"I apologise if this offended you"
"I'm sorry you were offended"
These aren't apologies. They're simply disappointed that another individual found something unacceptable, and frankly it's borderline passive-aggressive in terms of deliberately not recognising something was wrong or even perceived as wrong; no expression of remorse or guilt.
Nothing has changed at the root with the above statements. The author may continue, safe in the knowledge their original stance has not changed or been compromised - and they've had an opportunity to add salt to the wound. Essentially this is an expansion on the traditional mindset that the fault must lie elsewhere, other than oneself.
Now this is considered an acceptable way to respond to allegations or concerns, it should be only the first step on the road of escalation for anti-recrimination. Next we will see disappointment ...
"Naturally I'm disappointed they feel this way"
... because nothing does passive-aggressive quite like disappointed. It's the perfect way to demonstrate someone has failed to achieve what was expected of them, in this case acceptance of something they disagree with. Despite it often being contrary to their belief, yet spun round to make it appear the fault is theirs.
In time, after being nurtured in bitterness and bile for several months, it will be followed by its older, meaner sibling - anger.
"I'm angry that they're offended by this"
Because nothing fuels an inner fire quite like righteous indignation. How very dare you not understand, you ignorant bastard! It cuts short the debate, provides a barrier and generates a catalyst to ignore the complainant.
This is the natural state - the urge to protect self-interest, deny that there's potentially a problem and with the thin end of the wedge in place to give people leeway it won't get better. After this, we advance to all out warfare and weaponry will be handed out to the PR teams for running battles through heavily populated DMZs within Twitter, potentially scaling up to all out nuclear assaults on Facebook pages and soundbites for the Daily Mail.
What can we do as rational individuals?
- Discuss. Explain the rationale, and listen to the counterpoint,
- Apologise. If we actually have been offensive, and the two sides explained well, scales should fall from our eyes.
- Adjust. Work harder to ensure it doesn't happen again. It may, but at least you're making an effort not to be a racist/homophobe/misogynist/xenophobe/general twat.
This isn't heart surgery - which is a complex, finessed operation - this is day-to-day interaction with humans, which we've all been practising for a few years now. It shouldn't be that hard to remain civil, recognise our faults and be better people.