Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
So you've made a mistake and it's public (wikimedia.org)
851 points by abbe98 18 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 377 comments

> What should I do when I see someone else is making a mistake?

> When you see others making mistakes, first help them see their mistakes and deal with them (e.g. by recycling this text, or by independently offering your analysis and answers to Steps 1 and 2 above).

> Remember you make mistakes too, and be tolerant of the time it may take people to accept that they have made a mistake. (But you don't need to allow them to insist they have not made a mistake.)

I especially appreciate this. Far too often I see people reacting to people's mistakes with anger and hostility, instead of first trying to 1) understand the situation, and 2) help the person who made the mistake (if there even was one) understand the mistake.

A little kindness goes a long way.

[Edit: formatting]

It should be noted that you should contact them about their mistake in the most private way possible, then escalating slowly as the need arises. This follows the "praise in public, punish in private" maxim.

Gospel of Matthew, chapter 18:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.

If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Wow, guess he really didn't like tax collectors.

You have to keep in mind that the way tax collection worked in that area at the time is that it was contracted out by the state. The contractor needed to deliver some amount of money to the state, and empowered to gather money from people; the difference between what they gathered and what they delivered to the state was their profit.

Tax collectors operating within this incentive structure were not likely to be very likable.

And just to drive the point home, the tax policy that this caused was occasionally literally genocidal, in the most strict meaning of the word.

This was possible because it was a slave society, and it was possible for the tax collector to collect your children into slavery in lieu of unpaid taxes. In some areas in Anatolia, which were close to the border of the empire and thus had a significant military presence that the tax collectors could fall back on, so the local population had no possibility to push back, entire societies were ended because the Roman publicans collected all children once they reached the age where they could be profitably sold (circa ~10 years or so, and sold usually to sexual slavery), and did so for long enough that the populations collapsed, never recovered, and were eventually replaced by other populations transplanted from elsewhere in the empire. (Later, the power of the publicani was seriously curtailed, in small parts because even the Romans thought that some of their practices were abhorrent. Albeit mostly because of internal power struggles with the senator class.)

So yes, people in the provinces had plenty of reasons to hate the tax collectors.

Where can we read more about this?

Sort of?

On the one hand, they were a cultural byword for a morally degraded profession at the time. "Tax collectors and prostitutes" is a phrase that comes up not infrequently in the gospels, and not just out of Jesus' mouth So apparently the practice of tax collecting was a little weird in the Roman Empire.

On the other hand, he was known for having dinner with tax collectors and prostitutes. One of his 12 disciples was a tax collector.

Matthew was a publican/tax collector, so perhaps that was written from experience.

In some places, tax collection was performed for an occupying power, e.g., the Roman empire. Hence, it was rightfully seen as "money taken away" instead of "funding public infrastructure".

If he refuses to listen even to the church, then forgive him anyway.

This passage isn’t as much about forgiveness as correction. You are supposed to forgive no matter what (77 times). But this is if someone is doing wrong and needs to be corrected. If no matter what they will not stop their bad behavior then depending on how serious it is they cannot be allowed to keep being a part of the community.

It’s 7 times 70, not 7 plus 70. Anyway, too many times so that you could keep count.

This makes me think, it is opposite to what mostly is used in open source projects that have bugtrackers. Github is filled with countless 'mistakes' (issues/pr's) people made in the code they published. Should there be some kind of way to make issues private?

Before I was into open source I was always afraid to show my code to anyone because of the critique I could expect. But some coworkers helped me get the confidence I needed to go open source (within the company, not public internet). Being completely open about everything and accepting critique publicly really helped me grow as a developer to also be open to others. I wonder if I would have made the same transformation if I was only critiqued in private.

Bugs are not critiques. Working in software development, you learn extremely quickly that everyone writes bugs, and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. The openness of issue trackers even helps elevate that.

On the other hand, it's not normal and not often practiced to go digging to see whose mistake introduced a bug and call them out in public on it - that would be what shouldn't be done at all.

> Bugs are not critiques.

Not only (technical) bugs are reported, but also design decisions and such. A lot of those things often come down to difference in opinion. I've seen some developers be really adamant about how a bug was actually a feature.

> The openness of issue trackers even helps elevate that.

I agree partly. For me it helped see things different and make a positive growth. But I can image some staying afraid to enter or be deterred really quick never coming back.

>> This follows the "praise in public, punish in private" maxim.

So like the previous poster said. I am wondering if Github et al. should not contain a private channel.

I have a email on my Github page. And besides spammers I sometimes get questions regarding my projects. I don't know if it is due to people not understanding Github that well[0] or wanting to contact privately[1]. But for some reason they didn't open a public issue[2].

[0] I've met a lot of technical people that just are afraid of Github because it is complex. Electrical engineers, mechanics, embedded engineers. People I figure would understand software development concepts.

[1] Asking a stupid question publicly could also count toward making a public mistake depending on how secure someone feels about themselves.

[2] There is of course also the discussion if issues should be your projects helpdesk next to being an bug tracker. And raising an 'issue' for something that might just be a question might feel strange for some.

> I've seen some developers be really adamant about how a bug was actually a feature.

And sometimes they are feature, and it's the users that are mistaken on what the project they are using is offering them. It's a fine line, I'm sure, but different projects have different goals, and those goals will align to a specific user's needs differently depending on the user.

> So like the previous poster said. I am wondering if Github et al. should not contain a private channel.

It might depend quite a bit on the project. In an open source project with many contributors, there isn't really any meaning to "private" other than "limited to a subgroup of the people that care", and those people may have little to nothing with the design and implementation of the items in question. In a project that is mostly driven by one author that controls it and accepts some patches, that might be a lot different, and criticism may be received differently.

There's a whole spectrum there, and even if you provide the tools to allow different types of contact, what's to prevent people from using the wrong tool most the time? Rust, PHP, Perl, Bind, Apache etc aren't going to benefit much for a private list for first contact of regular bugs, but people would use it. Meanwhile someone's random personal project is still going to get people making public requests even if they prefer them private. In the end, I think we're all better served by a "public by default" for open source stuff, and for things people feel is actually private (security related items, for example), they'll look up a private contact or personal contact for someone related.

I love critique. It means that someone cares!

I contributed to launching a few products. After countless hours of design debates, code writing, code review, the baby was finally ready to see the world ... but nobody cared. Not even a drive-by troll bothered writing "this is completely useless".

My Motto: "That product sucks, but wow! It made it on the shelf."

In larger projects bugs are rarely caused by a single person. With many people contributing to a problem in the way of code and reviews. The best way forward is for everyone to own the bug and own any potential solutions.

I think though there are still some elements, there is also a difference between genuine mistakes (bugs) and "knowing the wrong thing, and choosing to do so".

The funny thing is, if you ponder for a while, you'll realize you'd have done some similar mistakes. But such reflection requires being honest to oneself and setting aside/rising above one's ego and doing an unbias reflection for few moments. Then a spontaneous smile will light up your face and unconsciously somewhere you've broken some string of ego otherwise holding you tightly all through your life.

Indeed. Whenever I get cut off on the freeway, I try to remember the times when I accidentally cut someone off but had no way to express "Oops, sorry!"

We all get it wrong sometimes.

In my country we raise our hand to say "thank you", but I also do this to say "I 'm sorry" when there is no other safe way to communicate.

That's neat. What country is that?

Greece :)

Italy, too.

Someone oughta tell Tesla to make a "I'm sorry!" button that when pressed shows SORRY written in large LED jazz on all window panels.

I have trouble handling others’ mistakes if I’ve corrected them before, they acknowledged the mistake, but they keep doing them.

What am I supposed to do with people who won’t learn from their mistakes (in the workplace)?

I’m directly affected by them as they increase my workload, so I can’t just ignore them.

I recently had a coworker point out to me a grammatical error I keep repeating, flush vs flesh, that he had reminded me of a year ago.

I recently pointed out to a different coworker some whitespace inconsistency in a pull request in a similar fashion as I had pointed out a while back.

In digging deeper into both situations where I was the reporter or the reportee, the issue came down to legitimate lack of agreement on whether it was indeed a mistake.

Yea, unless you're professional writers, and I don't mean coders, that's not the right kind of things to focus on in pull requests. I mean, if someone happens to be great at code but really terrible at English, like you can't imagine they passed high school grammar, maybe it's a good idea to help them improve. But the average college educated developer writes well enough to write succinct and readable code comments and documentation. Or should be able to.

Even when we learn from a mistake it may still happen in the future. Hopefully we have reduced its frequency but it can still happen.

For example, I sometimes write "too be honest…". I've known it is wrong for decades, but occasionally am still not able to see it. Still happens about one out of every fifth time.

> I recently pointed out to a different coworker some whitespace inconsistency in a pull request in a similar fashion as I had pointed out a while back.

Just use transformers :)

Ask them how you can help them not to make the same mistake again. Not knowing the specific situation makes it hard to offer specific advice, but in software there are specific tools (e.g. IDEs, linters, CIs, tests, etc.) that help people avoid known mistakes. Sometimes having better docs or specific checklist (e.g. "your bug must have these fields filled in before we can work on it") helps.

If that doesn't help, ask the manager the same - emphasizing you are not attacking the person but looking for a way to stop wasting time on correcting the same repeating mistake which adds to costs and decreases productivity. That may generate some resentment (so trying to resolve it directly first is prudent) but if you avoid framing it as a personal fault it would usually help.

The problem to be solved is why the person doesn't learn or change when they know about the mistake, not the mistake itself.

You might start by directly asking, "Why do you keep making this mistake?" It might be because they're careless, or lazy, or maybe they really don't believe it's a mistake (they just acknowledged the mistake to get you to go away). Or maybe they just need a little help, such as automated reminders to get them to check for those mistakes.

Sadly, there are people who will not learn from either kindness and teaching, or harshness and harrassment. In the workplace, you can make an appeal to the manager, but perhaps only after discussion with coworker has failed to produce the desired results.

Do you also feel a general lack of leadership and/or authority? Many things are best resolved by bringing the hammer down, but if no one is qualified to wield it you will be wasting your life trying to protect order from chaos.

Kindness doesn't solve a problem. It's better to employ empathy and reassurance which aren't necessarily the same thing as kindness. It seems that is perhaps what you otherwise implied.

I’m glad others out there see it this way. I made a minor mistake, and a former employer and manager used it to make me totally unable to work again by blowing it up as much as possible. It’ll blow back on them eventually, but in the meantime I’ve been made homeless and lost all my friends. Since lawyers are involved and profit from my mistake looking worse than it was, there will never be an honest reconciliation. The court of public opinion is the only way they might be convinced to show some kindness.

Really tough situation - thoughts and prayers with you. Hang in there, meditate, focus on things you can control.

