The AtlanticThe Atlantic

How to apologize like a pro

By Arthur C. Brooks

17 Aug 2023 · 6 min read

informed Summary

  1. The desired outcome of an apology is usually to wipe the slate clean and get back to normal life. In this article, The Atlantic uses the example of poet William Carlos Williams, who apologized to his wife for eating the plums she was saving for breakfast. His wife's response, which didn't mention the plums, suggests she accepted his apology.

And so apologized William Carlos Williams, presumably to his wife, Flossie, in his 1934 poem “This Is Just to Say.” My own apologies tend to be somewhat less elegant, and certainly less worthy of publication. In my defense, however, I don’t directly repurpose my apologies as content for The Atlantic, explaining to my wife before a large audience that although I have been an insensitive jerk for the millionth time, it was totally worth it.

Apologizing well, after all, is tricky. It requires personal strength, a good ear, and a fair bit of psychological sophistication, which is why so many apologies are unsuccessful. If you have something you need to apologize for—or if you would just like to be ready to deal with the fallout from your next screw-up—here is your primer on the art and science of contrition.

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