Thursday, December 23, 2004


In today's world, we are forever seeing a well known figure issuing a blanket public apology for a personal misdeed. Often, the apology is accompanied by a statement intended to mitigate the issuer's responsibility. Unfortunately, this is increasingly the case even on the personal level. No one really seems to want to accept responsibility for his or her own actions anymore.

Recently, a poster on a message board made untrue statements about me and another poster. Shortly thereafter, this person chose that same public forum to issue an apology to us. But the damage had already been done. The public airing of the apology struck me as hollow and insincere, especially when that same forum has a personal message system that would have allowed the that person to apologize to each of us directly. This experience got me to thinking about what constitutes an honest apology.

Of course, the degree of the transgression usually dictates the degree of the apology. For example, if one accidentally steps on another person's toe or bumps into an individual in public, a simple "I'm sorry" usually suffices. If the transgression is more severe such as spilling a cup of coffee or a glass of wine on another person, the verbal apology should be accompanied by a follow up action to rectify the resulting damage.

So what should happen when someone purposefully says harmful things to or about another? Is saying "I'm sorry" enough? Or is it only one of many actions needed for a sincere apology? Those were the questions I asked myself in writing this.

Saying "I'm sorry" is a step in an apology, but it is not the first step in an honest apology. Accepting full responsibility within one's own mind for the transgression is imperative as the first step towards a sincere apology. This is often the hardest step. That means confessing to yourself that you were wrong.

Only then, can one begin on the road to an honest apology. In order to be truly sincere, the verbal or written apology should be made directly to the injured party, and must be devoid of trying to mitigate or justfy one's transgression. Without this step, a public apology appears to be just a empty show or a washing of one's hands. As part of the apology, forgiveness may be requested, but should not be expected immediately. Regardless of the reaction of the recipient to the apology, a sincere apology requires additional actions that demonstrate the sincerity of it and ensure that the same transgression is not repeated in the future.

It is a hard lesson to learn. Experience has taught me that. A while back, I was mean and ugly to a friend. As a result of my words, my friend cut me out of his life. It was only after an extended period of apology, humble contriteness, and a sincere effort at mending the broken bridges that we are now once again good friends. I learned from this experience that a truly sincere apology can lead to a beautiful outcome.

1 comment:

Ethel said...
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