That's awful. I'm sorry to hear it. Feel free to reach out to me if you want someone to hear your tale

I think the anger and hostility usually happens when the person doesn't accept that they've made a mistake. So I think it goes both ways. If someone contacts you about a mistake, don't immediately get on the defensive. Instead, relish in the opportunity to learn.

Remember you make mistakes too [citation needed]

I'm not sure apologizing publicly has made anything better for any individual, especially in the current moral panic climate. Mobs don't accept apologies.

Public apologies stamp official guilt on the individual and therefore serve as a license for the mob to further punish them because now they have admitted their fault and therefore are 'officially' guilty of the crime. Public apologies, therefore, are the metaphorical equivalent of blood in the water for attracting sharks.

Maybe it's better to just ignore and maintain innocence because then at least there is some gray area? I don't know.

People in strong position stand to gain by apologizing, while people in weak position stand to lose. One must consider one's standing before dabbling.

In my own company I try to apologize every time I screw something up. I know my position is unassailable, and my team members should have trust that their leadership is in touch with reality.

I am also cognizant of the fact that no hired employee has the same level of security, and it troubles me.

Apologizing is a good leadership strategy regardless of standing IMO. It shows that you are human which can help one gain and maintain report with fellow workers.

Refusing to apologize has the opposite effect.

If others are looking for any reason to get rid of you, it might put them in a better position to pull the trigger. Obviously that doesn't describe the vast majority of situations though.

Strong disagree. I want to follow someone who knows when not to apologize: when it’s _not_ their/our mistake, when assigning blame doesn’t help, and when they’re fighting for us.

I don't see how this contradicts the parent's post at all?

I’m my experience it is up to the entire team or organization to cultivate such an environment. I do agree, it has to start somewhere.

That’s more of a power play than an apology. As you said only you can admit error without repercussion

I think I understand where you're coming from, but I see the "never apologize" philosophy as having an utterly corrosive effect on the person who made a mistake.

What I try to do is apologize concisely, but then feel free to ignore people who want to drag this out into "that was not a REAL apology" / "now confess to your OTHER crimes" territory.

Things like this can be hard to ignore when, say, the angry mob is trying to get you fired.

Admittedly, this can be a problematic situation, especially when part of the original mistake was speaking about something employment related without being a spokesperson for said employer. Another problematic situation can be if the mistake involves actual illegal acts. In those cases, discretion (omitting the apology or keeping it to an absolute minimum) may indeed be the better part of valor.

But even in those situations, I see absolutely no upside in publicly denying your mistake at length, if in fact you've made one.

I think people in this thread are talking at cross-purposes.

On the one hand, you have the people who are talking about when you genuinely make a mistake, and recognize it as such before public outcry.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have people that maybe feel that they were acting / talking / behaving in a way that is normal but are being told that they made a mistake. In these circumstances, there is usually the issue that the nature of the mistake is quite subjective.

In the former case, your strategy is probably a good one. In the latter, I think the "don't apologize" is probably the better way to go, for the reasons outlined by GC.

Denying that you have made a mistake is likely to piss off the people who would otherwise be willing to move on. As the "mob", which may or may not exist in any given situation, is not going to be swayed by protests of innocence, the former are the only people you should care about.

In the current "us vs them" of politics, apologizing does nothing to appease "them" while making you seem weaker to "us" and denying it means you will be given the benefit of the doubt by "us."

If e.g. Kavanaugh had admitted assaulting Ms. Ford and apologized, do you think enough Democrats would have said "Apology accepted" and voted to confirm to make up for the Republicans who would be unwilling to vote to confirm someone who has admitted to sexual assault? As long as Kavanaugh denies it, everyone who votes for him can just publicly say that they believed his denial, whether or not they actually did believe it.

I think we are considering the situation where a mistake was made. I don't think the Kavanaugh situation applies - depending on your views on it, it is either situation of cynical rapist and hardcore liar, thoroughly corrupt evil man, denying his crimes, or an innocent man being falsely accused in a vile crime. In both situations, apology wouldn't solve anything.

Item #0 from TFA is "that there is no point in pretending you have not made a mistake." Both the GP comment and myself are disputing this fact. I think it's odious to do so, but there absolutely is a point in doing so.

As far as Kavanaugh, obviously none of this applies if he is not-guilty, because few advocate apologizing for things you didn't do. However:

There are a lot of middle-aged adults who did terrible things when they were teenagers. Among those, the ones who own up and apologized are excluded from many positions of power, while those that deny it are included.

So for this particular subset of the population, we punish the best, reward the worst, and incentivize any fence-sitters to lie. Perhaps it's a bit OT, but something is clearly broken here.

> Among those, the ones who own up and apologized are excluded from many positions of power, while those that deny it are included.

That depends on the level of power the said adult has accumulated. We've witnessed people who were persecuted for most minor transgressions, and people who were forgiven for very major things (e.g. credible rape accusations, being an officer in the KKK, being a member of a terrorist organization, being in prison for murder while being a member of a terrorist organization, etc. etc.). That, of course, needs very powerful position and very powerful friends - which none of us likely has.

Well, you do have something of a point here: if you have done something that is illegal or widely regarded as reprehensible, then it is usually in your best interests to deny it - but it is quite obvious that the article we're all nominally discussing here is not about such situations.

I also find it interesting how the issue of admitting to making mistakes is being conflated with apologizing. While they are related, there is an important difference: a person who will never apologize is merely immature, while one who never admits to making mistakes might be a dangerous liability to himself and others, and is unfit for positions of responsibility.

Apology for sexual assault really does not mean I will be ok with someone who did it on the most powerful judicial position.

I mean, it is absurd expectation. Apology does not even absolve you if minor crime in legal system. Plus, Supreme Court has great only little checked power. I just don't see someone willing to use power that way as suitable, even if he apologized.

I didn't say people should forgive Kavanaugh, I said they wouldn't. Therefore denying it does have a point, directly contradicting the beginning of the article that states that there is no point denying it.

> Denying that you have made a mistake is likely to piss off the people who would otherwise be willing to move on.

Which is why you don't deny it either; you move on, avoiding the Streisand Effect as best as possible by not engaging. It's passive denial vs. active denial.

I'm not saying this is moral or good - I'm only saying that it seems to work for people. It's a question of game theory. We can get better apologies if we start to accept apologies and move on with our lives, but the mob wants blood and these days the public apology only serves as an admission of guilt, absolving the mob of any evil when they pull the person apart limb from limb.

There will always be people who disagree with you, and who will continue to make public attacks on you. They're not the ones you are apologizing to, or for. Pretending you did not make an error will eventually catch up to you, in the opinions of those who would view an apology to your credit and in the fact that it leads to you making more mistakes and not correcting them.

"...absolving the mob of any evil when they pull the person apart limb from limb."

That's a little excessively dramatic, don't you think?

> That's a little excessively dramatic, don't you think?

It's 2020, everything's a little excessively dramatic

Then you risk being considered as though you explicitly denied it anyway - and the choice as to when and whether we move on is not so often yours to make alone. Do this sort of thing too often with the same people, and you are likely to get a reputation as untrustworthy - someone who might cover up a problem until it is discovered by others.

Agreed. Apologizing may keep the mob size small and insignificant.

Did it ever happen? Did anybody actually get out of being cancelled by mobs by apologizing?

The point of apologising isn't to avoid consequences. It's intended to mitigate three sorts of damages: that inflicted on whoever suffered because of you, the damage society experiences any time its rules are broken, and the damage you have done to yourself by breaking some moral standard you believe in.

To that end, an apology that allows s/o to "get out" as in "saw no further consequences" isn't necessarily what's being claimed, because it still needs to come with (some) costs, even if they are mostly symbolic.

And, yes, of course there are people apologising for all sorts of behaviour that's being criticised every day. A Google News search has about five dozen examples from just the last day or two[1]. If apologies are never beneficial, I doubt they would be used that often.

Apologies are also a central factor in the most formalised system of "being cancelled" we have, the criminal justice system.

As to "getting out" of "being cancelled" by "mobs" I wouldn't know since I already have trouble identifying what that's supposed to mean.

[1]: https://www.google.com/search?q=apologized&client=safari&rls...

> As to "getting out" of "being cancelled" by "mobs" I wouldn't know since I already have trouble identifying what that's supposed to mean.

I have a strong suspicion that you know what I mean, you just don't want to recognize that. If you indeed know nothing about cancel culture, I envy whatever bubble you reside in, and I wish I could organize my life to never encounter it too, however it is not so for me. If you pretend not to know about it because you don't want to engage in discussion about it, well, I certainly can't force you.

> And, yes, of course there are people apologising for all sorts of behaviour that's being criticised every day.

You may find it hard to believe, but I actually know people do such thing as "apologizing". I do it myself once in a while. My question was in specific context of the comment "Agreed. Apologizing may keep the mob size small and insignificant." and related to this context, not to general act of apologizing and whether or not it is practiced in human society. I think you have missed this context and from that follows your trouble to identify what I supposed to mean. I think I made it cleared now, or at least did as much as I could to make it clear.

Oh, your first hunch was correct. I sort-of know that it means the phenomenon where Harvey Weinstein rapes a dozen women and everybody on the internet pretends that's the reason they don't want to have women on their team. Because apparently "showing up at their colleagues' hotel room doors, naked and at night" is somehow just bound to happen in the course of standard operating procedures.

Also the related phenomenon where people walk through cities being casually and formally anti-semitic, deliberately crashing cars into groups of people, but call the other side "mob", because they complain about that on Twitter.

> I sort-of know that it means the phenomenon where Harvey Weinstein

I think you are confusing your imagination with reality. Nobody - and by that I mean literally, without exaggeration, no single person who lives or ever lived - ever pretended that Harvey Weinstein raping women is the reason they don't want women on their team. Not "everybody", not somebody - literally no single person is pretending or ever pretended that. Moreover, you know that as well as I do, I am certain of that (because you don't know any such person, by virtue of such person not existing). So why are you writing these obviously false words?

> Because apparently "showing up at their colleagues' hotel room doors, naked and at night" is somehow just bound to happen in the course of standard operating procedures.

I do not know who told you that (I suspect you imagined it just as you did the above) but it certainly is not the course of any operating procedures at all. None of them.

> Also the related phenomenon where people walk through cities being casually and formally anti-semitic, deliberately crashing cars into groups of people, but call the other side "mob", because they complain about that on Twitter.

People who walk through cities being anti-semitic and people who complain about cancel culture are distinct sets of people whose intersection is minuscule. And you also know it. Also, cancel culture is not complaining on Twitter about somebody marching somewhere, and you also know it too. Again, you are writing words which both you and everybody reading them knows are false. What for?

