The Art Of The Apology

Bill Mattocks

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"I'm sorry."

One might think that an apology isn't a self-defense technique, and certainly not one that has any place in a martial arts forum. I think it does.

Apologies come in several forms.

They can be used to express condolences for something another person is experiencing - not as an expression contrition for having caused the issue, but as a general statement of emotional support. For example, "I am sorry to hear that you lost your pet recently."

They can be used to express genuine contrition for something one has done that caused offense or damage to another. "I am sorry that I ran into the back of your car because I was not paying attention to my driving."

Apologies are also social lubricants, and in this sense, they are useful as self-defense mechanisms. "I'm sorry," can be used to cover a variety of situations in which the person making the statement did not do anything wrong, but they recognize that someone else has taken offense at some presumed wrongdoing.

How many physical altercations have started because a person accidentally brushed into someone else (for example), who took immediate offense and and caused a scene, simply because the person wrongfully accused refused to apologize?

Some feel it is wrong to apologize when one has done nothing wrong, and they refuse to do so. I understand that point of view, but I maintain that it is not perhaps the best response when one considers the self-defense ramifications.

Altercations often occur because one person wants to fight, and the other is persuaded to fight as well. If one can avoid fighting by simply apologizing, even if they did nothing to apologize for, is this not the best solution for all concerned?

"Hey! You stepped on my foot!"

"Oh, did I? I'm sorry."

When sincerely delivered, that apology, whether or not the person really stepped on the other guy's foot, changes the dynamics of the interaction. By not responding with a denial or a challenge, the person who thinks their foot was stepped on now has to make a decision whether or not to continue the confrontation. They can save face by saying something like "Well, be more careful!" and withdrawing, if they don't truly want a physical altercation.

If they choose to continue, it becomes clear to any onlookers that you are the 'reasonable person' and they are not. If the situation continues to escalate, you are the victim who is engaging in self-defense, not them. You're trying to de-escalate and disengage; they are being unreasonable and starting a fight.

That can be very important later on. It is good to have witnesses who are willing to state that you were not the aggressor if a fight ensues and the police get involved.

That is not to say that a person needs to keep apologizing, to back down, or to cower, beg, plead, or to refuse to defend themselves with violence if need be. It simply means that in many cases, an apology will preclude the need for violence, or at the very least, make it clear that one is not the aggressor.

Sometimes, the requirements of good self-defense mean saying things that are designed to de-escalate. It might mean sucking up a little pride. Many of us study martial arts to learn to defend ourselves. Apologies can be another tool to help with that. There are people whose pride forbids them from apologizing for something they did not do, even to avoid a fight. I understand their point of view, but I would suggest that they are not fully exploring the art of self-defense if that is the case. Apologies are one of the many ways in which a person can avoid being attacked and having to resort to violence to defend themselves.
 

Steve

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Apologies are a terrific way to smooth things over provided they are actual apologies, without qualifiers or conditions, or without shifting blame. Most apologies are worse than not apologizing at all, and will often actually escalate, rather than de-escalate, a situation.

1: Shifting blame involves apologizing not for your own actions, but for the other persons and usually starts with, "I'm sorry you...."

"I'm sorry I offended you," is an apology.
"I'm sorry you were offended," is not an apology.

2: Qualifiers or conditions usually start off well, and then end with a "but."

"I'm sorry I offended you," is an apology.
"I'm sorry I offended you, but you really are being too sensitive," is not an apology.
 

lklawson

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"I'm sorry."

One might think that an apology isn't a self-defense technique, and certainly not one that has any place in a martial arts forum. I think it does.
It's worked for me more than once. The most memorable/entertaining was when I was in University, trying to make ends meet. A buddy and I were delivering newspapers. Yeah, it's a few steps above panhandling, but honest work anyway. :( So we were driving along in his car, chucking papers to the address list when a nice sports car blocks us in at a turnaround. Some dude jumps out and angrily yells, "YOU HIT MY CAR WITH YOUR NEWSPAPER!!!"

I looked at him, standing there quivering with rage. I looked at his spotless, immaculate, perfect shiny sports car. I looked back at him and said, "Oh. I'm sorry, sir. Was there any damage?"

He got a confused look on his face, sputtered for a few seconds, then sheepishly, and at much lower volume, said, "...no..."

"Oh. OK. Is there anything else I can do for you, sir?"

"...no..." [confused and sheepish look]

He got back in his car, backed out, and drove away. Never saw him again.

