Anatomy of an Apology

We live in a world of public relations and politics,  of rhetoric and limited liability.  We live in a world where apologies are rare and “notpologies” stand in there place.

Airlines tell us their “hearts go out” to the families of crash victims, while desperately trying to avoid legal or financial responsibility.    Retail stores “regret” crushing deaths that happen during Black Friday sales. Celebrity drunk drivers tell us through their press agents that they’re going through a hard time and ask for forgiveness.  What does a real apology look like?

I’m sorry.
An apology should start with “I’m sorry”. If there is no remorse, there can be no reconciliation.  But as any parent of a toddler knows, “I’m sorry” on its own can sometimes mean “Shut up.”

I was wrong.
A true apology includes accepting responsibility.  “I’m sorry you were offended” is an example of dodging responsibility.  Admitting where you were wrong or at fault is important.

I won’t do that again.
Commitment to change is the last crucial piece of an apology. This may mean outlining for the hurt party exactly what steps you’ll take to make sure you don’t cause the same harm again. 

These three things together convey remorse, responsibility,  and commitment to change. As long as it is followed up by the promised better behavior,  this is an apology worth accepting.  

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One thought on “Anatomy of an Apology

  1. One issue is….can a person be sorry when they’re not sorry? Say a person get’s a fine or jail time for their crime. They may well be sorry AFTER the penalty, not before it. What makes one feel sorrow for what they’ve done? Lot’s of things. Selfish things? Some, but then I think in a way it’s right that what bad things we do come back on us and make us sorry. Even if it’s seeing somebody crying or hurting in other ways and feeling their pain. Wishing that you didn’t so something or perhaps that you DID do something.

    People often call certain apologies “fake”. Of course it can be hard to prove whether or not somebody feels sorrow and remorse for what they’ve done. I guess that’s why some feel the need to “make” people sorry for what they’ve done. But I don’t know about the whole “You hurt me, so I’ll hurt you” thing. I guess there are good ways to make people sorry for what they did. Idealistically, many people do what they do, not realizing the harm till someone shows them. Or we do things in the heat of the moment and then later realize the harm ourselves.

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