Apologies are interesting things. Most people seem to think that it's words and moving on. Sometimes they are. When you bump into someone and no one is hurt, a simple "sorry" is all that is needed. Us Canadians love to apologize for that, even when someone bumps into us!
However lots of times, the offense is a little more serious than a bump. For example, if you smash someone's bumper, a simple sorry isn't going to cut it, your insurance will cover it, and you will pay through the nose with your insurance. Hurting people's feelings, sometimes a heartfelt discussion and showing someone that you are listening to their pain that you've caused is what's needed. However in order for that to happen, you actually have to listen to them and then act accordingly in the future.
I try hard not to hurt my friends and family. If I've learned I have, I make note and try never ever to do that again. A friend of mine once told me about how I hurt her feelings, this was nearly a year ago, I have since done everything in my power to avoid even straying into that territory, because I don't want to do it again. In fact I want to do the opposite and try to do so.
Apologies to me aren't simply just words. They are acts. They are the act of listening and understanding what the other person has gone through and what it has taken for them to simply be there to hear out your apology. It's about understanding and trying to avoid doing the same thing or further damage. Now I'm not saying that you should be bending over backwards because you failed to notice your sister's dogs new hairdo, but if you have genuinely hurt someone and you genuinely feel bad about it, act on that.
What is worse than not acting on it, is offering a bunch of words and the illusion that you are listening and understanding. Then re-offending. The person whom you've apologized to, is opening up, making themselves vulnerable again to you, and if you're not willing to act on it, in fact doing something that will likely hurt that person again, you've basically thrown a sucker punch.
The first part of acting on it, is realizing if you're capable of doing so. Are you capable of empathy? Do you really want to? Do you actually feel bad? Assuming the person doesn't want your head on a platter, but would like you to say not hurt their feelings again, are you capable of that? Answer yourself honestly, because if you're not, than really, either apologize and get the heck out of their lives, or just don't bother.
The second part is listening. This is a HUGE part of the apology, the main part really. If you are not willing or capable of listening to that person and how they hurt, how you've hurt them, how you may hurt them in the future, than, really, it's a waste of time. Yes, some things may be unreasonable, and now is the time to mention it, but at least if you're there, you're listening. There are about a million and one basic counseling courses you can take from any continuing education program at most post secondary institutions. These are great for teaching you how to listen. Some people can do it naturally, many need to learn.
Then act on it! Really, don't apologize, and then hurt the person again. The problem is with apologies is that it makes the person vulnerable again, they believe that you're genuinely sorry and come to a reasonable conclusion that you're going to try and make an effort to be more mindful in the future. I sometimes think it's far easier to just move on with your life, expecting never to receive an apology and fortifying yourself for that, than to have one, let your guard down a little and BOOM! So not only are your feelings hurt, but you feel stupid for not being on the defensive and expecting that this person is going to be mindful in the future. And for the person offering the apology, you just set yourself back big time, so don't do it unless you're willing to act on it. This means that you have to have empathy, have had to listen and are able to compute that "Gee, based on what X has told me, this action here, is likely to hurt them and I can easily avoid it, so I won't do it."
Anyhow, this was an early morning rant (published much later) just brought on by a bunch of things over the weekend. You can colour me disappointed, but it is a life lesson in that if I'm being apologized to, I'm going to do my darndest to suss out that the person doing so has these three things in mind.