Apologising is embarrassingly old-fashioned. Not the concept itself, I mean, but the execution. Think about it: when you want to apologise to someone you typically have to use your vocal cords, an analogue, inefficient form of technology. And while it is, of course, possible to email, tweet or text your apology – complete with sad-face emoji – none of these platforms were really designed with the complexities of contrition in mind. Shockingly, there just isn’t a sorry-specific messaging option available. Thank God, then, for Greta Van Susteren, who spotted this gap in the market and is launching an app called, you guessed it, Sorry.
Van Susteren, a former US cable news anchor and the 94th most powerful woman in the world according to Forbes’s 2016 list, recently announced this exciting app-ology innovation via Facebook. The service launches on Tuesday and will let you privately “accept or reject apologies from a friend”. So, let’s say, purely hypothetically, that you routinely hit the snooze button 19 times in a row every morning, waking your partner up each time. Well, now you will be able to apologise via an app and, in turn, they can choose whether to accept this apology. I know that alone sounds like life-changing stuff, but there’s more! You can also vote on whether you “accept or reject apologies of public figures”. So it’s basically like The X Factor, then, but for public regret.
Now, I’ve got to admit, when I first heard about the Sorry app my initial reaction was, this sounds idiotic. After Googling Van Susteren and discovering she’s a Scientologist, my second reaction was, of course this idiotic app was invented by a Scientologist. After considering the matter more carefully, however, my third reaction was, I’m sorry for my mean-spirited thoughts, this app is exactly what the world needs right now. We all ought to be apologising a lot more and anything that encourages this is to be celebrated.
It may just be a five-letter word, but don’t underestimate the power of saying sorry. Even if you don’t mean it. And most of the time we don’t really mean it; sorry, after all, is an amazingly elastic expression. It can signify everything from, “I deeply regret having wronged you,” to “I deeply regret that you’re a moron who hasn’t grasped the simple fact that you shouldn’t stand on the left side of the escalator.” But even when sorry is simply used as a civil stand-in for “get out of my way” rather than a genuine declaration of remorse, frequent apologising is a positive thing. It makes the world a nicer, politer place. God knows we could all do with a little bit of that at the moment. What’s more, research shows that superfluous apologising builds empathy and makes people more likely to trust you. Studies in the US, where suing is a national pastime and apologising isn’t quite as enthusiastically embraced as it is in our sorry country, also suggest that when doctors apologise to their patients, they are less likely to be sued for malpractice.
Despite the fact that saying sorry can help you win friends, influence people and lower your risk of a medical malpractice lawsuit, apologising has had a bit of a bad rap lately. Particularly if you’re a woman. Indeed, over the last few years, women have been made to feel like they should apologise for saying sorry too much. Over-apologising, we’ve been told, is pathetic and makes us look weak. Someone even invented a Chrome extension, Just Not Sorry, which helps you remove apologies from your emails.
But perhaps the tide is turning now. Perhaps, instead of telling women to stop being so polite, we’ve realised that it makes more sense to ask everyone else to be a little more contrite. Van Susteren’s Sorry app isn’t the only recent initiative encouraging apologising. A new campaign called the Apology Clause is asking the UK government to clarify the law to make it clearer to companies that an apology is not an admission of liability. The campaign hopes that by doing this, more businesses will at the very least apologise when they mess up. The thinking is that, currently, a lot of companies don’t apologise even when they should, because they’re worried about the legal repercussions.
I reckon we could do with a campaign like that specifically aimed at politicians. As a group, they seem to find it remarkably challenging to say the S-word, even when they’ve done something disgraceful. Which means we all have to waste our energy calling on them to just say sorry, damn it, until they finally cave in. It would make things much easier if parliament replaced Question Time with Apology Time, and everyone went around the chamber saying sorry for all the awful things they had done recently. People at home could vote on whether they accepted the apology, and if they didn’t, the MP would have to resign on the spot. Now, I know you might be thinking, that would take forever and would prevent politicians from getting any, you know, politicking done … Sorry, but I think that would actually be quite a good thing, don’t you?
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