Cardella: The Apology

I’m thinking of getting a side job. I’ve given up on my earlier idea — reading the newspaper to tourists swimming in hotel pools. That brainstorm came long ago while my wife and I were on vacation. It seemed perfect for me. I like to read the newspaper and I’m not fond of swimming. Lots of folks like to swim and are too busy to read the newspaper. As luck would have it, the internet came along. And I couldn’t find anyone who needed me to read the newspaper to them. Especially my wife at breakfast. So, I’ve come up with another idea. I’m thinking of becoming a professional apologist.

Consider this — hardly a day goes by without someone being forced to make a public apology. Everyone is apologizing to everyone else. You are nobody who matters if you haven’t issued at least one public apology. Doesn’t matter what the reason. Doesn’t matter when the supposed offense occurred. Example — it’s been about seven years since Jay Leno hosted, and he just apologized for any Asian jokes he’s told in the past. Leno currently hosts JAY LENO’S GARAGE, where the only jokes he tells these days involve Buicks.

The other day, it hit me. There’s a real need for someone to write public apologies for folks who have a need to apologize. You think my idea is silly? Many of us rely on HALLMARK to speak for us at the most important times in life. Hallmark expresses our most intimate sentiments. Grief. Love. Happiness. But why not someone who writes apologizes for us? Well, that someone could be me.

Most public apologies follow a rigid format. The apologizer tries to apologize without really apologizing. The first thing one has to understand about public apologies is that the apologizer doesn’t believe that he or she (mostly he) has done anything wrong. “Mostly he” because I believe men are running 10-1 ahead of women in issuing apologies. Mostly because men are the ones committing acts that require apologies.

There are almost no voluntary apologies. Most apologies are forced. The offender has been caught and denial is no longer an option. Apologies are perhaps the most insincere form of public expression. In the same league as the promise we men make when we say that we’ll “love you always” as you yield your virtue. It takes an insincere person to write a good apology. And insincerity is my bag. Like when I thank you for responding to my column after you’ve ripped me a new you-know-what.

Here’s some free advice to those who need to make an apology. Never undervalue insincerity. There’s nothing that succeeds in America like a good dose of insincerity at the right time in the right place. Insincerity is a requirement for the political and business classes that run our country. Insincerity is needed in almost every human endeavor. Your wife gains weight. You love her dearly. She asks for your opinion on whether she looks fat. You tell her she never looked better. Well-placed insincerity. Advertising is based on insincerity. You really think PAPA JOHN’S uses “better ingredients” to make the “best pizza?” All politicians are called upon to be insincere at one time or another. FDR promised he wouldn’t send American boys to die in a foreign war while he was laying the groundwork for our intervention in what became World War II. Insincerity often has a moral purpose.

The perfect apology must sound sincere. And that, my friends, is the very essence of insincerity. Every apology must begin with a denial of what it is you’re being charged with. “I have never intentionally done anything inappropriate blah, blah, blah.” Once you’ve established that you’re as innocent as a new-born babe and have nothing to apologize for, you’re ready for the insincere apology.

Your apology (really a non-apology) must firmly state that IF you did somehow offend someone (hint at this point that the offended person shouldn’t have been offended in the first place if they weren’t so hyper-sensitive), you’re sorry. Next, forcefully declare that the imagined offense will never happen again, because it never happened in the first place.

To be effective, your apology must conclude by leaving the recipient(s) of the apology feeling that you’re a better person than the accuser. You’ve bravely stepped forward. Put your ego aside. You’ve spoken from the heart. The person demanding the apology should — if you’ve hit all the right notes — feel ashamed for having forced you to apologize.

No need to feel guilty for making an apology you don’t believe is warranted. Satisfy yourself with the belief that if you had NOT apologized, you could have become the latest victim of what is popularly called “the cancel culture.” The need for a public apology is all-encompassing. The public apology is an American ritual much like atonement in Japan, only without the need for committing hari-kari. In America, we only kill reputations.

I must be candid. Apologies don’t always work. And multiple apologies definitely don’t work. If your apology doesn’t work, move on. Resign. But don’t admit guilt. In this way, you maintain the hope for a comeback. F. Scott Fitzgerald was wrong when he wrote “there are no second acts in American lives.” America loves second acts. We love a good comeback. We feel good about ourselves when we graciously offer some shamed person a second chance.

Remember, America is all about second chances.

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