I've forgotten most of what I learned in confirmation class back in the mid-90s. After all, becoming philosophically aligned with Unitarianism meant I didn't have much need for the details of Lutheran theology. One thing that has stuck with me, though, was how Pastor Paul described what it meant to say "sorry." He emphasized that you should only use that word to express genuine regret -- a feeling that you made a genuinely wrong choice (not just that you regret doing something that made other people mad at you). This feeling of genuine regret entails a desire to have a "do-over" on the thing you're apologizing for, and a commitment to not doing it again. If you think that what you did was still on balance justified, you're not actually sorry. And that may be fine -- there are many times in our lives when any course of action will have some costs and where someone else might weight those costs differently. Additionally, if you have no control over the thing being apologized for, there's no need for or point to apologizing. Demanding, offering, and accepting apologies are primarily about correcting problems in people's behavior, not establishing or undoing pecking orders. (In the confirmation class context, this was all in the context of why salvation by grace and Jesus' forgiveness doesn't mean you can just go do bad stuff as long as you remember to say "sorry" on your deathbed. The point of those doctrines is that Jesus is willing to work with you to fix your problems, not that he's given you a get out of hell free card. My evolution from Lutheran to Unitarian consisted largely of transposing statements about "God" over to statements about the spirit of love in and between sentient mortal beings, and this "sorry" stuff was one of the things that translated relatively unscathed.)
This perspective on apologies has made me have little patience for insincere use of the word sorry -- not just the famous "I'm sorry if you felt offended" public figure non-apology, but also casual use of the word "sorry" to placate others, or groveling "sorry"s that are more about the apologizer's feelings of worthlessness and rejection than about concern for correcting behavior, and especially the construction "I'm sorry, but ..."
I've been meaning to write this for a while (since long before the blog war you may think I'm obliquely commenting on), but I was motivated this morning by running across a post by PortlyDyke
, who seems to have a quite similar view of how apologies should work.