Oh yeah they do. And while canceled guys ressurect their careers pretty regularly, their victims don't.

It is not like actresses who lost careers because they refused Weinstein could ever get their careers back. And it is not like those who complain about securely harassment cold easily get new jobs - people are afraid to hire them.

macspoofing is right. This stuff works opposite to how you and GP are describing.

The best course of action in public apology that includes potential mobs running rampant is to wait.

If possible, do not immediately make any statement and if in a organization, make an "we are investigating" response. Most mobs are moved by emotions and herd mentality so just being silent for a while can disperse the worst of the mobs.

Make an thorough apology (like the guideline here) later.

Most internet mobs just move on to the next totem pole to burn in days so this seems to work (and is indeed how a lot of companies respond if they can't just fire someone and get over it)

A real mob, such as campus students can be a bit more troublesome.

There's only one rule for apologizing: You apologize if you actually believe that you've done wrong. NEVER apologize for something you believe was done correctly or in good faith or for "PR" or whatever else.

Not listening to this advice is 100% the reason why people don’t trust a lot of public apologies: too many people/companies “apologizing” by saying “I’m sorry you got mad” or “I’m sorry you found out about this”. If you apologize, mean it. If you don’t mean it, don’t apologize.

Every time a person/company apologizes for getting caught, it demeans public trust in everyone’s apologies.

The problem is the "good faith" bit ... that often isn't visible downstream, and to external stakeholders it looks like you are making excuses.

For example, if I make a commitment to somebody and then circumstances outside my control prevent me from fulfilling it, I may very well say "it's not my fault, apologising would be insincere". But to an external stakeholder what they see is they are wearing consequences and I am not accepting accountability. There are a million shades of gray according to how much I could / should have anticipated the eventuality ... but that makes it really not simple to make this kind of call, and I would have to say, if you are going to err, I would rather err on the side of apologising than not.

Should you not apologize for unintended consequences, i.e. done in good faith, but on your authority/responsibility?

I think only you can answer that question. Part of a good apology is knowing one-self and self-reflection. Unintended consequences happen, yes, and I don't think one could argue one way is always the right answer in all cases. Just remember rule 1 and that is _you_ that is giving the apology.

> especially in the current moral panic climate.

A side effect of everyone getting 15 minutes of fame/infamy is that it means an increasing fraction of social interactions are one-shot. Often, the only time you will ever hear about someone is when they do something dumb that catches the Twitter zeitgeist. Once the moment has passed, they fade from view.

The optimal strategy for iterated prisoner's dilemma where you will interact with an opponent multiple times involves some level of fairness and give and take. The optimal strategy for single-turn prisoner's dilemma is to assume bad faith and selfishly betray your opponent.

Infer from that as you will.

I'm not sure apologizing publicly has made anything better for any individual

Sure it has, for example Dan Harmon's public apology to Megan Ganz: https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/1/11/16879702/dan-harmon-ap...

Public apologies, therefore, are the metaphorical equivalent of blood in the water for attracting sharks.

What are some examples of public apologies that met all 5 of these criteria [1], but made things worse rather than better? Would you consider the possibility that maybe the apologies that made things worse were actually done wrong, but they could have helped if they were done right?

More generally, apologies, restorative justice, truth and reconciliation, and related ideas seem to me like the obvious and only way to we can heal from injustice in our society. Refusing to admit fault seems obviously corrosive to society, and to a person's ego.

[1]: https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/12/5/16710430/sexual-har...

[Edit: man, I feel stupid for complaining about downvotes, but I am really not sure how I could have been more constructive with my disagreement in this comment. I cited examples, suggested an alternative explanation for observations my parent described, and didn't criticize anyone. What did I do wrong? I am ready and willing to apologize if I made any mistakes]

This is a great apology. Of course, he was wrong. Very wrong. But, I think there is one power dynamic that's missing in the entire #metoo discussion.

The power advantage that young women have on men; due to evolutionary pressures. Harmon didn't mean to be attracted to her. It happened.

I know biology isn't important in 2020. But I listened to his apology and realized that the human nature discussion is never part of this situation.

Ted Chiang's "liking what you see a documentary" is a good case study of a world where attraction's turned off. As a woman, I sometimes think we aren't empathic enough about how attraction works in men. It doesn't mean they are excused for sexual harassment. I just think evolutionary pressures should be part of the discussion.

Neither person should be setup to fail.

Surely with regards to outcomes, there's a good argument to be made that one shouldn't admit guilt. But from a more, idk idealistic perspective, the world would be a better place if everyone promptly admitted fault and committed to doing better? I personally quite liked the advice given, and wish I had held myself to it more often in the past.

I think there's definitely some truth to what you're saying, but I also wonder how much this is a problem offline, I've not encountered it heavily, but I'm also not a particularly online person.

>But from a more, idk idealistic perspective, the world would be a better place if everyone promptly admitted fault and committed to doing better?

I'm not sure about that.

I think there needs to be a distinction between a private apology to specific individuals for specific wrongs vs public apology to an undefined amorphous set of people. The former is certainly the right thing to do and it also offers hope of redemption because the wronged individual can accept the apology and forgive (or not). In the latter case, there is no acceptance, there's only the mob who wants to make an example of you because they now have 100% proof of your guilt.

Fortunately I've never found myself in a position of sufficient power/responsibility to have to offer an apology to a group. Is there a balance to be struck between the difficulty the apologizer will undoubtedly face from rage mobs and the consolation some members of the wronged group may feel from the apologizer acknowledging wrongdoing and committing to do better in the future? I don't know that I could blame someone for avoiding a public apology, with the current nature of online harassment, but I think that's a question anyone who finds themselves in such a position should at least ask themselves. And of course, if everyone also adhered to the "What should I do when I see someone else is making a mistake?" section, then the world would be perfect and conflicts would be much more easily resolved.

"I think there needs to be a distinction between a private apology to specific individuals for specific wrongs vs public apology to an undefined amorphous set of people. The former is certainly the right thing to do and it also offers hope of redemption because the wronged individual can accept the apology and forgive (or not)."

Note that those to whom you apologize may communicate that apology to "the mob", with the result that they have proof of your guilt as well as proof of your lack of forthrightness.

In the ultimate case, if you are following your own advice, Machiavelli and my bitter cynicism suggest that not leaving live enemies behind you is the best strategy.

Yes, but do we live in that idealistic world? I would answer with a very firm no.

The world would be a lot better place if everyone did (any number of things), but perfect compliance is just never going to happen. We cannot get people to not murder each other over shoes or sports teams. Any plan which depends on this compliance is doomed to failure.

Yeah, I generally agree with you. Mostly just exploring thoughts here, the gp comment prompted a kinda unexpected re-examining of my hitherto un-examined ideas on the ethical basis of the advice in the post. I'd generally consider myself something of a utilitarian/consequentialist, and would normally accept the premise that apologizing in front of the Twitter mob would at best do nothing positive, but for whatever reason my brain wants me to say "apologizing is right, and consequences be damned"

I think you should also examine the possibility that gp is straightforwardly wrong, and that a good apology can make things better, even (or especially) in the face of being called out on Twitter. Consider how Dan Harmon reacted to Megan Ganz calling him out on Twitter: https://www.vox.com/culture/2018/1/11/16879702/dan-harmon-ap...

Doubtless many people have made things worse with "non-apology apologies" [1]. But your brain wants to say "apologizing is right" because when done right, it is right.

To me, truth and reconciliation are self-evidently how we build a better world, and refusal to take responsibility for mistakes is self-evidently corrosive to the individual and to society.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-apology_apology

Might I suggest some research into Kant's categorical imperative, some time listening to your brain, and possibly the history of Joseph McCarthy?

Well, that depends on a situation. If you're in an environment where people are united by a common goal and assume good faith, then admitting you done goofed up (when you did) is the best way - everybody knows you realized your mistake and will try to do better, and people can move on - and usually will be glad to offer you to help fixing it. And they'd know they can count on you to own up to your mistakes - so they'd be ready to listen if you say something isn't a mistake.

If you are in a "cancel culture" situation, then people that surround you are not you friends, and they do not have common goals with you. You can not win. Best thing is to get out of that situation ASAP, if you can not - minimize your losses in any way you can. And continue looking to get out of this situation, because you can not win, and you will surely lose sooner or later. Try to still be kind to others - you won't fix the broken culture, but at least you can have a little island of non-awfulness around you.

One of the bosses I had at a big bank told me the one thing she observed about successful people was that they never got hung up on mistakes. If they made a mistake, they just moved on as if it didn't happen, but would apologize if you asked sincerely one on one.

I think that's a pretty good middle ground. Apologizing too readily might also signal you lack self-respect or confidence which may invite even more vitriol.

You don't apologize, you just own it.

"Yeah, I made a mistake, shit happens, now I know better".

Though looking at current leaders of industries and countries, you could get away with just pretending you did nothing wrong.

And talking (tweeting) about other unrelated things that make people upset but aren't about your mistake. Diverting attention

Let's pretend for a minute that you have a conscience and feel bad about the effects of the mistake---not just the effects of having the mistake discovered. What if you have harmed someone you cared about? Would you still apply the strategy you are advocating?

Perhaps apologies do "serve as a license for the mob to further punish". Even so, what is the result to your life or to an organization of doing what you suggest?

I kind of skip apologies now and either look at changed behavior or set up some reminder to check for changed behavior.

This is legally because apologies from companies are so full of doublespeak and low value language that it’s a waste of my time to read, much less expect any understanding. Here’s an example from Pichai [0].

I do like the outage report style that some companies use [1] and think this is the way to repeat a problem and what you do to fix it. This takes the place of an apology or denial.

[0] https://www.axios.com/google-ceo-apologizes-past-sexual-hara...

[1] https://aws.amazon.com/message/41926/

I will also agree with you accepting makes only weaker. Nowadays, being cool in the team means troll others and joke about your mistakes or put it under the carpet. When someone agrees for mistake and apologies for doing that it gives trolls food for the next year. This post says the right thing to do from book theory. I have tried this. it doesn't work in practical terms. I want opinion from troll camp (who have done trolling others for making mistakes)

> No. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as Judge Brandeis observed. Proper handling of mistakes is a sterling quality in anyone, and particularly important in a leader or public servant of any kind. It pays long-term dividends.

I like how everybody is talking about cancel culture without saying the words. We’re at a point where it’s definitely not just the right complaining about it.

I think a major point missing in amongst the discussion so far, and one that's causing a lot of crosstalk is whether you should even be apologising at all.

For example.

Progressives are widely known for their enthusiastic use of forcing people into public apologies for perceived crimes against the faith or for not acquiescing to unreasonable demands which can then be framed as a perceived wrong. I think a lot of the kickback against apologising that we're seeing is coming from the numerous public examples of this tactic and the follow-up where any good-faith apology will be used to make a further example of the heretic.

