Teacher: Good evening, Class! Last week we learned about the anatomy of an apology. It’s sincere, it accepts responsibility and accountability, it doesn’t contain any “buts” and it sometimes even outlines steps the apologizer might take to truly remedy a problematic situation.
Tonight’s objective is to master the tricky task of NotApologizing!
Student: Ugh. When are we even gonna USE a NotApology?
Teacher: You’d be surprised at how frequently NotApologies are employed by people of all ages in all walks of life, Timmy! Let’s see. There are three main kinds of NotApologies.
1. The Toddler NotApology. (Class? You should be taking notes!) The toddler NotApology might happen when a child takes another child’s toy away, and his parents force him to not only return the toy, but apologize. The first child might say the words, “I’m sorry,” but it is clear he is only saying the words to avoid going into a time out. You can tell it’s a real NotApology because he is sullen and gritting his teeth when he says it, and when his parents aren’t looking he bonks the other kid on the head with a wooden block.
The Toddler NonApology lacks nuance and subtlety, but accomplishes the task of getting his parents off his back and still letting the other child know he’d better have a grown up walk him to the car.
Teacher: 2. The Teenager NotApology. This one has more layers, and accomplishes different goals. Let’s say a 14-year-old girl forgot to take out the garbage like her parents asked her to. They remind her gently (though, perhaps mildly annoyed) of her forgotten chore, and she explodes in anger at them. She might say something like, “I’M SORRY I’M NOT PERFECT LIKE JOHNNY IS! YOU ALWAYS LOVED HIM MORE!!!” Then she stomps off to her room and slams the door.
See, here, class, in the Teenager NotApology, she is able to deflect responsibility by inflicting bewilderment with her overreaction, and inducing guilt at the same time. Furthermore, she is saying the words “I’m sorry,” but not for her mistake; for not being perfect. This is about as un-subtle as the Toddler NotApology, but more complex in the feelings it renders in those around her.
Teacher: The third kind of NotApology is the Adult NotApology. Here, class, I came across a real-life Adult NotApology in our very own town! Donna Taylor, Principal of an Intermediate School in Brooklyn, was answering questions of prospective parents and students after a school tour. When asked if the school had foreign language classes, she explained that she was trying to secure funds for a full-time Spanish teacher. She then shocked them by saying that in New York, “if you don’t speak Spanish, you clean your own house!”
Teacher: So, when parents complained, she gave the following statement:
“Yesterday at an open house, I made statements, the nature of which was misunderstood, and some attendees were offended. Diversity is an issue that is near and dear to me, and I deeply regret my poor choice of words.”
Now, students, can you identify the elements of the Adult NotApology here?
Student 1: She admits she said that horrible thing, but says everyone misunderstood them?
Teacher: That’s right, Dennis! Very good! She is taking the absolute MINIMUM amount of responsibility possible! Anyone else?
Student 2: She shifts the focus away from her by making it about the attendees being offended? Like they’re the ones who did the wrong thing by misunderstanding?
Teacher: Yes, Sally, excellent!
Student 3: She says diversity is important to her even though what she said in the meeting completely contradicts that impression?
Teacher: Absolutely. Well done! And then at the end, she says she regrets having said what she did, but not that she was actually SORRY she said it. Do you see how that works?
Teacher: The beauty of this Adult NotApology is not only is she doing the bare minimum of backpedaling to get those pesky, over-sensitive parents off her back, she did it in such a way as to get the New York Times to announce that she apologized! Isn’t that incredible, class?
Now, Class, for homework, I’d like you to take Ms. Taylor’s brilliant NotApology and re-write it as an actual Apology. See you next week!
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