On apology

Yesterday I went to a local bookstore to buy a calender for my office wall and couldn’t help buy browsing some of their discounted books. Found this: On Apologyby Aaron Lazare (OUP, 2004). Lazare is a psychiatrist and Dean at UMASS Medical School. Have only read the first chapter but have found it interesting thus far. He explores the impression that apologies are on the rise from the early 1990s. Apparently, there are significantly more articles in all print media about apologies for wrongdoings from 1998-2002 than in the previous era of the 90s. He suggested several possible reasons: millennial angst (those wanting to clear their consciences prior to Y2K), the internetage where the world can uncover your sins much more easily (he gives several examples of how the digital age has caught people in statements that might otherwise have been missed). He also discusses the phenomena of “failed apologies” such as “I’m sorry if I might have hurt you”. These, he calls parasites that point to the real power of authentic apologies.

A couple of other tidbits. He says he will provide evidence that women apologize more than men AND more willing to admit culpability.

Second, he says this,

People who offer a pseudo-apology are unwilling to take the steps necessary for a genuine apology; that is, they do not acknowledge the offense adequately, or express genuine remorse, or offer appropriate reparations, including a commitment to make changes in the future. These three actions are the price of an effective apology. To undertake them requires honesty, generosity, humility, commitment, courage, and sacrifice. In other words, the rewards of an effective apology can only be earned. They cannot be stolen. (p. 9-10)

Do you agree with him? I like his description and the requirements, but I do think you can complete the 3 steps with falsehonesty, generosity, humility, etc. You can offer false remorse, reparations, and acknowledge the offense fully for reasons other than concern for the other.


Filed under conflicts, Cultural Anthropology, Psychology

4 responses to “On apology

  1. Interesting. I had no idea that apologies were on the rise, but going based on my personal experience I can certainly see it.

    But I’m not sure it has to do with angst or Y2K. I’d think it’s more likely societies emphasis on the “apperance of remorse.” (I’m not convinced all the ‘I’m sorry’s’ are real).

  2. Lightbearer

    I also like his assessment, as well as your observations about false apologies. I would like to add that, in my experience, the people who simply don’t want to apologize for wrongdoing when they know they are wrong usually don’t flat out lie, but find ways to give failed apologies, as Lazare points out. The people who flat out lie and tell the offended person what they want to hear, are usually people who honestly think that they are right, but feel powerless to disagree, or simply don’t want the hassle that will ensue if they disagree. How many of us have placated our bosses, our parents, our teachers, our spouses, etc., with completely false apologies because the other person is both wrong and intractable?

  3. I appreciate the insight. I find that people don’t understand the difference between “saying I’m sorry” and a true apology.

    An effective apology necessarily involves the things he mentions. I would add that it should involve a request for forgiveness. This whole thing is missing in our culture and in our churches.

    As for your comment, I agree with that, too. I think that often people will only “apologize” to the point of getting what they want (a placated conscience, self-preservation, a soothed relationship, achieving damage control) rather than truly acknowledging the offense and making the wholehearted changes that might be required.

    I am glad to have bumped into your blog. It is quite a nice contrast to mine. 🙂

    I lived in the Philadelphia area for awhile when I attended college (PBU/PCB when it was downtown). So, like you, I was a Sox fan in exile.

  4. karenestelle

    When my girls were smaller, I didn’t like to hear them say “It’s okay” after someone apologized to them, so they always say “I forgive you.” It is often forced and not very “heart felt” but it’s funny how it seems to “clear the air”. It was also very strange the first time I apologized to one of them for something I’d said and they said “I forgive you, Mommy”. Wow. I think I would have rather heard “it’s okay”. Words can be powerful. Of course, when my oldest was 3, we had to tell her that “sorry means I’m not going to do it anymore!” Words alone are not enough. There’s this weird fine line between doing something out of obligation and doing it in a heartfelt way. It’s fuzzier than I used to think.
    I do like the fact that he addresses false apologies, though. I have heard so many of those: “I’m so sorry you took what I said that way…”

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