The new apology: Whatevs

Jeffrey Denny

A friend recently dropped by the local Apple Store about fixing her new MacBook Pro. The battery had stopped charging, rendering her purchase virtually useless and severing her connection the global interweb and hilarious animal videos involving dogs, cats, parrots, kangaroos and alligators. She tried the online Apple troubleshoots, but all failed to shoot the trouble.

At the Apple Store, the genial greeter suggested she schedule a Genius Bar appointment. She explained how she’d tried, but the online scheduler was confounding and useless. Sympathizing, the greeter said, “Yeah, I know,” as in, “I hear you. That sucks. But what can you do?”

The Apple Store did schedule my friend for a 5:30 pm Wednesday slot, phoned her, and followed with an email reminder. When the hour came but she couldn’t break from the work that funded her purchase, Apple, to its credit, offered to reschedule for another inconvenient time.

For this rant, let’s set aside how the $700 billion Apple makes customers precision-schedule and block time to bring in a new $2,500 device to fix a product glitch, as if we’re abject supplicants, bowing and scraping, hat in hand, seeking the privilege of His Excellency’s good graces to receive, at His Pleasure, what respectfully we feel due. (Ok, that’s extreme, but that’s how it feels sometimes.)

And granted, the Genius Bar staffers really are geniuses. Their intellect, training, talents and sensibilities are priceless, timeless, ageless, and able to teach us what should be intuitive. For the Apple illiterate, Geniuses are our new shaman, our sensei, the proverbial “doorway to a place of enchantment” to quote Bert (Dick Van Dyke) in the 1964 Mary Poppins.

But Genius Bar humans still are human. They’re not even oral surgeons or cardiologists. It’s a mystery why they command our calendars by demanding precise times for when they’re ready to deign to address our idiotic needs. Even Comcast, Verizon and Roto-Rooter offer a range of times to help us, and they make house calls. True genius would find a way for Apple to offer more on-demand troubleshooting.

All that digression aside, more interesting was the Apple greeter’s response — yeah, I hear you — and whether it’s the harbinger of an innovative new frontier in apology.

Right now, we have only three major modes of apology:

The real apology: The active voice “I’m sorry. My fault. I’ll fix it. And make sure it doesn’t happen again.” The best, smartest people, corporations and other institutions use this mode because it’s right, and most effective.

The non-apology: The lawyerly, litigation-planning passive voice “mistakes were made” mode. The dumbest people and corporations use this.

The middle-finger apology: The f-you voice, attacking critics, the press, the facts or victims. The preternaturally arrogant, and many tragic heroes of ancient Greek theater, use this mode. See Bill O’Reilly’s post-Fox defenestration, or Trump’s response to anyone who questions his historic, jaw-dropping first 100 days, golf prowess, or genius.

Let’s admit: At one point or another, we’ve all used these three types of apologies in personal, social and work relationships, right? As we’ve learned, results may vary. We hope for a better way.

Enter Apple. Always the innovation leader, Tim Cook & Co. may be transforming, re-imagining and redefining the traditional apology with a completely new type, based on my friend’s experience with the Apple Store greeter. Call it, “Whatevs.”

I love it. The whatevs apology is subtle, sensitive, innocently knowing, yet uber-powerful. And game-changing. It eschews responsibility, but doesn’t insult our intelligence by slithering away with the soft, passive-aggressive f-you. Nor does it punch with the hard, aggressive-aggressive f-you that keeps the matter festering.

The whatevs apology conveys sympathy, empathy, an Oprah sense we’re all human, we’re all in this together, and no one is to blame. It’s the situation, like it or not. The classic “is what it is.” What can you do?

It’s genius.

The whatev apology is the perfect ap-app (apology application) for any sitch (situation). Let me illustrate with a few scenarios:

Life partner: You trashed my Subaru, mountain bike and kayak, and stripped my bank account, home equity, 401(k) and Starbucks rewards card. You burned down my parents’ house cooking meth in their bed, slept with my best friend six times — four times in my parents’ bed before you burned it— and plotted my murder together (and left a note with your plan so I would see it). I forgive you. Completely. You were going through a challenging time. But you also forgot to burp the Tupperware. Again! We talked about that!

You: Yeah, you’re right. That must feel awful. I understand. Wow. Not to play the victim card, but that’s bad on me.


Boss: You lost our most important client by over-drinking at lunch, making horribly inappropriate comments about her body, breaking down in tears, and then vomiting on her. Now we have to shut down and lay off everyone, including Steve who’s working through chemo and will lose his health insurance. Also, your PowerPoint presentation had too many words. I’d cut back a bit.

You: You’re right. That stinks. Wow. Lesson learned, right?


Best friend: You told everyone on Facebook that I’m cheating on my wife?! Dude, I confided in you! I trusted you! I needed someone to talk to, and you promised me not to tell a soul! What the hell is wrong with you?

You: Was that wrong? Ok, now I see it. You must feel a sense of confusion. Let me know if you want to talk about it. I’m here for you. Also, if your wife is free, I’ve always had a thing for her, and think we had a moment at our kids’ last softball game, so if you want me to take her off your hands, lemme know. Just being a friend.


Spouse: After everything that’s happened, after all we’ve been through together, after all I’ve stood by you, after all you’re putting the country through by killing Hillary’s campaign thanks to our emails, why are you still sexting young women?

Anthony Weiner: Gosh, that sounds really wrong. Should I apologize and run for office again?


China: Wait, Mr. Trump. You said China is America’s biggest enemy. Now you say we are America’s best friend. We are confused.

President Trump: I meant what I said and I said what I meant — an elephant’s faithful 100 percent.


Russia: Wait, Mr. Trump. Everyone in your political campaigning loved us. We did many business dealings and Stoli shots together, and installed you as президент of the Amerika as opposed to that ведьма. We have many of the email, wire transfer from overseas bank and sexting from the Weiner. Now with Syria thing and Mattis saying of things, we are not so sure of your love.

President Trump: I meant what I said and I said what I meant — an elephant’s faithful 100 percent.


United States of America: Wait, President Trump. In your campaign, you promised to … and then you … and then you claimed to … ugh … never mind. It’s too much. Whatevs.

President Trump: That’s right. You’re amazing. Real Americans. The establishment media that concealed the nation’s problems are not going to reveal our successes. That is why we are taking our message directly to America by publishing an op-ed piece on my first 100 days in the Washington Post. I’m with you. Whatevs!


I didn’t mean for this piece to turn political, or to irk fervent Trump supporters. They have enough problems without me piling on.

But when Apple greeters and geniuses find common cause with President Trump by sharing the whatevs answer to challenges, it’s historic and worth noting.


Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer

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