I could have chosen to get all blustery chest-puffing with him, but then I wouldn't have this cool story where he looks like such a total buffoon. :D

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 
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Bill Mattocks

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Apologies are a terrific way to smooth things over provided they are actual apologies, without qualifiers or conditions, or without shifting blame. Most apologies are worse than not apologizing at all, and will often actually escalate, rather than de-escalate, a situation.

1: Shifting blame involves apologizing not for your own actions, but for the other persons and usually starts with, "I'm sorry you...."

"I'm sorry I offended you," is an apology.
"I'm sorry you were offended," is not an apology.

2: Qualifiers or conditions usually start off well, and then end with a "but."

"I'm sorry I offended you," is an apology.
"I'm sorry I offended you, but you really are being too sensitive," is not an apology.

I completely agree. In fact, I was thinking of addressing the common and popular fake apology as you have clearly explained it above, but since I wanted to focus on the self-defense aspects, I left it out. I didn't consider that the false apology not only isn't an apology but can make the other person even angrier - great catch on your part, thanks!
 
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Bill Mattocks

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A buddy and I were delivering newspapers. Yeah, it's a few steps above panhandling, but honest work anyway. :(

Hey, I delivered newspapers as an adult as well. Once worked three part-time jobs and slept in shifts for about six months until I got a 'real' day job and could sleep an entire night at one go. Nothing wrong with it!

I was also confronted more than once by furious people - often because their newspaper landed with an audible thump at oh-dark-thirty. I always apologized, despite the fact that there was little I could do about it with so many papers to deliver and so little time to get it done before people got up and went to work.
 

lklawson

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I completely agree. In fact, I was thinking of addressing the common and popular fake apology as you have clearly explained it above, but since I wanted to focus on the self-defense aspects, I left it out. I didn't consider that the false apology not only isn't an apology but can make the other person even angrier - great catch on your part, thanks!
The truth is, it doesn't have to be a real apology. You don't actually have to be sorry. But the person hearing it has to believe it is a real apology. All of that "I'm sorry you were offended" crap is just a way of not actually apologizing and everyone knows it. It's the same as saying, "I think you're too dense to realize that I'm not apologizing but I also believe that my supporters will give me credit for apologizing even though I didn't."

Is it lying to make a "good" apology or a "real" apology but not actually mean it in your heart? Yes. I have an old friend who used to call that "Good Silat." :D

Peace favor your sword,
Kirk
 
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Bill Mattocks

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The truth is, it doesn't have to be a real apology. You don't actually have to be sorry. But the person hearing it has to believe it is a real apology. All of that "I'm sorry you were offended" crap is just a way of not actually apologizing and everyone knows it. It's the same as saying, "I think you're too dense to realize that I'm not apologizing but I also believe that my supporters will give me credit for apologizing even though I didn't."

I agree. I was married once before. Long ago. The now-ex said "I am sorry you feel hurt," instead of "I am sorry I slept with other guys." I recognized that it wasn't an apology. ;)

Is it lying to make a "good" apology or a "real" apology but not actually mean it in your heart? Yes. I have an old friend who used to call that "Good Silat." :D

Call it a 'tactical apology'. But honestly, although I agree that apologies should be authentic and accompanied by changed behavior if one is really sorry for what they have done, an apology in the right context is merely a social construct; part of the normal give-and-take of social interaction. Done right, it prevents murders, assaults, and other annoyances. I'm OK with that kind of false apology.
 

Buka

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I am quite sincere in any apology I've used to avoid trouble. Depending on circumstances, I've often said, 'I'm sorry, I meant no disrespect" and it has diffused many situations. The "no disrespect" thing seems to hold some weight here in Boston with local gangbangers.

Last Friday night four of us went to Twin Rivers Casino in Rhode Island to watch a friend's son in his fifth pro boxing match. We had trained him in MMA, and his dad before him, many years ago in Martial Arts. The crowd at the boxing matches was rough. All I could think about was Stephen's line in Braveheart -


So, before the kid's bout, five punk *** twenty somethings, a few rows in front of us decided to stand up. We couldn't see a darn thing. After a few minutes, one of my guys politely says, "Fellas, please sit when the match starts."
One of them turns, gives us the once over and says, "Maybe, you old F's. (his buddies laugh) then, giving us another once over, he says, "And maybe f'n not." They laugh harder.

They did eventually sit, thankfully. When the fight started, we realized they were there to see the same fighter we were. They knew him.

