[...] I often find myself apologising for things that I don’t feel especially ashamed of or guilty about. One extension of the central idea of apologising is into areas where we have somehow contributed to confusion or hurt by getting something wrong. This may not always be our fault – sometimes we might misinterpret something, not as a result of paying insufficient attention, or being biased in how we approach it, or anything else that is even mildly culpable. The reason might be ambiguity in what was said by the other person, or other poor expression by that person. Still, harmonious social interaction is assisted if we waive these possible defences in a lot of cases and give at least a light apology: “Oops, sorry – I see what you mean now.” Or whatever. And of course with this kind of case there are all sorts of grey areas about who might not have expressed themselves perfectly and who might not have paid all reasonably possible care in interpreting their words. Light apologies from one side or both are familiar in these
circumstances, and they are beneficial. They help us all get along, despite our various distractions and limitations.
The problem that sometimes arises is when one side insists on these sorts of apologies, or even on more grave and self-humbling apologies. It really is very much a matter of discretion when and how you give this kind of apology where you don’t really feel (at least seriously) culpable. It’s also, to some extent, a reciprocal thing. E.g. if someone gives such an apology to me, I’m likely to acknowledge, in reply, that I could have expressed myself better (we can almost always express ourselves better, after all). All this is really more a matter of etiquette and getting along than anything else, and when it’s ramped up to a higher level, with one person insisting on their moral superiority to the other, the whole point is missed. Furthermore, the discourse can become destructive rather than healing – something none of us should want.By the way, you can go here for a full archive of my contributions at Skeptic Inc.