Political candidates are lagging indicators, as the old political adage goes. So, if they’re obsessed by something, it’s a good bet that it’s already taken hold in the rest of America. That’s true of the apology culture, as it’s sometimes called, whose roots go much deeper than recent politics. There’s an entire literature, in fact, urging Americans to apologize, counseling them how to do it, cautioning them how not to, and belittling them if they won’t. In our modern therapeutic culture, where empathy is valued, experts aplenty are telling us that saying “I’m sorry” makes us better people. Depending on which of those experts you’re ready to believe, there are either three parts to an effective apology, seven steps to sincere apologies, or nine rules for saying you’re sorry. Or you can trust those who argue that there is only one way to apologize.
Many are the ways to apologize incorrectly, apparently. One of the most common involves apologizing for how a person reacts to something you said or did (“I’m sorry you were shocked when I told you I voted for Trump”), as opposed to apologizing for what you’ve actually done (“I’m sorry I voted for Trump”). To navigate this thicket, the art of advising on apologies has gotten awfully specific. There is advice on how to apologize to a girlfriend (though the author should apologize for using “girlfriend”), and how to apologize to your parents, your kids, your boss, and your roommate. There’s advice on when not to overdo apologizing, some of which, like “5 Ways to Stop Saying Sorry Too Much,” should probably be required reading by Democratic presidential candidates.