Is It Too Late Now To Say Sorry?

“Bill looked at Dave. He seemed so happy stringing his pebbles together. “Hey Dave,” Bill whispered, “I’m sorry I hit your mom over the head with my club. I really did think that she was a woolly mammoth.” “Are you kidding, Bill?” Dave exclaimed. He looked up from his beads. “Don’t apologize. I’ve done that myself once” he paused. “…or twice.””

– Excerpt from Life of Dave, Caveman Extraordinaire

Life is complicated, and the material world is ephemeral. Sometimes, you don’t update your blog for five long months. Sometimes, you accidentally listen to a catchy Justin Bieber song, and it haunts you for weeks. Sometimes, you hit a friend’s mother with a wooden club. Things happen.

If there’s one constant, however, it would be this: apologies.

Apologies have been around forever. They are, quite literally, the oldest trick in the book. According to Psychology Today’s interpretation (psychoanalysis?) of the Talmud – the holy book of Rabbinic Judaism – God created repentance before He created the universe. This tells us two significant things:

  1. We probably shouldn’t let Psychology Today near any more holy books.
  2. We were born sorry.

And it’s not just Rabbinic Judaism. Several major faiths are founded on the idea of the apology. Forgiveness. Absolution. Sitting in a small dark room, confessing all your sins to someone you can’t see (which also happens surprisingly often on Friday nights in college dorms). And if you’re an atheist, there’s something in here for you too – guilty consciences are thought to have evolved from social instincts. Just think about it: what sort of world would we be living in if no one ever said the word “sorry”?

A world full of meanies.

What also matters is how you say it. Today, as I struggle to word my perfect apology, I shake my fist and curse my favorite cavemen, Dave and Bill. Damn you, Dave and Bill. You had it so easy. In my world, if you want to get your apology noticed, you have to write it in giant letters across the sky. Or you have to be an annoying Canadian child with floppy hair and write a Number 1 Hit with a music video featuring twerking women. Or you have to buy, like, a present or something. As if global warming isn’t stressful enough.

It was easier when I was kid. I’ve always been a very apologetic person, aided by the fact that I probably did a lot of things that required copious amounts of apologizing. Exhibit A:

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But now that I am a raucous youth freed from the protective helmet of childhood, I am not permitted to be mainstream. A poetically simple “Sorry, dude”, as it turns out, is *scoffs* formulaic. And unlike most things, I’m not even making this up. According to linguist AJ Meier, “The most frequently occurring apology strategy has generally been found to be a formulaic expression of apology (i.e., an expression containing apologize, sorry, forgive, excuse, pardon).” Well, I’m no expert, but this may be because it’s hard to say sorry without actually, well, saying sorry.

To dissect this further, I conducted my own extensive research, and I have discovered that a successful apology consists of three parts:

  1. “You were right”: Acknowledgement of the object’s superiority and the subject’s current state of vulnerability.
  2. “I was dumb”: Acknowledgement of the fact that what the subject did was inexcusable and cannot be justified.
  3. “Sorry”: The operative; conclusive.

Of course, this is just a template, and although it is very scientific and well-researched and generally excellent, there are few exceptions. For example, #2 doesn’t apply to some countries in the African continent, where people apologize for all and any unfortunate things that happen to you, even if it happened through no fault of their own. For instance, if you trip over your own foot, you would hear a chorus of “I’m sorry”. Likewise, the Japanese have 20 different ways of apologizing, and probably have a much more complex system of sorries, corrected to 52 decimal places. But regardless of complexity or culture, you can’t have an apology without an apology.

Or so I thought.

There’s this guy called Plato. Funny beard, kind of annoying; maybe you’ve heard of him. Many years ago, Plato wrote a book called Apology. I found out about it some months ago, when I discovered that it was a reading for a Plato-centric course. After three months of reading things like, “I don’t think that you’re unfortunate – I know you are” and “Man is a two-legged animal without feathers”, I was thrilled to see “Plato’s Apology” at the end of the reading list. So pompous li’l Smarty McFancypants was finally going to apologize for the hell he put us through. About time, chump.

I was wrong.

  1. The word “sorry” does not appear even once in the entire text.
  2. In fact, it’s 9000 words of the worst apology ever.
  3. A quote: “Now please, men of Athens, do not make a disturbance, not even if I seem to you to be boasting somewhat.” – Plato. (read: somewhat)
  4. Another quote: “I am wise.” – Plato

I had almost convinced myself that Plato was an ancestor of Kanye West, when I realized something groundbreaking: the word “apology”, in ancient Greek, is “apologia” – which means “a speech made in defense of”. This is basically the opposite of an apology. Plato wasn’t trying to apologize. He was trying to defend himself, and his main ho Socrates.

Clearly, Plato isn’t going to be of any help to my perfect apology. Not like he’s ever of any help anyway.

It’s comforting to know, however, that apologies have evolved from an ancient Greek word that means something quite different, to become the harbingers of modern human civilization. They started out as not being apologies as we know them, and today they have found an integral place in the world’s major religions, in our daily lives and conversational vocabulary, and most importantly, in a Justin Bieber song. There’s an inspirational message in there somewhere.

And so, enkindled by the imperfection of the apology as a construct, I’m going to apologize the only way I know how.

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Will you?

Independence 101, By A Certified Freshman

When I was in the 6th grade, I studied about my country’s struggle for independence from the British. I was young and impressionable, and having heard about British atrocities (they spell “color” with a “u”!) I began to develop a hatred for tea and an obsession with attaining independence. The British were long gone – GOOD RIDDANCE TO EXTRA VOWELS – so I projected my vicarious feelings of enslavement onto my parents (who coincidentally love tea). Since I am from the land of Gandhi, I decided that the best way to achieve independence would be by a) fasting and b) initiating a salt march. The salt march didn’t last too long, because I had to literally march for three seconds to get from my room to the salt shaker. The fasting lasted for an even shorter duration of time than the salt march, because my mother baked a cake, and I was basically an eleven-year-old Augustus Gloop. It was when I was stuffing chocolate cake into my mouth and pockets and ears that I had an epiphany: this was not how I would attain independence.

The only way I could become independent was by going to university.

And now that I have achieved that, I must admit that I have unbidden bouts of colonial nostalgia, as I’m sure Gandhi did when the British left and took BBC Entertainment with them.

For the most part, independence is certainly what it’s cut out to be. I ate M&Ms at 12 am yesterday, after I brushed my teeth. I haven’t clipped my toenails for a week so I am well on my way to becoming a moustachioed holy man. I ate breakfast at 11:30 am today, and I didn’t even call the meal “brunch”. I’m such a rebel that Gandhi would see me and go “YO DUDE WAZZUP” and try to high-five me, but I would totally leave him hanging.

At other times, however, I have an acute desire to renounce my independence. My need to be dependent is most acute when it comes to three things: a) Personal hygiene b) Food and c) Money.

When someone’s not telling you to “GO CLEAN YOUR ROOM”, “GO SCRUB YOUR FEET”, “FOR GOD’S SAKE, TAKE THAT SOCK OFF YOUR HEAD”, personal hygiene is hard. Before coming here, I had never used a washing machine in my life. I thought that trash just vanished from the mystical black-hole voodoo thingy called a trashcan. Back home, when my friends would ask me what I was wearing to a dinner party, “crumpled” and “mild odour” would not have been my adjectives of choice. I’ve always been a big believer in magic (especially black magic, but that’s a story for another day). I liked to think that my clothes ironed themselves without setting the house on fire, that my fairy godmother cleaned the bathrooms, and that Santa Claus took my trash to the nearest recycling station on his reindeer sleigh (I had a weird childhood, okay?). Becoming independent made life a whole lot less magical.

Another thing that has become less magical is food. There was something about not knowing what was for dinner, about sitting at the table and trying to guess from the aromas emanating from the kitchen, about closing your eyes, taking a deep breath, having dinner put before you, and then realising that it was exactly what you ate for lunch. It’s certainly more fun than having to “balance your diet”. Food is present in abundance here, and that’s a problem. There’s no one to stop me from eating breakfast for dinner and lunch for a midnight snack and Oreos with every meal. There’s no one to remind me to drink water when I’m thirsty and eat food only when I’m hungry. It’s difficult to maintain one’s health as a Juvenile Independent. My mother has to Skype me to remind me to not to eat Lays (Salt and Vinegar) for breakfast, and I still “forget”.

Another thing that I tend to forget as an Independent Adult it that money has value. It is not just a piece of paper with pictures and words on it. One of the first things they suggested to us here at university is that we download an app called “You Need A Budget”. My reaction to this was “Lol.” It turns out that the joke was on me, because I later realised that I was not, in fact, Scrooge McDuck. I was not even a duck. I was an Adult, an Independent One at that, with Expenses. I get a stipend here, and for a long time I thought that “stipend” meant a lifetime’s worth of free things, like it is on the Oprah Winfrey Show. “YOU GET A STIPEND! AND YOU GET A STIPEND! EVERYBODY GETS A STIPEND!”

It wasn’t like that.

I needed a budget.

So I’ve made one, and I’ve done all the other Independent Things that I so looked forward to doing when I was eleven. I have officially been here for a month now, and I feel like I am slowly steering my wayward independence back within my locus of control. I wish, sometimes, that I could switch to being dependent for a while, especially when I’m doing my laundry, or ironing, or trying to fend off Freshman 15. But I’m finding comfort in routines. And the possibility that my garbage man might be Santa Claus.


P.S. If you liked this post – and I’m hoping you did, because you managed to get through 900 words of Mushroom Sup’s drivel – I’d love if you could check out my new blog, SalAD. It’s about my life at university, with dressing. And camels. Lots of camels.