sorry not sorry

[estimated reading time 9 minutes]

we live in a society where meaningless apologies surround us every day and heartfelt apologies are so rare they should be on a list with mountain gorillas and leatherback sea turtles. let’s think about where this came from, why it’s ridiculous and what we might be able to do about it.

first, though i often avoid this trend as somewhat cumbersome and silly, it might be useful to look at the word apology. it’s an expression of remorse, regret and a desire to fix a past action. for this to be meaningful, the person apologizing must actually want to go back in time (however impossible) and change what they’ve done. this isn’t “i wish this hadn’t happened this way”. it’s “i did something wrong and if i had to do it again i’d do it differently”. it’s not passive regret. it’s an active desire to learn from an existing mistake and do something to avoid ever repeating it again. there’s no point in saying “sorry i’m late” if you’re not going to leave earlier tomorrow. “i apologize i hurt your feelings” is hypocritical if you don’t change the way you speak. “sorry” comes from “remorse” as in “sadness about having made a decision” or “desire to change past action”. again, this is about a deep willingness to shift something about our behavior to avoid repeating something from the past.

that’s not how it plays out in our contemporary world, though. let’s look at the most blatant example of apologetic idiocy — youtube.

if you’ve watched various youtube videos lately (you have, i’m sure, cause you live in a world where the internet is ubiquitous and youtube is the center of our entertainment experience), you’ve heard content creators apologize about everything. yes, really everything.

  • the video is too short. or too long. or too similar in length to their other videos. or an awkward number of minutes.
  • the video is late. or early. or posted on a day ending in y. that there are too few of them. or too many. or simply that they exist at all and are taking up space in your feed.
  • the presenter isn’t energetic enough. or too lively. or tall. short. average. ugly. too beautiful. not wearing makeup. or the hair is messy. or not messy enough. or short. long. straight. curly. frizzy. a weird color. a plain color. in short, that the presenter exists at all. or, at times, that the presenter isn’t apologetic enough for their own existence — seriously, they’re apologizing for not apologizing enough.
  • there aren’t more videos. or less. about this topic. or related topics. or different topics. or that it’s on the wrong channel. the right channel and there isn’t enough variation. that they’re talking. or that they’re not talking enough. too much. or have an annoying voice. or calm voice. or normal voice. or high voice. or maybe that they speak the wrong language. speak it badly. speak it too well. speak it like a normal person and that’s boring. wow. this must be exhausting. i’ve even seen someone apologize for breathing in their videos. breathing. like in and out. you don’t do that, do you? you’re a human. breathing is forbidden. there’s a memo.

performative apologies are beyond ridiculous and might be the second-most-annoying feature of youtube and other social media.

what’s the most-annoying feature, you ask? trolls. fucking trolls. this is a tangent but i’m not sorry so don’t even think of expecting me to apologize. you can skip it if you like or you can read someone else’s blog. if you read it and don’t like it, that’s simply you deciding and the consequence, your own boredom or annoyance, isn’t my problem. it’s yours and you can choose to stop reading. but for those who are interested, this is my issue with trolls. intentionally causing harm to another is shameful, evil and unforgivable. accidents happen. sometimes you walk into someone. you say sorry. they forgive you. no problem. but, if you try to hurt someone, there’s no room for apology. there’s no room for anything. you are a bad person and should be ashamed of yourself. there is no excuse for bad behavior. and the worst behavior is causing intentional harm. youtube is a breeding-ground for such things. it’s the result of cowardice — hiding behind the anonymity of the screen. if you don’t think someone can see you, hurt you, punish you and that gives you a sense of power and desire to do bad things, to hurt that person, you seriously need to look at yourself in the mirror.

i’d like everyone to do one simple think before they post anything on social media. stand up, walk over to the largest mirror you own, look yourself in the eye and ask this simple question. “if my grandmother was here and i had to explain to her what i was writing and let her see it and how people will respond to it, would i be proud and would she?” if the answer is yes, that you would be proud of what you are doing and you seriously think she would, too, you should definitely leave your comment or make your post. if your grandmother would be shocked, ashamed, disappointed in what you’re about to do, don’t. just stop. you don’t have to go and hit yourself with a stick (ok, that might be a good idea if you’re actually a troll) but you need to look at your life and become a better person, especially your online life cause this is shitty behavior that any respectable society would long ago have started to burn people in the streets for as a plague on humanity.

that aside, though, the second-most-annoying feature of youtube in particular and social media in general is meaningless apologizing — and the expectation of it. why does it happen? well, trolls. and that’s why i don’t feel at all bad about having written a few paragraphs about it. because it’s realistically the same issue. youtubers are terrified of what people will think of them in a way i don’t think most people ever encounter in their adult lives once they finally pass the awkwardness of ninth grade. being constantly judged by an invisible audience takes its toll. seriously. this is why i stopped producing live youtube videos years ago. and why i have been hesitant to start doing it again. and why you never see me in the videos i do produce. and, for that matter, why i don’t allow comments. people will try to hurt you. for no other reason that they enjoy your pain.

no matter what you do, someone will complain about it. make a five-minute video and someone will tell you it’s too short, another that it’s too long, someone else that you’re pandering to average-video-length standards and should be ashamed of yourself and another that 300 seconds is a number symbolizing roman-era racism and brutality and you should have picked another video length. think i’m exaggerating? no. i’m serious. i really have seen comments like that about video length numbers. but while ancient-symbology-references are rare, the constant complaints are not. make a video any length and people will complain about it (in both directions).