If you are dealing with this kind of thing then the tactic of take-cover and let the storm pass seems sane (pearls before swine etc). But if you're actually dealing with a genuine person or group who you've genuinely wronged then a real apology is warranted.

One other thing I'd add; if you have wronged someone and you've apologised and made genuine efforts to make amends. While it is on the other person to decide whether or not they will accept/forgive, it is not a requirement to indefinitely debase/lower yourself in the pursuit of obtaining their forgiveness. You can make efforts up to a point but you are not required to destroy yourself until they grant it. If the situation is unsalvageable then that's what it is.

For studys sake on how this can get out of control, there are numerous examples of shitty parents holding a past wrong over a childs head indefinitely in the raised-by-narcissists subreddit which illustrate the tactic in use by malicious types there.

> if you're actually dealing with a genuine person or group who you've genuinely wronged then a real apology is warranted

A pitfall of this mentality, at least in my experience, is that people I hurt are usually much better judges of whether I hurt them than I am.

Something I learned that helped is: you can hurt someone without being wrong. "I regret that my actions had this effect on you," is a good place to start a conversation when I'm not (yet?) convinced I would have done anything differently in hindsight.

Often, simply acknowledging that someone has been hurt by my actions, and trying to understand why, has yielded far better outcomes than sticking with my judgment. Both in that they affected party feels better, and in that I get to add a new dimension to my understanding of social dynamics.

It often doesn't matter how legitimate someones' complaint is according to my personal worldview; what matters is how the affected feel.

> "I regret that my actions had this effect on you,"

That's just a variation of "I'm sorry you're so impatient" or "It's too bad you have no sense of humor.": https://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Apology#Acknowledgment_of_th...


No, it isn't a variation of those two.

The two you mentioned are bad, because they implicitly shift the fault on the person on the receiving end, because they make qualifying statements about the person without addressing your own actions that led to it at all. Very similar to the badness of "I am sorry you feel that way about what I said", because it only addresses the person on the receiving end and makes it sound like there is something wrong with them.

"I regret that my actions had this effect on you" is not bad because it doesn't do that. It clearly just says that you are sorry for your actions causing such an effect, without making any qualifying statements about the person on the receiving end, leaving the possibility of your actions being wrong fully open.

I don't disagree with anything you said, but I don't think this applies to the original comment. The majority of people who demand an apology aren't the victims. They're just random people on Twitter who are just looking for ways to attack people they don't like. It may have been a mistake for someone to wear a mildly racist costume on Halloween a decade ago, but there is no reason they should be expected to apologize.

> A pitfall of this mentality, at least in my experience, is that people I hurt are usually much better judges of whether I hurt them than I am.

It would be easier if people just talked more about their feelings even if they don't understand me. If I hurt someone and they just say something like "look I feel weird because of this and this that happened between us", then I can process and understand what went wrong. I spent some years running teams and doing management and I used 1v1s for this to really good results.

I do that and a lot of my closest friends also do that. I think people that expect you to read their feelings are the ones that are going to get hurt if they spend time around because they have unrealistic expectations. I can only feel my feelings, or get empathetic with people that have opened up to me before. I can't be apologizing all the time just in case, that's also ridiculous and even though a lot of people do it in, specially in California, I think it comes down as condescending and sometimes even egotistical.

In a normal world I would agree with you completely.

However, if you've offended some of the woke crowd then this may be worse than saying nothing at all. In your example, they would say you are rubbing salt in the wound with "I regret that my actions had this effect on you." If you aren't prepared to unambiguously denounce yourself, you may (unintentionally) make things worse.

You're absolutely right about not knowing being a problem; unfortunately I'm guessing it's a bit of an art, at least with respect to the "be careful of bad-faith actors" replies you've received, or at least a heavy dose of knowing the other party.

I do however find that if I actually take time to think about what's happened, a genuine wrong that might have been caused in a rush/unthought out moment is (usually) pretty obvious when looked back on in hindsight; there's usually an "aaah shit yeah that'd piss me off too" moment.

> A pitfall of this mentality, at least in my experience, is that people I hurt are usually much better judges of whether I hurt them than I am.

But these people are very biased judges.

"I'm sorry you felt that way" is considered worse than a non-apology by the current leading apology extractors.

I agree with you, but he didn't say the word "sorry".

Check out "Thank You for Arguing" by Jay Heinrichs. It covers the same basic steps, but recommends to exclude the actual apology part. It's also a great book for other reasons.

That only works of you know you are dealing with people rariobal and with good intentions. We human tend not to be thos things when acting in large groups.

It also requires the recipient to know they're coming from a sincere person with good intentions.

If that perception isn't their, it comes across as a very different message ("I'm sorry you don't have a thick enough skin")

>Something I learned that helped is: you can hurt someone without being wrong

>It often doesn't matter how legitimate someones' complaint is according to my personal worldview; what matters is how the affected feel.

I can't get behind this. Why am I responsible for the way the chemicals in someone's brain react if I say something that unintentionally hurts them? If i'm doing nothing wrong as you say and someone else is offended, or sad or hurt, that's honestly their problem.

People need to take responsibility for their feelings instead of making everyone else take responsibility for their feelings.

Why should I ever be responsible for the way someone feels unless i've done something intentionally to make them feel that way?

People's feelings are their own business, nobody else has the unintentional responsibility of random people's arbitrary feelings.

The "progressives" you're referring to aren't progressive. They're reactionary authoritarians, hijacking the ideals and preferences of whatever group they're attached to. You can find them in all forms of debased public discourse and lowbrow populism, with a history going back millennia, and uniformly distributed across the political spectrum. No-one called the Spanish Inquisition progressive.

I hold a very special loathing of anyone that weaponizes process in order to control others.

"The best lack all conviction, while the worst, Are full of passionate intensity".

This is a a good point; and one I wish I could give you a decent response to as this problem is such a big one and one that I've seen hit plenty of groups I once subscribed to, and evidently from history quite an old one too however I'm at a loss on what the correct response to the phenomenon is.

The cheap response is to whine about "no true scotsman" but I'd love to see ideas on how to prevent groups actually getting corrupted in this way; it's probably in the "how do we create world peace" level of problems but the cycle is getting very wearing!

It’s not as hard as you make it up to be, you simply have to instill values in the population which promote diversity of thought, independent thought, and recognition of moral signaling behavior.

The major problem with the left leaning political spectrum in america is a somewhat blind authoritarian “respect” for “diversity” where what counts as diverse is rather restricted and generally doesn’t include disagreement on the subject.

The key missing ability is getting people to empathize with each other and not to confuse radical ideas which one finds abhorant and moderate ideas one finds disagreeable.

A cheap way to make this much easier is to ban labels like political party, gender, etc. If you stop sorting people (and yourself) into bins it becomes a whole lot more difficult to be so polarized as you aren’t dividing the world into us and them by dealing with a new human one by one.

Tomato tomato. The members of the inquisition called themselves the inquisition, so we call them the inquisition. Today's progressives call themselves progressives so we call them progressives.

Conflating an organisation with an adjective is a fascinating category error and not one I'd previously considered working into my offerings of puns and satire. No doubt Tom Lehrer was already aware of the possibilities. Thanks for bringing this novelty to my attention!

> Progressives are widely known for their enthusiastic use of forcing people into public apologies for perceived crimes against the faith or for not acquiescing to unreasonable demands which can then be framed as a perceived wrong. I think a lot of the kickback against apologising that we're seeing is coming from the numerous public examples of this tactic and the follow-up where any good-faith apology will be used to make a further example of the heretic.

This is rarely about the apology itself, but about establishing that something wrong has happened to begin with. The fact is, a lot of pretty messed up stuff routinely happens and is simply taken as a given. The apology is simply a marker that some behavior will no longer be considered acceptable. It's hardly even a measure of accountability, unless someone is so egotistical that taking responsibility is personally harmful to them.

A common tactic seen by progressives during attacks on their victims is to hype up the crime by either making vague claims such as that they "are pretty messed up" and hoping that regular people apply their reasonable measure of "pretty messed up"; to outright lies where they equate the commited heresy with an actual real world wrong.

One charming example is this one of Morgan Freeman during the metoo saga where he was "Sexually harrassing a reporter live on TV."


...and then what happened to Morgan Freeman?

I don't know anything about the alleged situation, but pretty sure he moved on with his life and is still wealthy and largely beloved.

He was okay because...

1) He was a beloved actor with a lot of public support.

2) His attempted character assassination was recorded on film and so any stories of how the victim was "traumatised" by his "sexual harassment" not only were publicly shown to be lies but they added to a more public recognition of my earlier point that progressives believe it is okay to lie about what someone has done in the interests of destroying someone they want gone.

3) His attack happened late in the metoo saga when people had been pointing out the flaws in the "believe all women" view; after the aziz answari situation failed to hold up to public scrutiny etc but before the Joe Bidden situation resulted in "believe all women" having "never happened".

Fundamentally the Morgan Freeman story demonstrates a number of things about progressive belief; their views on what constitutes sin is ridiculous in the eyes of anyone with basic common sense, they believe ends-justify-the-means and they are willing to carry out those means.

He was okay, others weren't.

He did lose his role as a spokesman for Visa, though it's impossible to say to what degree this episode was a contributing factor.

Somewhat interestingly, given the topic at hand, in the immediate aftermath of those accusations, Morgan Freeman issued an "I'm sorry if I made anyone uncomfortable" apology, which CNN used in their defense of the news clip the GP has linked. I don't really have any experience in, or opinion on, public apologies, but I thought that was an interesting thing to share.

I consider myself a progressive and honestly I think you have a point. I think it comes from a good place (it's a reaction to a history of things simply being brushed off, ignored and not addressed), but it's ultimately not a good way of dealing things.

I think the happy medium is where people are held accountable for their actions (ideally apologising for them if they really have done something wrong, which often times they have even if the response to that is overly vitriolic), and then allowed the space to make amends and move on with their lives.

With a bit of luck it does seem some of the more reasoned voices are winning out, at least in some of the areas I've seen, and rationally I know this stuff didn't appear out of thin air so time will tell but I'm hoping to see a more back-to-the-roots approach continue to grow.

> Progressives are widely known for their enthusiastic use of forcing people into public apologies for perceived crimes against the faith or for not acquiescing to unreasonable demands

"widely known"

You're interpreting your ideological position as normative and factual.

Please refer to my response at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25087153

There are striking similarities between modern progressivism/wokeness and various church clergy throughout the ages. I'm glad you made that connection.

