I used to think I didn’t need to apologize if I hurt someone through an accident, not meaning to cause them any harm. But then I realized an apology should be for what I did, not what I intended to do. This follows directly from the nature and meaning of an apology.
This post might be stating the obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me for a long time. Maybe it was just because I was selfish and prideful, but I thought even if I needed to apologize for hurting someone, the fact that I didn’t mean to hurt them should be somehow factored in. Surely I deserved credit for having hurt them unintentionally? Or even for good intentions gone awry?
Only when I learned that an apology really expresses “I won’t do that again” did I realize that this makes no sense. If I hurt someone through my good intentions, and I included the good intentions in my apology, I’d be vowing to never again have those good intentions, while also defending myself.
An apology should be unconditional, putting aside all mitigating factors. “I know I hurt you. I’m sorry I hurt you. I won’t hurt you again.” Nothing else matters. Nothing else should even be mentioned.1 No explanation, no defense, no excuse, no good intentions, no nothing. It should focus solely and exclusively on the harm, the regret, and the resolve not to repeat.
Anything added, hedged, or withheld weakens and undermines the apology.
References and Further Reading
- You can also ask for forgiveness, but that’s separate from an apology, and shouldn’t be confused with it. [return]