put on nice makeup and clothes and people will complain you didn’t try hard enough while others tell you you tried too hard and shouldn’t care what you look like. talk about something meaningful and relevant and some will tell you you should be more intimate and not pander to trending ideas while others tell you you need to pay more attention to what’s important and didn’t get serious enough about it. whatever you do, there will be hate. sure, there’ll be love, too. i hope. i mean, you might actually suck and every message will be nasty. but i suspect if you care enough to be bothered by the nasty messages you also care about your content enough to deserve lots of happy responses. they do, sadly, get drowned out by all the freely-flowing shit from the land of the underground troll, though.

so you apologize. constantly. sorry i’m a mess. sorry i messed up that line. sorry this is so long. sorry i didn’t talk more. sorry this video is late. sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.

here’s a question. are you sorry or just trying to stop people from complaining? cause i don’t think you really care that much that your hair’s a mess and the video’s a day behind schedule and three minutes longer than you thought it would be. do you? or do you think those things are totally ok and if nobody complained about them you wouldn’t have mentioned them? that’s what i think. you shouldn’t be embarrassed about it. yes, if your face is dirty and you were too lazy to wash, that’s simply shameful and you should go and do something about that. like now. wash yourself. but, if you are wearing sweatpants and a hoodie and you’re getting up the energy to livestream and talk about gun violence in schools because it’s important to you, anyone who responds to that talking about how little effort you put into your hair, makeup and wardrobe is so far from the point they’re not just not your target audience — they should probably be the target of an intervention to teach them what’s important in life. or perhaps the target of a drone strike. cause that’s realistically how serious i think the problem of meaningless whining and trolls is for our society.

why do i think it’s such an issue? because we’re training young people to do two things — apologize all the time and expect constant criticism. we’re teaching them to do something else, though, which is potentially worse. we’re teaching them that behavior is ok. that they should be encouraged to speak their minds, especially when it’s harmful, hurtful or just plain rude and insulting. because that’s what the internet is full of.

we are a behaviorally-conditioned species. we live in society. we learn from that society as children (and through the rest of our lives) how to behave, speak, think and relate to others. our daily lives are results of what we have seen others do and how we respond to those things emotionally and intellectually, though mostly emotionally.

so, when a child sees another child whose hair is messy, they no longer think “that’s none of my business”, which it isn’t. they heard someone apologizing about it in a video this morning. they saw a hundred people criticizing that youtuber for not doing their hair. so what do they say to the other child? “brush your fucking hair!” — and they think it’s totally normal. here’s what’s truly awful about this situation. the other child will probably do two things. first, they’ll think it’s totally normal, acceptable behavior because they’ve seen it all around them since they were born. second, they’ll apologize. seriously. if you haven’t seen this happen, you haven’t been paying attention.

the next step could go one of two ways. either the kid gets so angry and has nowhere to express that anger it becomes a very unhealthy place to be. or, more likely, they simply develop a dangerous fear of ever appearing imperfect. their body-image and self-confidence, already likely quite low because western society demands that as a starting-point, has just dropped another notch or two.

this is bad enough for adults but this constant expectation of perfection (when it’s impossible but, far more relevantly, nobody even agrees what perfection looks like because it’s never seen as the extreme — more refinement or less — some incomprehensible middle-ground that simply doesn’t exist) is destroying the children who look at us and see models for behavior and how to exist in our society.

how can we combat this? well, we need to do three things.

first, we have to stop apologizing unless we really mean it. yes, i’m sorry i tripped over your foot and i will seriously pay more attention when i’m walking around you next time. but i’m not sorry i didn’t brush my hair as much as you might have liked me to this morning. i’m not sorry i’m wearing comfortable clothes when you think i should wear something fancy. and i’m not sorry the last video i produced was twenty minutes long when you thought it should have been fifteen — you know, if you don’t like what i’m doing, you can always stop watching, stop reading and walk away to find something else you really do enjoy. unless what you really enjoy is complaining and hurting people. which i suspect is where much of this comes from.

second, we have to stop accepting this behavior from people. we really, seriously need to stop making jokes about internet trolls and actively pursue these people and drive them off the internet. we need to demand youtube, tiktok, facebook and instagram spend serious money in filtering nastiness and kicking users off their platforms if they say malicious, hurtful things. i don’t think it has to happen the first time. it might really just be someone having a bad day or saying something that is easily misunderstood. but, if you are constantly posting hateful things, that’s not an accident. that’s a desire to cause damage and harm and that, in and of itself, is a crime. we need to treat it that way.

third, we have to start teaching our children that this behavior is unacceptable, barbaric and evil. that we don’t apologize for being who we are. that we certainly apologize for our mistakes and legitimately try to change whatever it was that made them possible in our lives. that there is a difference between saying sorry without thinking and actually being sorry and that the difference needs to be eliminated. that every apology must be genuine and heartfelt and, if it’s not, it shouldn’t appear. are you sorry you were late? will you take care not to be late tomorrow? excellent. say you’re sorry and change your behavior. think it’s ok you were late and you just want people not to think you’re a bad person? say nothing.

let’s stop demonstrating to people that meaningless apologies are ok. they’re not. seriously. just keep your mouth shut. if you’re not sorry, you’re not sorry. that’s not necessarily a bad thing. you exist. you are who you are. and that’s not something you need to feel sorry for, be ashamed of or apologize for. and neither should the children watching you or the teens who are adopting your behavior as their own.

ok. so we should be proud of ourselves to the point we don’t apologize for living. and we should seriously apologize when we cause someone harm or inconvenience and actually do something to prevent it happening again. and we should demonstrate better behavior to the young people around us. or the not-so-young people floating around on youtube who still think they need to apologize for everything. all the fucking time.

we need an apologetic revolution. and we need it now. thanks for taking the time to explore this with me. i truly do appreciate it. if you’ve enjoyed this article, i’m overjoyed. if you haven’t, you should have stopped reading ages ago. if you’ve made it this far, though, you have my gratitude. consider this a virtual bow.

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