I say this repeatedly, the west largely abandoned religion because people found the ways adherents acted towards others to be inexcusable... it was a failed attribution though because religion didn’t make people like that and getting rid of religion hasn’t gotten rid of the behaviors. We still have people praying loudly on the corners for all to see (Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.) We still have people persecuting others for their beliefs, we still have people ready to fight holy wars.

It is a very human behavior, and it is easily exploited and in an emergent way exploits itself in whatever way is convenient in any age.

It is clear to me that there are very smart people and very stupid people stoking the flames on this human vulnerability that so few people care to notice.

I honestly feel it needs to be described in such terms; the idea definitely isn't my own, I remember the ah-ha moment when the internalised-misogyny/toxic-masculinity = original-sin link was pointed out to me and the more aspects of it that I look at the more it aligns.


> It's guilty until proven innocent and either way you lose.

One could say it's guilty until proven guilty.

Progressives are widely known for things like increasing the minimum wage, expanding access to health care, or legalizing drugs. I've never heard progressives pushing for forced public apologies.

AFAIK, Cortes is a Progressive[0], and a congressperson, which puts her in a position of power. She encouraged her supporters to create a list of Trump supporters so they can be denied employment in the future[1]. Jennifer Rubin, likely also a Progressive[2], said: “any [Republican] now promoting rejection of an election or calling to not to follow the will of voters or making baseless allegations of fraud should never serve in office, join a corporate board, find a faculty position or be accepted into ‘polite’ society. We have a list.”

More than apologies, these two at least, are looking to punish.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexandria_Ocasio-Cortez

[1] https://justthenews.com/politics-policy/aoc-activists-hint-b...

[2] https://www.wctrib.com/opinion/columns/4036749-Jennifer-Rubi...

1. Her last name is Ocasio-Cortez.

2. Progressivism barely means anything. You can characterize virtually anyone who even just says anything positive about social change as progressive. Better to characterize her as a social democrat or democratic socialist, depending on your impression.

3. "Just the News" is an incredible source to list. A right-wing rag founded by the former editor-in-chief of The Washington Times. Might as well just refer to the actual tweets: https://twitter.com/AOC/status/1324807776510595078. They are about the typical denialism that follows reactionaries that did, you know, horrible things and not allowing their images to be blindly rehabilitated as public servants. Emphasis on remembering the actions of public servants, not whether someone will simply be denied employment.

4. Jennifer Rubin is a never-Trump conservative turned American establishment "centrist" (which is still a right wing position).

Jennifer Rubin is not a progressive. She's a prominent (anti-Trump) conservative columnist, hired by the Washington Post as balance/provocation. Her blog is even called 'Right Turn'.

maybe baseless allegations of fraud exceeds the domain of "So you've made a mistake"

Willful blindness is a common tactic too; perhaps a psychological extension of the progressive safe-space doctrine but I couldn't be certain.

Another one that interests me greatly is the frequent use of the narcissists prayer in debate, have you ever heard it?

It goes as follows.

That didn't happen. And if it did, it wasn't that bad. And if it was, that's not a big deal. And if it is, that's not my fault. And if it was, I didn't mean it. And if I did... You deserved it.

I suppose I'll start the ball rolling. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/14/rosetta-come...

In the age of social media I would suggest a different approach to addressing public mistakes.

1. Go silent.

> Complete public blackout. No denying, no accepting. The people want retribution, not justice. The media blackout is essential.

2. Reflect on it privately and quietly.

3. If not in violation of #1, apologize to the individual people/entity affected in private.

4. Once the mob dissipates, address the issue publically in long form.

> It is very important that it be a boring, long and solemn take on the mistake. Blog, interview, podcast, whatever.

5. Don't blame. period.

6. Set a roadmap to rehabilitation/mitigation.

7. Actually follow #6

* Step 3 is probably a bad idea, if any attention is being paid to "the individual people/entity affected".

* Step 4b is a bad idea; it has too great a possibility of re-raising the issue.

* Steps 5, 6, and 7 are completely optional and probably not recommended. If Step 4a worked, keep in mind that the strategy you have got you where you are.

* Given the above, Step 2 is a waste of time.

This message brought to you by the International Society of Misanthropes.

Step 6 and 7 are absolutely crucial. People not accepting blame (even privately to themselves) and never changing is even worse than people aggressively and publicly demanding apologies for wrongdoing.

Crucial to who? GP is outlining a roadmap in the best interest of the accused.

Crucial to society. It's in the best interest of the accused that other people implement steps 6 and 7. And so realistically they ought to be implementing them too.

My point is that we shouldn't just be looking out for our interests. We should be working co-operatively to look out for everybody's interests. Ultimately this benefits ourselves too, but that's not why we should do it.

I think the current system is broken. We should be trying to align our incentives. Urging people to act against their own self-interests is self-defeating.

I don't really see how

6. Set a roadmap to rehabilitation/mitigation.


7. Actually follow #6

are against anyone's self-interest. It's about holding yourself accountable for you actions.

I think I'd agree, especially with regards to the article's Step 3.

Admitting fault can open one to liability (sometimes legally). Although perhaps it depends on how one defines a mistake versus, say, an outright fault that people could find morally wrong.

An example that's not perfect (and I'm not arguing/defending one way or another) is Louis CK with the #metoo movement.

It seemed to me that his response was sincere and correct on the personal level. He acknowledged those he'd wronged, made clear the victims were in the right, apologized, and expressed a desire to improve his behavior. For all that, he was demonized.

To some extent, it felt like people were saying: "My god, you admitted it. You're worse than Harvey Weinstein - at least he had the decency to deny his actions."

Wikimedia is probably insulated in enough of its own groupthink to get away with their list. In the cannibal crab bucket of the real world, this list is way more practical.

> people want retribution, not justice

This. People desperately want to feel like they championed a cause, and the cheapest way to get that kick is by demanding your head on a platter on Twitter.

> People desperately want to feel like they championed a cause, and the cheapest way to get that kick is by demanding your head on a platter on Twitter.

Some people I had the displeasure of interacting with suddenly feel more ordinary. Thank you.

I think you're thinking about a very particular kind of mistake. However, for mistakes that are not hitting headlines, the original list from the article actually works. Specially for technical mistakes. I haven't been in a position that I had to go silent about my mistakes, which makes me happy. After admitting my mistakes I feel much lighter.

Yeah, the emphasis was on a public mistake and thus a public (external) reaction.

I agree that there are far more constructive ways of dealing with internal (family or company) errors.

There are different degrees of public reaction. One thing is to admit a mistake in a public mailing list for an open source project or even in a blog post that were front page of this very forum. It's still a public/external reaction. However, it's a lot different than when you are a public figure and a mistake you made is the cover page of major newspapers. I think that, in those sort of situations, a more tactical approach may be desired, rather than a personal one.

This is a really great list.

I don't know. Years ago, I was on an email list and I did a lot of sincere public apologizing, in part because the internet was younger, so we didn't have a lot of stuff worked out. We were just stumbling our way forward as best we could.

And the end result was that I became everyone's bitch. People would intentionally pick on me and be ugly to me and when it went sideways, the group as a whole would go "There she goes again!" and blame the whole thing on me and expect me to apologize and kiss everyone's ass.

I am much less free with public apologies than I used to be, though I am still equally willing to own my actions (a la "I did x. That didn't turn out well.")

There are some people in the world just looking for someone to blame and if they get it stuck in their warped tiny little minds for some reason that you are a good person to blame, good luck escaping their shit. Such people are a case of "The only winning move is not to play." and, unfortunately, you tend to find that out after the fact because they have burned you and will not stop burning you, no matter how above-board, high-minded blah blah blah you handle the situation.

Some people are just hell-bent on proving "No one is actually that good" because they have baggage, so trying to do the right thing consistently just makes you a target of their shit and they really need therapy, but aren't getting it.

Such people seem to be rather poor at letting things go and my impression is some of them will cyberstalk you for years after you try to leave whatever situation originally put you in contact with them.

(Edit: No, this wasn't about my gender. This detail has already been addressed: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25087829)

To preface, we're talking about people with jackasses-tendencies here. Normal, well-adjusted people don't like to make their colleagues feel bad.

But as you say, it's also been my experience that apology and... "ownership"(?) are two very different things in American (Southern) culture.

"I'm sorry I did X" seems to signal weakness and invite criticism, if people are already so inclined.

"I did X. It wasn't the best approach / it was wrong / etc" seems to be perceived as stronger, while also taking responsibility for the mistake.

My gut says bullies key to subconscious signs of weakness, and the former is interpreted as such. While the latter projects subconscious strength, even while communicating conscious guilt.

We're all just apes in the end.

As a Canadian, I was quick to realize that the mere word "sorry" has a different meaning to some people down south. In Canada I'll just say it casually to mean a polite "hope I'm not troubling you" or "sorry that happened to you", and never thought of it as immediately declaring responsibility let alone fragility. But in the US, I've been pounced on for a casual use of that word, as if I'd announced failure and that I owed something to the other party.

So I much appreciate what you're saying here.

As a Canadian in a happy relationship with an American, we quickly realised the difference that you've pointed out. We also realised that I had a tinge of the stereotypical Canadian "sooorry" sound, so we ran with it. If it's a situation where one of us intends to express remorse for a situation occurring, we slightly intonate towards the "o" sound, and for situations where we're accepting blame, we edge towards the American "sarry" (again, over emphasized to get the point across). It's subtle, but it's worked well for us.

As (yet another) Canadian, I've used the same phonological distinction in my close relationships with Americans to great success. It's been surprising to me how much tension is eased by disambiguating the two senses!

In the UK you say sorry all the time. You usually don't mean it.

This is apparently called the “Sorry reflex”. I’ve recently learned that “sorry!” in London at least, can mean - “fuck off/you”. I would say sorry to someone bumping into me and not realise why but now I understand why.

>> A recent survey of more than 1,000 Brits found that that the average person says ‘sorry’ around eight times per day – and that one in eight people apologise up to 20 times a day.

“The readiness of the English to apologise for something they haven’t done is remarkable, and it is matched by an unwillingness to apologise for what they have done,” wrote Henry Hitchings in his aptly-titled Sorry!: The English and their Manners.

That's adorable.

As a Canadian, you're missing out on the other critical half of the 'sorry'.

You step on my foot. I look at you, and say "sorry", and pull my foot away. You abashedly also "sorry" and we move on.

Am I apologizing? Hardly! The full sentence is, "Sorry, did you just actually step on my foot, what the hell?" and your reply is "Sorry, yes, I did do that, didn't mean to, apologies". Then the problem is solved and we move on.

> But in the US, I've been pounced on for a casual use of that word, as if I'd announced failure and that I owed something to the other party.

It is precisely the opposite in circumstances like the above!

> Am I apologizing? Hardly! The full sentence is, "Sorry, did you just actually step on my foot, what the hell?"

