He's sorry, she's sorry, everybody's sorry. Does any of it in any way really matter. We are swimming in a sea of public contrition, where everyone's sorry and at the same time, no one is sorry enough.

This isn't the first age of apology. Nor is it the first in which public apologies have been deemed insincere. And yet, something about this era of contrition feels different.

It's not just the speed at which the apologies are incoming., though that's part of it. It's more than the disembodied way in which such apologies are delivered, though that's a factor too.

Perhaps it's that public apologies, no matter how insincere, once seemed to serve a social function :

They established our societal red lines, they showed us that even the powerful could be held responsible for their actions, and the act of apologizing itself, with all the discomfort and squirming involved, often seemed like real punishment.

''It was an admission of defeat as much as an admission of guilt,'' said the linguist Deborah Tannen.

TODAY, all manner of offenses are deemed apology-worthy, and it takes very little squirming to dash off a tweet.

But our response to these developments hasn't been to calibrate our reactions accordingly; we seem to be demanding apologies as quickly as we dismiss them.

It's an interesting paradox, said Karina Schumann, a professor of psychology at the University of Pittsburgh who runs the Conflict Resolution Lab there.

On the one hand, she said, we're living in an age of accountability - in which there's a call for transparency, conversations about what's right and what's wrong and power on the part of the public to demand a response.

Amid that, it has become almost expected that public figures, and even not-so-public figures be held accountable for even the smallest misdeeds. And yet that very expectation, she said, has raised the bar for what is considered sincere -which can water down the apology's impact.

Social scientists have deemed this concept normative dilution - the idea that it's possible for a thing to become so normalized that we become cynical to it, even as we demand it.

But what cynicism can make us less likely to forgive, in turn rendering an apology, even an authentic one, useless.

Which isn't to say that the apology serves no function. There is plenty of research to show that a sincere apology still retains great value in our culture-particularly when delivered to an actual person.

In one study, of surgery patients who'd filed malpractice suits, 40 percent said that an apology from the doctor along with an explanation might have prevented them from suing.

The Publishing continues. The World Students Society thanks author Professor Jessica Bennett, a contributing editor in the Opinion section of The Times.. She teaches journalism at New York University and is the author of ''Feminist Fight Club'' and ''This is 18.''


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