I once had a friend who was endowed with a particularly morbid facet to his sense of humor. This factor, not uncommonly, led to uncomfortable social situations. One of these events stands out in my memory, not because of the crassness of the quip, but because of the nature of the demanded apology.

My friend, Gordon, went to visit his friends, Carl and Beth. Carl and Beth had spent the afternoon at a nearby balloon festival. Beth answered the door, invited Gordon in, and told him that they had left the festival early because they witnessed one of the ballooners fall to his death.

"Did he bounce?"

From that moment forward, Gordon was not welcome in their home until he apologized to Beth. Carl didn't really see what the big deal was, but couldn't sway Beth.

"Beth, I'm sorry if what I said upset you."

That wasn't really what Beth was looking for, it seems. She didn't want him to apologize for upsetting her. It was what he said for which he needed to apologize. In fact, what really disturbed her was not that he said it, but that he thought it. She wanted him to apologize for thinking such an awful thing.

Speaking without thought is a common action. Almost everyone has done it. Almost everyone has apologized for it. Should you apologize for thinking something? Can such an apology be sincere? Can you sincerely tack on the "I promise not to do it again" that is so often expected with an apology?

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