At least in the UK, that's not the full sentence, or it could be, but only with a change in tone ('SOrrY?!') - to me it's more like 'Oops my foot was in your way I think, so sorry'. (Said of course before you have a chance to think 'no hang on, I wasn't in the way, you weren't looking, this isn't my fault'.)

Your interpretation is normal in Canada too.

Commonwealth of [apologetic] Nations..!

So basically an "excuse me what the fuck"?

No, an instinctive apology as though you were at fault, even though you (to a bystander, or in hindsight) obviously weren't. It's not sarcastic.

Yes, that's the gist of it - couched in more politeness, but the tone says it all. Perhaps lost on non-native English speakers, of course; but then, that's half the charm, the built in plausible deniability.

Are you from the pacific northwest by chance? My wife is and she will constantly apologize for things that are 100% the other person's fault. It really bugs me, especially because the other person will some times say, "oh it's ok" (as they are accepting her admission of guilt) and I usually say something like, "Honey, that wasn't your fault, you shouldn't be apologizing."

On the flip side, when someone runs in to me or steps on my foot or something, I'll usually just look at them, giving them an opportunity to politely say, "Sorry about that." My wife tells me that it is extremely rude when I do that, but that feels normal to me.

I'm really wondering if where we grew up is playing a big part here?

> I'm really wondering if where we grew up is playing a big part here?

I don't want to repeat it here, but I mentioned this in another part of the thread.

Half of my family is outside the United States, and I often use "sorry" in a similar context. For me it's cultural rather than regional because I'm in the southwest--and now that I think about it, I've never given much thought to people giving a non-apology "sorry." It could be there's a bit of a cultural mismatch here since there's an air force base nearby, and we often have people from the Commonwealth here (UK, Canada, Australia, etc).

I'm actually not sure what sort of answer that is now that I think about it.

Greek here. The only way we use "sorry" is "I have done something to hurt you and I apologize in earnest".

For lighter things, like bumping into you, we might say "sorry" (as in, the English word), which sounds more casual and not as severe.

Oregonian here. I joke that we're the Canadians of the United States.

"Sorry" in regular conversation is a social nicety, very different from a sincere apology, even though the sincere apology may incorporate that same word.

I feel the same way as you... also curious what others think on this topic.

As a Briton, I sympathise. It's easy to say and then feel foolish by the reaction of the counter-party - that you've made something bigger of it than it is, or that you've inadvertently (been considered to having had) admitted guilt to something serious!

'Sorry' to me ranges from 'Excuse me', through 'ha-ha we both reached for that/side-stepped in the same direction at the same time', all the way of course to the serious 'I regret and apologise for what I have done' that it (solely) means elsewhere.

On the flip side though, American's are constantly telling me that I'm 'so welcome' when they don't mean it (or perhaps because they're used to 'thank you' having similar infrequency and sincerity to 'sorry'?) - so I think we're even. :)

The American equivalent to the "sorry" you're used to is, at least in the Midwest, "oop" or sometimes more like "ope" depending on accent. It's more of an utterance than a word but it means the same thing.

I'm not denying it expressing the same, but I would precede my 'sorry' with the same utterance.

(And sometimes it's followed by an 'alright?', which is practically a C21 howdoyoudo.)

I've long missed the edit window but I can't help but comment to correct my 'Americans'.

As an American, I've often used "sorry" in the sense you are talking about, and normally it works out fine. Maybe it's a regional thing?

But there is also a difference between using "sorry" as an expression of sympathy when interacting with close relations, and public apologies.

> Maybe it's a regional thing?

I think so. I use "sorry" as a casual non-apology sometimes when I don't mean to trouble people for the same reasons as others up-thread.

It wasn't until I met my exgf when I realized that some people are perplexed by that. I said it in the context of "hope I'm not troubling you," and her immediate response was "why are you apologizing?"

Didn't help that I came back with "...I'm not?" because she insisted I was.

That said, my mother is Australian, so at least half of my upbringing is non-American, and I often don't give much thought to certain cultural discrepancies (even though I was born and raised in the US) because I have a hard enough time keeping my own straight. lol

Hmm. I have lived all my life in the United States. When I have been able to visit other countries, I have been in the habit of learning at least three verbal cues: "Please", "Thank you", and "Sorry".

The first two are often the same word or phrase, in asking for help or offering thanks. The third sound is usually when bumping into someone in a crowd, or in response to getting in someone's way. Or apologizing when it's taking a bit longer for me to understand a particular situation.

I have not traveled in Africa or Southeast Asia, so very likely that I am missing the point here. But I don't intend to take on the power to heal the whole world when I say "Sorry" with sincerity. I'm just trying to avoid becoming more of a problem.

> To preface, we're talking about people with jackasses-tendencies here. Normal, well-adjusted people don't like to make their colleagues feel bad.

Exactly this, and one of the things I eventually realised is you have to simply ignore the jackasses.

Realising that face to face these people are most likely not terribly formidable is certainly helpful but the main thing is to learn not to give a s### what they think regardless. This isn't to say you should ignore everyone, or become proud, but that you should recognise peoples' behaviour for what it is and respond appropriately, which might include ignoring it entirely.

> My gut says bullies key to subconscious signs of weakness, and the former is interpreted as such.

Without wanting to get too Homelander about it and, of course, I never would, but after a number of years of strength training it's always nice to know that if push came to shove you could probably snap the bullies in half with your bare hands. More seriously, being in physically good shape is highly underrated: it fundamentally changes who you are, and will change the way you think about difficult or challenging situations, making you more confident and capable of dealing with them. I can't really explain why this happens, but it certainly does - at least in my experience (one data point, I will grant you).

There are situations where it doesn't work to just ignore the jackasses. Though, yes, these people are jackasses and I tend to be going "Can you get therapy already and leave me the hell alone?" (or "Can you drop dead already, you asshole." if it goes on long enough/gets bad enough).

America is something of a bully culture, unfortunately. They tend to win and be glorified.

As opposed to where? I am not familiar with any cultures where the "nice guy" wins out over the aggressive "type A" personality who prioritizes winning over empathy. Even in very polite asian societies. It seems like it's just human instincts.

This is a very important distinction. "I did X" isn't seen often enough, in individuals and companies. Part of it is a perception that it invites litigation. I hate how it's rare to hear a company (or person) admit they made a mistake, or didn't take the best path.

Not doing this makes even well-intentioned organizations and people feel slimy and dishonest to me. I'm evidently in the minority.

My last employer (t50 retailer, oddly enough) was one of the first I've worked at that had a top to bottom culture encouraging that.

I think the biggest enabler was the response.

If someone said "I made a mistake and did X", the response was invariably "What are we going to do about it now?" or "How can we avoid doing it again?"

I guess part of it was a strong company identity and shared ownership. So it wasn't so much "You admitted a mistake" rather than "You admitted a mistake we all made (through you)".

It was weird, but I don't think I saw people get jumped on for admitting mistakes my entire time there.

Not starting with "I am sorry" looks like a good advice - framing matters. Start with description of what happened and how it went sideways, end up with regretting the harm caused - by the time you get there, you'll be perceived as a person who understands the situation and its implications, and is in control of it, and thus will be more inclined to accept the apology and move on.

I think it's quite a literal difference actually. Apologizing without further explanation can imply that you don't know what went wrong but that you accept responsibility anyway. You've literally volunteered for the role of scapegoat.

Your latter statement implies an observation of a cause and effect relationship. "It was wrong", especially if followed by "because..." shows that you know _why_ it was a mistake and that you'll be able to rectify it in the future.

It truly is a thing for people to feel anxious and upset and apologize without understanding what they did wrong, and it is an admission of weakness. In a better world, it wouldn't be pounced upon. But in this world, I'd recommend that people keep a cool head and focus on observations of consequences, not acceptance of blame.

As a former Southerner, I can confirm. The Southern United States is the most British in its social constructs.

I also apologize more than usual. Even at work. But I've also learned that if someone is unfairly trying to blame me I will vigorously defend myself. Maybe even going a fair bit over the top. I feel like people learn pretty quickly that I'm not someone they can just dump stuff on -- I've literally had people say, "remind me not to mess with you".

I'm the nicest most contrite person you'll ever meet -- until I'm not.

I definitely had to learn as I got older to not simply make peace. For people who are not naturally assertive, it takes some time to control your emotional response when confronted in that manner, but it does become easier (and less necessary) over time.

I think the cure for that is often to spend some time away from the keyboard and social interaction and think "What are the standards I hold myself to? What kind of communities do I wish to be part of, and what sort of behavior is required from the members of those communities to maintain the tone that I'd like to see?" Then hold yourself to it, and actively seek out communities where the members interact in the ways that you'd like to be a part of.

When you've made a mistake or someone claims you have made a mistake, step back outside yourself and look at your behavior dispassionately. If you don't meet the standards you've held for yourself, then apologize and make things right. But if after really separating yourself from the situating and thinking about it, you still feel like you acted correctly - stand your ground and don't engage. Or explain why you did what you did and what the consequences would be otherwise.

Or if all else fails, give one of those evasive "I'm sorry you feel the way you do" non-apologies and move on, like corporations do all the time. This is really a form of boundary-setting, and basically means "I find your needs to be not worth my time and energy, so I will extricate myself from this relationship in as inoffensive a way as I can and devote no further energy to engaging with you."

Agree - take a deep breath/sleep on it. Things look different in the morning...

I think this is a good point to keep in mind. Some things sound good but can hurt people's perception of you if used too much, or incorrectly. Apologize too quickly, and without really making sure it was actually a mistake worth apologizing for, and people start to get used to the idea of you being constantly wrong.

I've run into something that is kinda-sorta-similar with regards to praising other people. I really took it to heart a long time ago that I should focus on building other people up and giving credit, always keeping positive, etc. That's not terrible advice, but I've found that if you give everyone else credit too often it shifts people's perception of you. So be nice, give credit where it's due, but don't turn away praise, and accept with good grace credit that is given to you. You want people to remember that you are skilled.

Self-deprecating humor was another thing that went bad places I didn't expect it to go.

When I was in high school, I got in the habit of cracking self deprecating jokes because I was one of the top students. It was a means to try to put other people at ease and signal "I'm just plain folks and not perfect and please don't be intimidated. Please relax."

Later in life it only served to convince people I was a loser and/or had terrible self-esteem issues (or both). And there is no remedy for it once that happens because how are you supposed to explain the joke?

"Noooooo. You have that backwards. I'm so sure I'm better than you that I'm trying to bring myself down to your level and seem approachable!"


Yeah, no. Just no.

When someone who is top of the class self-deprecates themselves, often people will interpret that as an attack on them, as it looks like you're bringing yourself down to their level, which implies you actually do see yourself on top and them lower than you. I hate being pitied. You're far better off just being who you are, and damn proud of it.

