Against Apology

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The deal with punctuality at Yale (by which I mean the deal with the lack of punctuality at Yale) goes something like: 95 percent of us are 10 to 15 minutes late, 90 percent of the time. The delusional entitlement that leads to the lapse in the Yale clock is similar to the situation in L.A., except that here you can’t genuinely blame traffic all the time.

You have a group lunch Friday in Pierson at 12:15, so at 12:22 you pack your bag for the day and head out. I get it; you were finishing up a reading response. You stop and chat a couple times on the walk there, okay, okay. That’s all fine. And this is coming from the person who gets to the college common room at noon sharp with that week’s copy of the Yale Herald (jokes!) (Cindy Ok making fun of the Herald, JOKES!).

I was even understanding when a friend arrived 37 minutes late to a one-on-one dinner in Berkeley last fall. It wasn’t the first time, and it wasn’t the last; my friends are busy people (soooooo busy). Still, 37 minutes late to a 20-minute dinner is not an awesome show of friendship. And you know what? I would happily forget about the tardiness, except that she spent those 20 minutes apologizing.

Copiously.

Repeatedly.

Gratuitously.

Which led me to spend those 20 minutes exonerating her from the lateness and from her own guilt — basically, to my consoling her.

Apologies, it seems to me, are almost always more for and more about the apologizer than the apologized-to. They are ultimately a defense, some more ridiculous than others. The finest I’ve ever heard was in high school from a girl who’d been slacking on a project we were working on together. When confronted about her sloth and her negligence (we were second-semester seniors, to be fair), she apologized for her only partially connected frontal lobe. Apparently her still-developing brain made the task of paperwork simply UNbearable (all adolescent brains have partially connected frontal lobes, Katie). The late diner’s excuse has even less to do with physiology, but her apology was equally self-indulgent. Is there some kind of veritable relief to hearing so many times that “it’s okay, it’s really okay, honestly don’t worry about it”?

This year, I’m on a (solo) campaign against apology. Well, against meaningless and/or self-serving apology. Don’t be sorry that you were late, or mean, that you forgot a birthday or cheated on your girlfriend; just don’t do it next time. In the meantime, take responsibility for your mistake. It was your decision to take a nap so close to dinner, to get drunk so close to the girl you have a crush on. You’re not sorry you did it, you’re sorry it had to hurt somebody, which are very different sentiments (the second completely unthinking to express).

You’re 18, or 20, or even 24 if you took a gap year and were old for your grade to begin with. Everyone runs into her freshman-year roommate on the way to class, everyone has to take the long way to Edgewood when there’s construction in the Pierson shortcut once in a while. If you’re making excuses, then everybody should get to, and that’s not the kind of world any of us are tryna build. Anyway, no one thinks it’s your fault that you spilled the coffee, so chill out and just help clean it up.

Sometimes the circumstances are outside your control (choosing to lose your mental faculties for the night does not count for this one, sorry). “My professor let us out of class 10 minutes late” will do perfectly fine, and is not a situation that warrants 15 “I’m sorry”s in a row. Let’s let that phrase keep its meaning.

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