Last week NPR’s Fresh Air linguist Geoffrey Numburg addressed “false apologies.” Referring to politicians and celebrities, he noted three typical “non-apologies”:

  1. Claim that you’ve been misinterpreted.
  2. Apologize for the response to your words or action.
  3. Apologize with a contingency; these apologies are “laced with if‘s, any‘s, and may-have‘s.”

Numberg, who is no friend to conservative thought as far as I can tell, is absolutely right. When, for example, you apologize for offending someone, you are not apologizing. In fact, it seems that the very point of that kind of apology makes you out to be guiltless and the person you wronged the guilty one. They are the one with the problem; they were offended.

We as Christians should be marked by true apologies, not only in “on-line conversations,” but at home as well. When we have done or said something wrong, we should acknowledge it as such, and take full responsibility for our actions. On the other hand, if we believe that we have done nothing wrong, it is far better that we say nothing at all, than to offer a half-contrite “sorry for offending you” or “sorry for the ill I have caused.” Neither of these acknowledge any guilt, and are not apologies. When we are wrong, we should admit our error, and, if anything, explain why what we did was wrong. Apologies are not supposed to make us look good.