I imagine there's a special extra level of problems that apply when the apology reinforces someone's stereotypical views of the apologizer based on the group they appear to be part of, whether those views are held consciously or unconsciously, which makes especially problematic. Most of those attributes or not readily obvious in an online forum, but some are based on pronoun and/or name (mainly gender and nationality, at least historically, and we're talking about assumptions here, so they don't even have to be accurate).

It was a homeschooling/parenting list. Those tend to skew female and this one did.

Though the reality is that I have never been on an email list that was mostly female membership that wasn't poisoned by sexism. There is inevitably one or two men who have figured out how to participate in the discussion without the entire group wanting their head on a pike and you can't disagree with these men because a zillion women will jump down your throat and it ends up being seriously ugly (yes, I tend to be the woman daring to disagree with such men and having other women act horribly to me).

A more likely explanation is that when I was younger, before my health went to hell, I was fairly charming and likable. So I tended to be the center of attention and I think some people were jealous.

It was also a situation where (oftentimes) I would read the initial email and give my advice on their problem without first reading any of the replies and then my advice would change the direction of discussion because it was so much better than what had already been said. I tended to stand out and there were some people just hell bent on trying to prove that I "didn't know everything" and "wasn't above making mistakes" and "wasn't always right" and this kind of garbage.

Because I tended to stand out, the discussion on the list would end up revolving around everyone lining up to either be "for" or "against" me/my position and then I would hand everyone their head as the least worst answer because patting people on the head for agreeing with me was only going to deepen such problems.

I've spent a lot of years trying to figure out how to let my comments stand on their own and do what I can to refuse to let it become about me. There is no 100 percent cure for that tendency (of people to make things about the person who said them), but I've learned some best practices.

(Comment has been edited.)

I noticed in this comment that you spent a lot of time talking about yourself and specifically praising yourself and your contributions to this community. Having no other insight other than what you are providing me, it seems like you tend to make yourself the center of discussion and honestly, you come across as high-ego. People like that are often polarizing in communities and tend the shift the conversation from "what" to "who". Perhaps the best practice would be to learn to make your point without personalizing it so much.

Perhaps the best practice would be to learn to make your point without personalizing it so much.

Yes, generally speaking, that's a best practice and one I follow as best I can. Unfortunately, it can't always be followed without hamstringing one's ability to say something meaningful and address more important issues than the tendency of the world to geegaw at me for existing.

I wasn't asking for advice. Giving advice in a situation like this one tends to boil down to blaming the victim rather than trying to understand what they are saying about a larger social issue and patterns of behavior involving many people, not just themselves.

People who are what santoshalper described as "high ego" are usually charismatic, and that makes a difference with everything.

The probably not obvious at this point context is the comment I replied to was an early reply (the first one?) and is probably assuming "The issue is you are a woman and it must have been a male dominant environment -- just like here on HN where DoreenMichele is a woman in a predominantly male environment." In spite of me promptly replying to say "no, that wasn't the issue," there has been at least one other comment assuming it's about my gender -- which is why I added a link to that comment to my initial reply (in hopes of preventing ten other replies assuming it was about my gender).

Sometimes, there are no good answers.

I'm going to go try to do other things now. If other people here want to continue to make it about me that my comment in this discussion happens to have been upvoted by other people, I'm not taking responsibility for that. It was my third comment for the day on HN and the other two have been utterly and completely ignored so far.

I have no control over other people's upvotes and a really poor ability to predict which of my comments will do well on HN. I spend about half my time going "That was brilliant. Why doesn't anyone appreciate me?" and the other half going "God, why is this being upvoted so much???" and maybe one percent of my time going "Yes, this makes total sense to me how this comment is being received." (Comment not intended to be mathematically accurate nor to cover all scenarios of how I feel about HN reactions to my comments.)


Toodle doo, y'all.

That's because upvotes aren't a true proxy of how valuable a comment is, it's also a proxy for other things like "does this comment provoke thought or further conversation?"


Nevermind that group nonsense. The same phenomena occur on an individual level. People see you as fitting into some position in a social hierarchy or behavior or ability or whatever and confirm their belief whenever you do something that confirms it, while finding excuses when you do something different. "That thing he did turned out surprisingly well. But he's dumb so it must have been a fluke."

If you're only looking at racism or sexism or whatever, you're ignoring the bigger and more insidious social problems that are individual and pervade small groups and families everywhere.

When I first heard about micro-aggressions, I thought, wow, so that's what's been happing. That explains all those subtle insults, unexpected rudeness, quiet exclusions, etc. But I'm not in one of those special "marginalized" groups and being actually marginalized doesn't matter to identitarians because their politics is more important than people's welfare.

> If you're only looking at racism or sexism or whatever, you're ignoring the bigger and more insidious social problems that are individual and pervade small groups and families everywhere.

Oh, I'm not, that's what I meant by an extra level of problems, not that it explains everything, but it may exacerbate it by giving more things for people to key off of that aren't based on rational measures.

What I meant is along the lines of "yes, dealing with groups is annoying because there's all sorts of weird group dynamics and people making assumptions and not re-evaluations based on new evidence, and then it gets worse for those people that have identifying characteristics that allow people to make even more baseless assumptions.

Yes, but that's something overhyped in social media and probably hardly even exists. It's very easy to incorrectly attribute mistreatment to something visible like sex or race. I used to have a workmate who complained everybody hated him at his previous job because he was the only American there. But then most people ended up hating him at his new job too, which was majority American staffed. People might use the obvious feature (eg. male, American, etc.) as an insult but it's often not the actual reason for the mistreatment. Bullies just pick on whatever unique characteristics their victim has as a way to belittle them and that can get misunderstood as sexism/etc.

> Yes, but that's something overhyped in social media and probably hardly even exists.

As someone who has noticed their own knee-jerk reactions based on sex at times (due to a number of factors that mostly boil down to very little exposure to women in my specific field over the decades I've been in it based on small company sizes outside of major markets), I think you're either just entirely unaware of it, lucky enough to not be around it much, or oblivious to it.

To be absolutely clear, I have a bias on on initial interpretation of capability of women before there it information otherwise. This rears its head when I read something about a women in tech having a technical problem and assume it's because of their skill level before knowing anything about them, and it's done in a way that is beyond what I would assume about a man. It's ingrained, but I have noticed it, and try to specifically correct for it now. I would like to think it's made little or no difference in my interactions with women in tech because a) they have been extremely infrequent, and b) I try to not let my assessment of someone's skill affect how I treat them. That's probably optimistic of me though. I don't exactly feel shame about this, it's a natural part of being human. We have biases, we can either try to find them and acknowledge and/or try to work on them, or just live with them.

So what you have here is a very specific counter-example, of someone on the other side saying concretely it has happened at least for once. I doubt I'm unique in this. Most people have biases about all sorts of groups, that come out in large and small ways. Maybe you don't, or your biases are so small it's hard to note them. Forgive me if I think that's unlikely, and you have many biases for many different types of people, as everyone does, and as I do for in many other ways I'm not aware of, I'm sure.

I imagine the other side of this probably feels like people judging you for being underdressed ata group function at all times, no matter how much effort you put into it. People are going to make assumptions if you're the only person in jeans and a t-shirt at a group function of people in suits, and you'll have to prove yourself all the time to overcome people's initial assumptions. My guess is that for women in tech, life is like a bunch of that happening over and over again, unless they get a reputation that proceeds them. That doesn't seem overhyped to me at all, it seems pretty likely to me and a shitty thing to go through life dealing with.

I generally agree with all you've said there. I guess I have so much personal experience with non-sexism prejudice in all kinds of ways that I don't really care about the plight of women as much. It seems like everyone gets it. If someone asks as question on StackOverflow, I judge them for having a default avatar or username. I judge them for having a teenage writing style. If someone writes in 3rd person or 1st person, you can judge them in either direction depending on whether other signals are consistent with it. I try to combat that in myself and treat everyone fairly, but ways to judge people are just overwhelming even without knowing their sex. You get judged by the way you walk, the way to look at people, the timing of your speaking, your age, your clothes, everything. You might say those features aren't innate and people can change them, but it can be incredibly hard for some because they're actually signals of some underlying qualities and if you don't have those qualities, you're struggling to fake the signals which is risky and difficult.

I think women may actually get a better deal overall because so many men are trying not to be sexist that they treat them well, giving them a free pass on all those other judgable signals. Men might not even understand that a woman is revealing her inadequacy by wearing the "wrong" clothes, while they'll openly laugh at a man exhibiting "wrong" behavior.

Apologies are complex things. If you dole them out like candy they lose their power, and since an apology's power comes from your dignity, it follows that you lose your dignity.

So when do you apologize? An apology is great when you've hurt someone by making a mistake - which I would define as something you wouldn't do knowing how it would turn out. You've made a deliberate decision that in hindsight was an error of judgement. Hopefully that doesn't happen often.

What does happen often is a decision you make that hurt someone's feelings - maybe you declined to merge a pull request because the patch wasn't good, or you skipped a colleague's wedding because you were sick; in those cases you can maybe make it up to them or explain, but don't apologize - beyond the "I'm sorry I couldn't come, but I had a fever" one-liner, which is more sympathy than an apology.

I think the solution here is to choose values that are not conditional on what people think of you or what you’ve done.

Then, when you apologize, you’re never doing it to seek forgiveness. Apologies are simply an expression of regret that your actions didn’t align with your values.

How other people react doesn’t matter.

E.g. I’m sorry for A. I regret A bc I value B. B is important to me bc C. To better achieve B, I will be avoiding A in the future and striving for D and E instead.

I once apologized to someone and they took full advantage of the situation stomping me into the proverbial ground and ending in a psychological position where they were the clear winner and had an advantage over me in future encounters. Most people don’t do this and are gracious. But unless you’ve had this happen to you, you don’t have an understanding of the risks associated with a full blown mea culpa.

Nah. Dont change. Next time it happens just turn it on its head. Make it public that you were just doing it to be pleasant but now you are out for blood. Dont back down, this person is already your enemy at this point. Fuck those people.

Its working for me so far. Dis agreeable people are my daily antagonistic target. Its a great sport.

if a person uses your honesty against you then finding this out early is a very good thing. you made a mistake, who cares? question is what did you learn? share that. and i still love you none the less stranger.

In a group setting, it's often not that simple. They may have just successfully aligned everyone against you such that bullying you is now not only acceptable behavior but expected behavior.

When someone of that ilk works as a moderator in an online community (or is otherwise influential in a group), it tends to wind up being a really awful cesspit while many of the members will feel they have "bragging rights" for belonging if they happen to be fortunate enough to be one of the "insiders" expected to do the bullying and not get bullied.

