On Monday, Ellen DeGeneres opened the latest season of her long-running daytime talk show with a mea culpa. The monologue was ostensibly DeGeneres’ effort to claim responsibility for allegations, from current and former show staffers, that her show was a toxic and abusive work environment. An apology, if you will. Except that it was seven minutes long.
Here’s the thing about apologies. They aren’t seven minutes long.
Sure, apologies aren’t a science. To my knowledge, nobody’s figured out the empirical cutoff time for what constitutes a legitimate “sorry.” But apologies aren’t exactly abstract concepts, either. By definition, they’re pretty simple: you own up to your wrongdoing, and you express genuine regret for messing up.
An apology is a step toward making amends with the person or people you’ve harmed, intentionally or not, in big ways or small ones, by validating their negative experience and your role in creating it. It’s specific and precise.
In other words, an apology serves a clear purpose, and its subject is never the person saying sorry. Because by definition, the apology isn’t about the apologizer. It’s about granting the person at the receiving end the dignity of being seen, and the space to do with that gesture as they see fit. If an apology doesn’t do that job, it’s not an apology at all — and it likely won’t be read as one.
I could go into a point-by-point breakdown of the ways in which DeGeneres’ apology strayed from this basic criteria, but I’ll spare you. Seven minutes tells you all you need to know.