Why Is It So Hard to Apologize?

IN July 2000, the California State Legislature in the United States passed a bill designed to relieve people of liability if they express sympathy to an individual who was injured in an accident in which they themselves were involved. Why the legislation? It was noted that when an accident causes injury or damage, people often hesitate to extend an apology lest it be construed in court as an admission of guilt. On the other hand, those who feel that they should be given a prompt apology may get upset, and a minor accident may turn into a major dispute.

Of course, it is not necessary to apologize for an accident that is not your fault. And there may be times when the wise course is to be careful about what you say. An old proverb says: “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.” (Proverbs 10:19; 27:12) Still, you can be courteous and helpful.

Is it not true, though, that many people have stopped apologizing, even when lawsuits are not involved? At home a wife may lament, ‘My husband never apologizes for anything.’ At work a foreman may complain, ‘My men do not admit their mistakes, and they hardly ever say that they are sorry.’ At school a teacher may report, ‘Children are not trained to say excuse me.’

One reason why a person hesitates to apologize may be the fear of rejection. Troubled by the thought of being given the cold shoulder, he may not express how he really feels. Why, the person who was hurt might totally avoid the offender, making reconciliation very difficult.

A lack of concern for other people’s feelings may be another reason why some hesitate to apologize. They may reason, ‘Apologizing will not undo the blunder I have already made.’ Still others hesitate to say that they are sorry because of the possible consequences. They wonder, ‘Will I be held responsible and be asked to make compensation?’ However, the biggest hurdle to admitting a mistake is pride. A person who is too proud to say “I am sorry” may in essence conclude, ‘I don’t want to lose face by admitting my blunder. That would weaken my position.’

For whatever reason, many find words of apology hard to utter. But is it really necessary to apologize? What are the benefits of apologizing?

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“Children are not trained to say excuse me”

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“My husband never apologizes”

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“My men do not admit their mistakes”