“Sorry sorry sorry sorry…”

A week or two ago I did something to a friend that was pretty impersonal, even though we’ve known each other since high school. (And there’s not too many people I’m still in touch with from high school.) When they called me out on it (during a text conversation), my response went like this:

...it wasn't just you and I wanted to talk in person but you're right and I'm sorry.

Apologizing for a mistake or for something you forgot is easy. Apologizing for something you actually did deliberately is harder—it’s admitting not only that you did something wrong but that you thought something wrong. This sort of apology shouldn’t be harder—being wrong is just the step before being right in a lot of things, you were clearly wrong, so admit it. But it feels like giving up some kind of social currency.

Maybe it’s the fact that I take pride in my reasoning abilities. I consider myself very good at qualitative problem-solving…not so much brain teasers or equations, but in planning, knowing what tools to apply, knowing what to try next. Of course, that doesn’t always apply so well to people, which are much more complicated than the shortest route through a museum to hit all our exhibits.1

But for whatever reason, I feel like a lot of my apologies look like this: an explanation of my thought process, then the admission of guilt and regret. And I think it’s because even though I did something wrong—failing to do the right thing, at a point in life when I should have known what the right thing was—I want to feel like my thought process was at least Reasonable, to make it clear that I didn’t set out to hurt my friend. I don’t want to be excused. I just want to maintain trust…and my reputation as a good reasoner.

Am I trying to convince myself or the person I’m apologizing to? Probably a little of both.

To put it in terms of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (which I need to stop referencing), I am not good at losing. And being wrong is a form of losing.

I need to learn how to lose.

  1. That’s right, my intuition can approximate solutions to NP-complete problems. Not that n is that big, usually… ↩︎