What an... odd situation. I'm sorry that happened.

I'm not sure I've ever quite seen that dynamic, so I'm actually really curious for details. What kinds of things did you find yourself apologizing for? And then, what were people picking on you for? And what was the relation exactly?

If you're a moderator of a group who has to make hard decisions, depending on the group, it can be a thankless job since you'll always piss off half the people no matter what.

I suppose the original post doesn't talk about what does require apology vs. what doesn't. E.g. making a necessary and correct decision that still pisses people off is usually better done with empathy for those who it bothers, but not apology.

I'm with you on this one. I've noticed this 'singling out' behaviour on WhatsApp groups for example. I was recently on a WhatsApp group where (I wouldn't even call it a mistake) a slight error of judgement led to the issue being way over-inflated and me being made an example of for the 'benefit' of others. There's just way too much of that on the internet these days. I've seen many genuine & sincere apologies from people with large followings (since some people are suggesting these rules don't apply to average Joe) and even then people don't let it go. The world just wants someone to blame, that is the underlying problem.

> I did a lot of sincere public apologizing

If you generally live by your own values, and act according to them, then (in my opinion) you should rarely need to apologise for that.

Why did you need to do a lot of apologizing, I'm curious?

If I think of particular people I personally know who frequently apologise, it often seems to me that they are doing that to centre and prioritise their own experience ahead of other people's - which perhaps was exactly the problem in the first place. That type of apology can taste slightly sour.

I find that listening is a more important aspect of apologising than talking.

> If you generally live by your own values, and act according to them

Maybe you're different than the rest of us, but I imagine that most people do things from time to time that don't align with their values, either because of an honest accident, or because of a "moment of weakness". Obviously we don't need to publicly apologize for everything though.

I am in no way discounting your description. The behaviors you described are incredibly immature and possibly misogynistic. I am not clear on the social context in which those communications occurred but not anything I would want to be involved with. That level of immaturity and poor empathy has nothing to do with any mistake or apology.

Agree that also in my experience, apologies lead to being perceived as weak. You will also notice that most leaders (think top management) never apologize, let even directly recognize any kind of personal mistake - I don't think it's just for a lack of honesty (although there's some of that too) just rather a technique to never look weak in any circumstance.

Sorry to hear this story. Sounds like you’re over it, but maybe your younger self would have benefited from hearing this: https://twitter.com/JIMrichards1010/status/12391407105589698...

Wow can't believe that's from the start of Coronavirus outbreak, very prescient. What does this have to do with the topic though

I really don't get people who try to hold people to things they said years ago. People change, and opinions change.

And the only people you need to apologize to are the people who you actually hurt, not random people on the internet.

Do you keep a blog? Find your comments interesting.

I run a bunch of different websites. You are probably being downvoted because my profile contains links to a variety of things by me, including my Patreon (which needs to be updated -- note to self: Put that on a To Do list somewhere for, say, next week-ish/before the end of November).

The trap of the ego. Sounds like you were stuck in a boys-club when they needed reminding it was a woman who started programming.

I’ve been fortunate to work at a few places where we had a really good diverse mix of people. It was there that we had the best ideas, the best teams, the best support, and the best place to work from an HR perspective.

I’m sad to read this because this experience isn’t alone. So many I’ve talked to have similar stories. I’m glad you didn’t take their crap and you continue to do what you do.

There are few more odious Internet pass-times than relentlessly harassing someone for some perceived infraction until they give an imperfect apology and then nitpicking until they ritually humiliate themselves exactly according to your wishes.

This document is a would-be harasser's checklist for extracting forced confessions and atonement schedules.

I'm curious, what kind of mistake are you envisioning in this scenario?

While I do agree with you for some things, some mistakes may actually be severe and need correction in a public forum and it has nothing to do with harassement.

Plenty of easy and obvious ones. Dr Matt Taylor being attacked for an anime shirt is the first that comes to mind.

Modern day struggle sessions!

Something that I would include with the apology part (the text may have covered this and I missed it) is that apologies don't have but's.

"I'm sorry I funded Wikimedia Antarctica but..."

Everything you say after the but negates everything you say before it and now you're only trying to justify your actions. Simply, "I'm sorry I funded Wikimedia Antarctica." and proceed to describe what you learned: "I neglected to look at relevant data before doing so. I see how that affected my thinking and I'm committed to doing that in future deals."

I can't stress how much more impactful my apologies have become with people simply by leaving out that "but". Even my relationship with my wife has improved because of it and I've noticed she's started to leave off the "but's" as well, which really makes me appreciate her apologies a whole lot more.

People confuse explanations with excuses. It's okay to provide an explanation as long as you're not excusing the thing you did was wrong. For example:

"I apologize for shouting at you. I was short on sleep and frustrated about something else. I was wrong to take out my frustration on you."


"I apologize for shouting at you but I was tired and frustrated."

An explanation can make the apology stronger because it demonstrates that you realize what it is you're apologizing for.

My wife and I follow that and have tried to teach it to our kids. An apology with a ‘but’ isn’t an apology.

Two more worth thinking about: Explain vs. excuse. While your feelings and justifications may explain your bad behavior they do not excuse it.

Not your fault, but still your problem. The (wrong) idea that an unexpected circumstance can excuse bad behavior, because it’s not your fault.

> These elements are required for your acknowledgement to be also valid as apology, see Apology#Which elements should be included in an apology for the details.


> When the offender takes full responsibility for one's wrongdoing, a simple statement saying "I am sorry." may help build the trust. This is particularly true if there is a story of good relationship with the offender; In most cases however, it will be insufficient.

It doesn't explicitly address "I'm sorry, but..." phrasing, but does suggest limiting apologies to specifically acknowledging what was done (and the pain it caused), accepting responsibility, and expressing regret.

I make an effort to do this too, I've found that it's made me more cynical of apologies on occasion. I almost feel like I'm waiting for a "but".

So this one time, our main customer database fell over. The primary key wasn't wide enough, we hit 2 billion rows, and everyone panicked.

We had been working unwise hours for several days, and we got the fix together, and I made a mistake: I pushed it directly to production.

Man, my boss was really mad; no one had been getting enough sleep and we were all stressed. I apologized profusely and said it would never happen again. Fortunately, the fix was correct, so this could have been worse.

Ok. Do you notice what's missing from this story?

We never addressed the flaw in our deployment which made it possible to push to prod without passing test.

Apologies are for when you harm others. Some mistakes do, and some don't. A blanket policy that a mistake is an occasion for apology and navel-gazing is culturally harmful, because it casts mistakes as personal failings, when they are frequently the result of institutional or procedural shortcomings which can and should be addressed.

Something important about that situation is the power dynamic. You were not in a position of power, your boss was, and you were looking to defuse the situation and take ownership of a mistake. Your point is correct - there was a systematic failure at multiple levels of the operation that led to this being possible and even likely (too many hours, bad practices).

In such a situation, multiple mistakes were made. If that work culture could somehow support honest, open, and humble approaches to understanding the problem, there would be multiple people either apologizing or, better, taking ownership of their contributions and working towards preventing them in the future (the thing you identify that did not happen). Such a culture is, unfortunately, very unlikely due to the incentive structures of company hierarchy.

The role and power of the individual for whom we're setting these expectations is very important and it's very unhelpful that this isn't considered either in that wiki page or in so many comments (not yours, yours is good). Is the person that made a mistake very powerful and do they have a PR team? Their approach will probably be purely cynical. Is it a company? We should stop anthropomorphizing companies. Is it a junior colleague? Was it truly a personal error on their part or higher up or systemic? Was it a manager harming an employee? On a moral and societal level, we have to consider those harms and whether owning a mistake and apologizing is desirable or even sufficient - perhaps they should just be fired or we should consider their actions to be a crime. Or maybe "we" in this scenario is again PR thinking intended to protect the company, in which case the apology is carefully wordsmithed to avoid liability and has no real value.

If your primary goal is to minimize the damage of your mistake to maximize your political gains, then yes, you're right.

When dealing with actual, non-hypothetical humans, you should be able to set your ego aside to meet them on a human level and address them as such.

Too many in this thread fear of being perceived as weak, but I find that being an unapologetic asshole is just as bad.

The problem is that some people will perceive you as weak when you admit having made a mistake, and will exploit that weakness, if only to throw cheap shots when given the chance. It creates a real incentive not to disclose mistakes in the first place.

Is there any point in addressing the "mistake" if no one has the need to take responsibility for it?

Life is full of situations where no one acted unreasonably but something undesirable still happened. It's especially common for no one to see a potential problem, and thus for no one to be assigned the responsibility of dealing with that problem. If you have any stake in the overall success of the team, it doesn't matter whose fault something is, you just want the problem fixed.

Yes, 100%. In the parent's example the system should be fixed so that no one can push directly to prod. Failing that, some sort of standardized checklist/process should be put in place. That's true regardless of who personally pushed something they shouldn't, and would be true even if no one ever made that "mistake."

I find it helpful when writing apology posts to start it by writing down the timeline of events. Don’t insert any commentary attempting to justify anything in this part, it just comes off as defensive. Instead just outline what happened though you can include the immediate cause of decisions you made.

“Because I was worried about how people would react to X I decided to do Y”

Then after that you can write all the stuff that they list in this post.

I think it helps a lot to get the audience into the same situation you where in in their minds before understanding the context of how you actually screwed up.

>I find it helpful when writing apology posts ...

How many apology posts do you write? Why would you need to write any? I don't understand why any apology needs to be public.

I ran a game company.

There are lots of occasions where we made a change the players didn't like, or we screwed up in a way that led to economic damage to some players, or just had an operational issue that led to a bunch of downtime.

Here is a random example of onee of these.


Incident reports such as this one are incredibly valuable for understanding what went wrong and deficiencies that need to be addressed, but also what went well (e.g. point-in-time rollback as effective mitigation).

The full timeline is valuable since you can look back on it and determine what went wrong when, so you can determine what changes need to happen to prevent these same issues in the future.

One thing I find is that incident reports such as these are most useful internally, but when communicated externally, they demonstrate that you're taking the underlying issues seriously and are committed to addressing them.

Your apology posts are excellent and you deserve the positive response you get on them.

They forgot to mention the part where the goal posts get moved and you have to keep apologizing each time this happens. You may find yourself running out of rope as you are pushed further and further out until you don't have much left to give.

Modesty and realizing you've made a mistake are good qualities, no doubt. But those traits will be used against you if you foolishly think others will be also acting in good faith when they publicly point out your mistake. If you wish to publicly apologize that's fine, but don't for a second fall for the notion that this will appease the mob. They want blood when they smell it in the water and each apology just squirts more blood into the water for them to feed off of.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact