Is it too late now to say sorry?

Justin Bieber poses a question that introduces the controversy of apologizing. While Bieber proposes that people do not apologize soon enough, I often wonder if people are too quick to apologize. However, I am just as guilty of “over-apologizing” as the next person, which my friend confronted me about this past weekend.

        We were studying on the swinging benches when the wind blew someone’s paper over the balcony. The girl with the paper turned around with a desperate expression, and I immediately said, “I’m sorry.” It was then when my friend asked me why I had apologized when I had no effect on the paper falling to the ground. I could not answer her. I reflected on the question, and I honestly do not know what made me instantly offer an apology. It was almost like a reflex. Was it my way of sympathizing with the girl who lost her paper? Or was apologizing just the socially acceptable thing to do?

        I was again confronted with this issue later that same night. I attended an event where we took off our shoes at the entrance. Growing up in a community where we did not lock our back door, I did not think leaving my shoes unprotected was a big deal. My friends and I proceeded to add our shoes to the pile. A couple hours later when we were ready to leave, I went to grab my shoes, but I could not find them. After searching through the spread of shoes several times, I walked out of the building barefoot. My friends repeatedly said they were sorry that I lost my shoes. Even friends who were not at the event apologized to me. Thinking about the conversation I had earlier that day, I wondered why my friends were telling me they were sorry. They did nothing wrong – they did not take my shoes. So why did they feel the need to apologize? Were they genuinely sympathetic to my situation, or were they merely abiding by social norms?

        These questions sparked further questions. I started to wonder why it can be so easy to apologize when you are not at fault but so hard to apologize when an apology is necessary. I remember a time in high school when I made myself apologize to my principal because she caught me wearing leggings, an act that violated our uniform policy. I was shaking as I walked into her office, rehearsing what I was going to say when I got there. Why was it so hard for me to say sorry in this situation when it was so instinctive to say sorry when the paper fell to the floor? Was my unnecessary apology less sincere, or is it just harder to say sorry when you are actually at fault because it is a reflection on yourself?

        When you are at fault, an apology infers that you accept responsibility and admit that you were wrong. As humans, it is hard for us to admit when we are wrong. We feel that conceding takes away from our worth as a human being and fear being considered inadequate. Making a true apology forces us to acknowledge the success of someone else, which often causes us to experience a feeling of inferiority. Yet we throw around sympathetic apologies without a second thought. Does this idea of over-apologizing diminish the value of true apologies? Could over-apologizing create a sense of superficiality within society?

        If apologizing just becomes another habit, then there may no longer be any real meaning in making an apology when we are actually at fault. This could be extremely problematic and could prevent humans from having authentic and sincere relationships with each other. However, I do not intend to claim that apologizing to show sympathy is an abominable sin; I am merely advocating for us to think deeper about what we truly mean when we say the words “I’m sorry.”