The Apology Craze is Killing Our Kids


Let’s tie together some stuff in the news.

I want to to share with you two snippets of articles I found this week while traveling.This one, from Ad Age, an interview with Vincent Kartheiser of Mad Men:

Ad Age: Well, you're not only loyal to Don in the role of Pete, but in real life you're also loyal to Jon Hamm. You were the only cast member who spoke up and supported him earlier this week on the "Today" show about his comments slamming reality TV and about Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton being "fucking idiots." So do you think reality TV is rotting America? Mr. Kartheiser: No, I don't think it's rotting America, but I don't think he's wrong. It's OK to look at something and say what it is. It's OK to look at a McDonald's hamburger and say, "Yeah, I like the taste of them, but they're not good for me." We live in a time where everyone's very aware that there's people who are celebrities because of their fathers or celebrities because of this machine that's selling something very simple and very ordinary, and people are buying it. It's not an awful thing, but I think it's OK to say it's not a splendid thing, either. [emphasis mine]

Here’s another clip, from an Op Ed in the New York Times by Bill Maher:

I have a better idea. Let’s have an amnesty — from the left and the right — on every made-up, fake, totally insincere, playacted hurt, insult, slight and affront. Let’s make this Sunday the National Day of No Outrage. One day a year when you will not find some tiny thing someone did or said and pretend you can barely continue functioning until they apologize. If that doesn’t work, what about this: If you see or hear something you don’t like in the media, just go on with your life. Turn the page or flip the dial or pick up your roll of quarters and leave the booth. [emphasis mine]

It makes all the sense in the world that we’re seeing two people commenting on the cult of the pointless apology at a time when people are (rightly) up in arms about the circumstances that led to this:

Mar 23, 2012 · SANFORD, Fla. – While public cries to charge Trayvon Martin's killer continued to intensify Friday, the president weighed in…

After all, Kartheiser and Maher are commenting on a culture in which we are quick to embrace EZ-peel solutions and slow to drum up legitimate anger over something deserving real fury. They’re two sides of the same coin, opposite results from the same kind of thinking. See, all this foolish apologizing is happening because we’re collectively becoming whiny weenies and manipulators—and our cries over the inane have drowned out our ability to see things as they are and for what the deserve.


On one hand we’re always ready to get wound up about pundits being… pundits. On the other hand, many of us are hesitant to be outraged over things that matter deeply, like unarmed teenagers killed on suburban streets—or our collective willingness to feed them food that slowly kills them, anyway.

The Grossly Underestimated Power of Words

How we talk about things actually changes their meaning, which can be very cool. That discourse can change meaning is why different groups have appropriated language to their own benefit (e.g. the LGBT community appropriated the term “queer” 20+ (?) years ago from the opposition and made it their battle cry).In the same way, when we demand apologies—and what we’re really demanding is remorse—for things that we all know at the end of the day are stupid, we actually devalue calls for apologies for those things that legitimately warrant it.If I admonish a student for showing up three minutes late, getting up to take a bathroom break, answering a text message, and failing to complete the important homework assignment I gave him, he may not hear the truth: I’m actually annoyed that he didn’t do his homework because failing to do so will have serious negative consequences. So I let him go pee and answer his buddy. Then, when I’m angry, he’ll know I’m not kidding.On a social level, there are a hundred grey areas across incredibly serious issues to which we chronically under- and over-react:

  • bullying and kids-being-kids
  • childhood obesity
  • harassment and flirting

When we get wound up about the trivial, we more easily overlook the inexcusable. Letting the stuff slide that should slide and holding people accountable for real offenses is hard—and I don’t just mean intellectually. Failure to apologize when an apology is due is the result of an ugly combination of hubris, ignorance, and laziness on the part of the offender:

  • hubris, in that we actually think we’re inherently more important than another;
  • ignorance, either because we don’t know we’re wrong or, again, because we actually think we’re more important;
  • laziness, in that sorting things out in ways that don’t ultimately require an apology can be a hell of a lot of work.

Feeling remorse and apologizing for things that warrant apologies means being humble, aware, and engaged. Not needing an apology for something trivial is also the fruit of being humble, aware, and engaged. This is not exactly the American way. Our collective calls for pointless apologies from others simply deflect the microscope from ourselves—yes, you and I might be wrong sometimes—and, most importantly, from those issues that really warrant outrage.We’re creating static, misfiring our energy at nonsense, and people are getting away with grossly unacceptable behavior in the midst of it all. You know that saying, ‘It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye?’ Well, it’s all a bunch of stupid apologies until somebody’s child dies.

Elizabeth KingComment