On apology II: Definitions


Last week I had a post on Aaron Lazare’s “On apology” (OUP, 2004) and while I don’t plan on blogging through his fine book, I will make a few comments on his second chapter (The paradox of apologies) since in it he tips his hand to the rest of the book. Here are some of his ideas:

1. An apology consists of “an encounter between two parties in which one part, the offender, acknowledges responsibility for an offense or grievance and expresses regret or remorse to a second party, the aggrieved.” (p. 23).
2. Some think apologies must include expressions of shame/guilt, an explanation, the intent to not do it again and reparations
3. The words “I’m sorry” may or may not be an apology and likely cause confusion since the speaker may be offering compassion or regret but not responsibility.
4. Perfunctory apologies are inadequate most of the time since you cannot tell the motivations of the offender (to restore or regain position, to empathize with the offended, etc.).
5. Many apologies offer explanation (defense, akin to the historic meaning of apology/apologetics). They are inadequate.
6. Women apologize more than men in life and in literature. It is often perceived to be unmanly to apologize. Some research say that women have a higher proclivity for guilt.
7. Other cultures have language much more clear about admitting to guilt. Japanese apologies tend to be much more admitting to shame and much more focused on restoring the relationship than relieving personal guilt. American apologies focus on sincerity but Japanese ones focus on submissiveness and avoid explanations.
8. The offended has certain needs: restoration of their dignity, assurances that they and the offender share a similar view of the situation, that they are now safe from further harm, that the offender has suffered, and promises now reparations.
9. When offender and offended are unaware of each other’s needs or motives, apologies often fail.
10. It is possible to apologize for ancestor sins even when not guilty for the act.
11. An apology can be negotiated

What do you think must be part of an apology. Reparations? Expressions of shame? A commitment to repent? Explanation for offense?

I have found that explanations tend to mute the apology and end up sounding like defenses for actions. I also find that saying that one is sorry is much easier than saying, I hurt you and I apologize. And both are easier than saying, “Will you forgive me?” I’m not sold on negotiating apologies. I’ll have to jump to that chapter to see if I might agree or not. Negotiations would seem to suggest the one apologizing is trying to control or manipulate the situation to his/her interests.

1 Comment

Filed under book reviews

One response to “On apology II: Definitions

  1. D. Stevenson

    What if the “offended” is trying to manipulate guilt in the “offender?” Some people are too easily willing to assume guilt and responsibility when it is not truly theirs.

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