The Rubric of Apologies: Demanded Apologies


Here’s a context-less story to set the stage for this post:

Recently, I got into an argument regarding a popular SF/F character and sexism.  From my perspective at the time, certain features associated with that character were undeniably sexist and, by extension, ridiculous.  I still think there’s a lot of sexism involved with this character, and most of the historical details that came up in the argument simply complicated what I was saying by getting rid of all the black and white, but I would be lying if I said my argument and perspective didn’t change.  During that argument, I also made a rather flippant comment to an individual.  This led to someone else calling me a bigot and the offended individual’s eventual demand for an apology.  I ended up closing the discussion thread and blocking one of the trolls.

One of the things that makes me uncomfortable about otherwise uncomfortable situations
(redundancy much?) involves that demand for an apology.  It’s not that I don’t think apologies are necessary in situations where you’re wrong — quite the opposite.  Rather, I think apologies must be arrived at from an honest introspection of self.  An apology made by demand is no more valuable than any statement made as a result of coercion.  For me, apologies should not be made in intense emotional states OR in response to an intense emotional state; doing so strips away comprehension and understanding.

So when I was told I had to apologize, I refused to do so (non-verbally).  Why?  Because I knew I wouldn’t mean it at the time.  There’s no way I could.  With all the accusations of bigotry and trolling, I was undeniably in an intense emotional state when that apology-demand was made, and that meant I couldn’t think clearly about every aspect of the situation.

Apologies must be honest.  You cannot coerce apologies if you want them to mean anything.  In some cases, demanding apologies doesn’t actually solve the issue (an offense), but simply provides a self-righteous barrier between the transgressor and the transgressed.  I, for one, don’t seem much value in that.

What do you all think about demanded apologies?

About the Author:

Shaun Duke is an aspiring writer, a reviewer, and an academic. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Digital Rhetoric and Writing at Bemidji State University. He received his PhD in English from the University of Florida and studies science fiction, postcolonialism, digital fan cultures, and digital rhetoric.

3 thoughts on “The Rubric of Apologies: Demanded Apologies

  1. It seems to me that demanding an apology is a way of belittling a person, getting them to submit to your will. I came to this realization while reading your post and thinking about the last time I asked my husband to apologize to me. I was self-reflecting: why did I do that? It was to reinforce my "win" and humble him. And now I feel like crap for doing it. I won't do it again. But at least maybe I've provided some insight into it? It seems kind of like bullying, doesn't it? /slinks away into a corner…

    • I hadn't thought of it that way, but I'd agree that there's some aspect of belittling in demanding an apology. A good person will apologize in time, and as honestly as they can. A bad person won't. I'm going to assume your husband is a good person, and so he'll apologize if you explain to him why you were upset.

      But I wouldn't call it bullying, per se. Coercive, yes, but bullying, for me, has a much more abusive component in it — persistent psychological abuse OR physical abuse.

  2. My one thought about this is that we force children to do it all the time, it's often a natural and organic part of any parenting/moral or behavioral learning moment. I'd theorize that part of this is because, in general, verbalizing guilt makes it that much harder to deny or brush away after the fact.

    But another part of it is the simple etiquette element: we try to teach kids that apologies shouldn't be forced, or asked for, because we know when to OFFER them. Part of the coerced apology conundrum is that independent adults tend not to apologize even when they know they should, because it's degrading, and they frankly don't have to.

    That said, apologies should never be required for disagreements. Arguments evolve over time, even when one party gets stumped during one exchange, they can mull it over, educate themselves more, and probably stump the opposite party the next time. And this includes emotional/social arguments. Thinking over a situation often brings new insights later down the line. Demanding apologies for "winning" an exchange at any given point in time is missing the point of why the argument happened in the first place: to understand each other or a situation better, which as you say Shaun apologies can erase understanding.

    But apologies for heated commenting can (And likely should) be proper. Learn to keep it in check and on topic or else make it clear what small aspect you're apologizing for, because it was rude and irrelevant to the conversation, and make it clear it does not change or weaken your stance, and then apologize. That is the ideal. At worst just say: let me calm down a bit so I can think about it without being riled up, then I'll see if I think an apology is proper, but right now I'm too pissed. Honestly can be a decent stand in for honorableness.

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