After the bout, we spent some time with the fighter. I saw the five guys, pointed them out and asked if he knew them. He did. I told him the story. He went over to them, almost biting their heads off, and told them who we were and what we did. (the three guys with me are still cops, all DT instructors and all ex fighters.)

The five kids, looking quite nervous, slowly made their way over and apologized profusely. They seemed quite sincere. :)
 

Tames D

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I agree. I was married once before. Long ago. The now-ex said "I am sorry you feel hurt," instead of "I am sorry I slept with other guys." I recognized that it wasn't an apology. ;)
Yes it was a apology. Just not the apology you wanted to hear.
It was an apology. Just not what you wanted to hear.
 

donald1

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Personally I dont think much about apologies nor do i expect apologies from others. I scarcely say it not out of arrogance or dislike. (like I said, I dont think much of it.) That and considering if you actually hit their car they are going to want a lot more than "sorry I wasnt paying attention... my bad". Although if it can avoid conflict then it was completely worth it. An excellent point.
 

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Something I've noticed in nightclubs. Now I don't go out to clubs much at all it's not my scene at all but the times I have it's been with karate guys and they're all older than me by a few years but in nightclubs it's literally very packed and can't help bumping into someone and I noticed when they do they say loudly and clearly straight after "sorry mate" and hold their hands up in apology. Because you do get some idiots who get bumped into and start trouble from that but saying sorry quickly makes it easier to defuse
 

drop bear

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By the way. An explanation always worked really well for me.

You wind up sitting on a guy. Telling him how you got there helps i think.
 

JowGaWolf

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The problem with apologies is that many people in western societies see apologies as weakness (which is crazy to me).
 
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Bill Mattocks

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The problem with apologies is that many people in western societies see apologies as weakness (which is crazy to me).

They also tend to have difficulty understanding risk analysis as it pertains to self-defense.
 

mograph

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I'm reading a paper now about apologies.
Tl;dr version: according to the study,
  • apologies are not all alike
  • apologies have components.
  • different people respond differently to different components.
  • an apology may contain more than one component.
The components are:
  1. "I'm sorry, and here -- let me get you another one." (or "... and let me fix that")(an offer of compensation of some kind)
  2. ‘‘I feel really sorry for what I have done. I know how you feel now.” (an expression of empathy)
  3. "I'm sorry, and that was a really nasty thing to do in the dojo." (an expression of a violation of social norms)
If you're the one who is in the position of apologizing, and being forgiven is your goal, you're more likely to be forgiven if you apply the above components (respectively!) to people who think of themselves as:
  1. independent
  2. empathetic, or "people persons"
  3. collectively minded, or "following the rules."
Neat, eh? Tailor your apology, and all is forgiven. (well, you're more likely to be forgiven)

When apologies work: How matching apology components to victims’ self-construals facilitates forgiveness
 

geezer

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On the flip side, refusal to accept a sincere apology can escalate the tension, depending on the personalities involved. My older brother is a highly ethical, but hot-tempered individual. If he does something wrong and realizes it, he is quick to sincerely apologize and offer to make good.

Unfortunately for him, some of his associates are of the persuasion that believes that it is unseemly to quickly accept an apology, and return his attempt to "make good" dismissively. He in turn takes that as a deliberate provocation.

I don't know if this reaction is common, but if he drops his ego and extends an apology, he seems to become hyper-vulnerable and more reactive to continued aggressive or deprecatory behavior from the other party. Several times that I know of, such scenarios have begun with an attempted apology only to escalate into overt physical violence and resulted in lasting enmities.

Fortunately no one ever got seriously physically hurt. A distinct possibility since he and his friends are always around guns... but so far it's never gotten further then him choking the other guy out. And as we are aging (he's now in his mid-60s) he seems to be far more self controlled.
 

mograph

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Unfortunately for him, some of his associates are of the persuasion that believes that it is unseemly to quickly accept an apology, and return his attempt to "make good" dismissively.
Psych types have a clinical term for individuals who engage in that kind of behaviour. I think the term is ... "arsehole." :D
 
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Bill Mattocks

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Social interaction without violence is a potential survival trait. Some don't get that - on either end of the interaction. There are those who will not apologize for any behavior, those who will not apologize if they do not think they have transgressed, those who will not accept an apology without violence or threats of violence, and so on.

Enlightened self-defense is a concept that requires thinking about ways to avoid violence entirely, and to fight only if there is no other way to avoid it. This notion involves a redefinition of 'manly behavior' that for some is anathema.
 
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