Thursday, 12 February 2009

The psychology of apology.

(strangely fitting picture whisked without apology from here)

It's such a little word. Five letters, two syllables, and yet it can be very hard to say. There's a reason for that. A good reason.

When you apologise, you necessarily take a submissive position. The one apologised to has, for the extent of the apology, a dominance over you. Sometimes this is okay. It makes the recipient of the apology feel good, even if they don't know why, and makes it more likely to be accepted.

What you have to consider is whether you want to allow that person the dominant position and how long you want to allow it for. Some married folk will keep a spouse cowed for years after they have forced an apology from them, often over some trivial offence. Some will accept it and move on. You have to judge, in each situation, which way it will go. Then you have to deal with it.

Or you could just say 'bollocks' and leave them to stew in it. I admit that's my preferred option these days.

A long-married friend of mine put it very well. He's married to a moody cow who flies into tantrums at the slightest thing. He could hoover the house, wash the dishes, dust and polish, and she'd complain he hadn't done the windows. Now he does none of it. She moans, but as he says, she'll moan anyway.

His attitude now is that nothing he can do will be right, nothing he can do will make the old hag happy, so he no longer tries.

This struck a chord because it's the same as my attitude to the Righteous. They will see offense in every word, so there's no point guarding your words and worrying that they will cause offense. They will. It no longer matters which words you use.

Then the Righteous will demand an apology. You will see them in comment threads, demanding apologies for some imagined offense fifteen posts back. Over and over and over, they wheedle for that apology. They know what it means and like those abusive spouses, if they get their apology they will never let you forget it.

The other thing about apology is that it is an admission of guilt. Apologise for a perceived 'racist remark' and you tacitly admit you are racist. The Righteous will latch on to that, long after the original remark is forgotten they will hold it up as evidence of your racism for ever.

Prince Harry referred to a friend as 'Paki' in a video. He meant no offense. His friend took no offense. The Righteous demanded an apology and got it. So, the matter is closed? Not on your life.

His Royal Harriness is to attend a Righteous re-education camp. Here's how ITN put their memory of his remark:

Army chiefs agreed the move after revelations that the 24-year-old called fellow officer Ahmed Raza Khan a "Paki". [...] Harry aimed the offensive term at his military colleague while waiting at an airport for a flight to Cyprus in 2006. It was caught on video, as was his use of the jibe "raghead" at another officer cadet wearing a camouflage veil.

Does that, or does that not read as though he was on some kind of skinhead rampage at the time? He apologised for 'using a racist term' and now he's fair game. He has Confessed, the original context is fading from most people's memory and there is no further need for truth.

This is why the Righteous demand apology, and keep demanding it. This is why Draperman, who is fully aware of the psychology of this, makes so much of a remark made by Iain Dale in the wake of the Carol Thatcher trial-by-kangaroo. Iain Dale has so far resisted apology, and long may he continue to do so. I note that recent commentary of the Carol Thatcher business now has her making repeated references to golliwogs and I wouldn't be surprised if she is soon credited with creating the entire slave trade and accused of inventing the toy.

When faced with demands for apology, don't be too quick to comply. You might think 'the hell with it, it'll shut them up'. It will not. There is a considerable psychological advantage in extracting an apology from someone, an advantage that should not be given away lightly. Remember, if you apologise for something then you are de facto guilty of it. Think long and hard before handing out that little word 'sorry'.

Words have power, and not always for the good. Be wary of what you give away.


Old Holborn said...

The Righteous demand


Bastards. He had the finest education money could buy.

It just wasn't THIER choice.

God, they're mad. He should have been educated in Peckham.

DiscoveredJoys said...

Perhaps we could agree a 'standard rebuttal' which could become a reflex reply to the Righteous?

Something along the lines of "I don't care to respond to your synthetic offence with anything other than contempt."

Sir Henry Morgan said...

Once in my life I gave a genuine apology. Nobody asked me to, nobody made me. I had said something really shitty and unjustified to a woman I actually liked, and to her face.

I didn't sleep too good that night.

Next day, in front of my wife and her husband, and to the surprise of everyone I made a point of giving her an unconditional apology. No ifs, no buts, no excuses.

Mind you, she wasn't like the people you're describing here. She accepted it unconditionally and immediately. And for many years afterwards she and I were really the very best friends, and the whole sad thing was never mentioned again. Haven't seen her for about twenty years now after they went abroad.

So apology CAN be a good thing - but it does have to be genuine and not forced. And only to someone who hasn't demanded it. And that's probably what makes the difference between whether you should apologise or not. Someone who demands it isn't REALLY going to accept it and move on.

If you're still out there Mo, I still think of you occasionally.

it's either banned or compulsory said...

Well said Leg-Iron and the proof is that Phil The Hun ( or Greek, take your pick ) gets away with what most others would not dare to, probably because he has never felt the need for apology.

Let's hope that Harry has a right laugh on his Diversity Awareness Course.

max the impaler said...

Apologise to the righteous for telling it how it is...NOT a fucking chance in hell.Prince Harry should tell them to stick their course, and their mealy mouthed apology up their collective arse.

K. McEgan. said...

Holborn-nobody is educated in Peckham merely detained until 4pm.

fuchsia groan said...

Interesting, I never thought of it like that. I used to be the sort of person who would apologise if I felt I was in the wrong. I would then expect my apology to be accepted with good grace and the matter considered over and done with. Unfortunately, some people don't 'do' good grace. Those are the people you should never, ever apologise to. I have learnt to be more guarded over who I apologise to.

g1lgam3sh said...

Been on the road for a while workwise and had no access to t'internet...been refurbishing networks at some of Brenda's hotels...don't ask :-)

What a pleasure to come back to such a great post.

g1lgam3sh said...

Via Dick P and posted on FB :-)

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