figures who instill lessons in us often fail to show us the true meaning of an apology. It reflects a sense of entitlement and freedom of consequence, and it begins when you’re young.

The reality is that it doesn’t mean avoiding consequences.  

Apologies shouldn’t come cheap and we shouldn’t insist children apologize until they’re convinced they should. Remember: “sorry” isn’t a magic word.

Once they’re adults, people should be able to come to a reasonable conclusion on whether an apology is warranted.

That goes for us as well. If a person is upset with you, listen and let them convince you of your mistake. If you’re remorseless, prove your innocence. If you still don’t agree, a discussion will shed light on something approaching a meaningful apology.

“Sorry” is currently our only method of apology, but its overuse has made it useless.

We’re in danger of living in a world where we can never redeem our mistakes and our apologies will mean nothing.

Samantha is one of The Journal’s Features Editors. She is a fourth-year English and Psychology student.

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