If you couldn’t already tell, we’re going through some things right now as a nation. The last few months have been a bit of a reckoning with respect to sexual assault, abuse, and harassment. From Harvey Weinstein to James Franco to Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics: the jig is up. And, surprise-surprise(!), the issue is more widespread than many ever wanted to believe. Pay particular attention there, because I want to make this abundantly clear: Most of us knew in our heart or hearts this was a deep, systemic issue not contained to any one industry or corner of society, but few of us wanted to actually face the music that was playing. Well, now there’s no hiding from it and we, as a culture and civilized society, are having to really take in the moment.
This process requires a great deal of repentance. There is a lot of forgiveness that must be sought. There are a lot of apologies that must be delivered. Sadly, we’re not very good at any of those things, most of the time. Particularly the act of apologizing. You see, we can’t just say, “I’m sorry, what I did was inexcusable, please forgive me,” with sincerity and that be the extent of our apology. No, there is always something else that we need to tack on to the end. Examples include these favorites:
- “I’m sorry, but…”
- “I’m sorry for what I did. I grew up in a different time and…”
- “I’m sorry you were offended…”
- “What I did was wrong, true, but I think it’s being blown out of proportion because…”
So, I want to take a very, very brief moment and share how I believe is the best manner in which to give a proper apology:
That’s it. Now, obviously you can customize that or adapt it to fit the particular issue that you are apologizing for, but notice how there is no fluff? There is no, “I’m sorry, but…” or any whiff of worldly sorrow? It’s an apology without the need to save face. You could even go on to list all the ways your offense probably hurt a person, and succinctly apologize for that as well. We don’t often take the time to adequately reflect on the ways our actions may have actually impacted the person we need to apologize to, but that’s a significant part of remorse. Taking time to reflect on the ripple effect of our actions is important.
You see, my contention, as stated, is that far too often our apologies become PR campaigns. They become attempts to manage our public profile or image in order to mitigate any real damage to our reputations regardless of how big/small our social circle, or how known we are in our communities. And so we attempt to bend the realities of the situation so as to reshape the light we’re cast in. And this becomes deeply troubling and harmful when it devolves into victim blaming. Yes, that actually happens too.
It’s tiresome to see people such as Weinstein and others who are outed for their many abuses or indiscretions employ the aforementioned tactics as a means to hopefully pull the wood out of the fire. The problem is things are already burning down, at that point all a person can do is own it, all of it. Trying to mitigate the fallout to save even an ounce or one’s reputation and/or career is akin to enjoying a good sit in the old rocking chair while the building is on fire.
“What I did was inexcusable. I’m sorry, please forgive me.”
If the person receiving the apology chooses to extend grace and forgiveness, then hopefully reconciliation can occur. Obviously in some instances this just isn’t going to happen. I can’t imagine that even one of the young ladies who have accused Larry Nassar of abusing them has an interest in reconciling their relationship with him as he spends the rest of his days behind bars and rightfully so. Trust and forgiveness are two different things independent of one another; you can have one without the other.
I’m not saying any of this in theory, but because of practice. I’ve said it in my own life to the people I love when I feel as though I’ve wronged them. There doesn’t have to be a “but…” attached to an apology. We an apologize, seek forgiveness, and then seek help to turn from those actions that created the circumstance. But, I feel like we need to work on apologizing more effectively rather than bolstering our PR campaigns.