Apologies

Clever Manka, · Categories: Manka's Posts · Tags: ,

Wesley Clark Jr., middle, and other veterans kneel in front of Leonard Crow Dog during a forgiveness ceremony at the Four Prairie Knights Casino & Resort on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation on Monday. (Josh Morgan for The Huffington Post )

Apologies in our culture are fraught and frequently ineffectual. Most of the apologies we hear aren’t actually apologies–they’re a list of reasons or excuses, or they attempt to push responsibility onto the injured party–what I call Fauxpologies.

The best example is what I think of as the Press Release Fauxpology, frequently used by everyday people, but popularized by what we read in the media. This apology starts with “I apologize/I’m sorry that/if people were offended/hurt by my statement/action.” That is not an apology. That’s just someone voicing regret that they didn’t have the good sense to keep their mouth shut at the time.

Next is the “I’m sorry if I’ve been…” approach. This appears slightly better, but is less than a true apology because it allows for the possibility that the fauxpologizer might not have actually hurt the person–or that the hurt is due solely to the perceptions of the injured party. It also fails to acknowledge specific hurtful actions. “I’m sorry I’ve been grumpy lately” seems okay, but that’s only because we’re tragically unused to hearing (or saying) “I’m sorry I was short with you yesterday. I’ve been grumpy lately because of X. I’ll do my best to avoid taking that out on you in the future.”

There are many examples of ineffective apologies and I’m not going to describe all of them (you’re welcome). Helpfully, they all have some things in common: Fauxpologies don’t take responsibility for one’s actions and express regret at one’s choice to engage in problematic behavior in that immediate instance. Fauxpologies do not express honest remorse for specific actions, nor do they convey intent to do better in the future–necessary elements of a true apology.

A beautiful example of a true apology was given by veteran Wesley Clark, Jr., to elder Leonard Crow Dog at Standing Rock on December 4.

Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. When we took still more land and then we took your children and then we tried to make your language and we tried to eliminate your language that God gave you, and the Creator gave you. We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness.

Obviously this is an extreme example of a long-overdue apology for a host of grievous and irreparable harms. That doesn’t mean we can’t use it to model our own personal apologies.

Acknowledge fault. Specify the actions that caused harm. Express remorse without qualifications or equivocation. State intent to do better and offer willingness to make amends.

True apologies are difficult. We have a strong cultural aversion to shame or embarrassment, so we have very little practice at admitting guilt. However, our shame at admitting fault must not outweigh the emotional or physical damage caused by our selfish or thoughtless behavior. As much as I appreciate (and exhibit) the appreciation of the individual in American culture, I believe the importance we put on ourselves as individuals, coupled with the massively negative connotations we put on shame and embarrassment, puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to apologies. Failure to acknowledge the fact that other people (not to mention a community) can sometimes be more important than our individual selves is an enormous contributor to the dismal state of our politics and government.

There is already so much damage caused by our culture, politics, government, and the general fear and anger pervading societies worldwide. Consider taking the action of committing to honest apologies in your personal life. Resolving to minimize the hurt you cause–even unintentionally–with your friends, family, the person you accidentally bump with a door exiting a building, helps to make the world a slightly better place.

And we all so desperately need the world to be a slightly better place right now.


clevermankaClever Manka is your site host. Full disclosure–this was originally posted on her FB and she is adamant about Not Crossing The Streams. If you saw it there, please keep that post and this one separate if you reference them elsewhere.

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26 Responses to “Apologies”

  1. Doc_Paradise says:

    That reminded me of some of the reading I did in conflict resolution classes on how legal barriers affect apologies. I did a quick search on it (Canadian legal issues around apologies) just now and came up with these links:
    http://www.practicepro.ca/LawPROmag/ApologyAct200
    https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/inquiri

  2. mckitterick says:

    Wonderful. Thank you.

    (And I'm sorry. Y'know, for a lotta stuff. I know I can be a challenging partner. I'm trying, and I'll continue to try to be better in the future.)

  3. Xolandra says:

    Oooooo, I have a lot of opinions about this (surprise!) Canadians are BIG on the apology, even if we are Not At Fault. We are legendary for our willingness to apologize; we even apologize to people for _their_ bad behaviour! Friends of mine who've moved away from the motherland have literally had to retrain themselves to not apologize all of the time, because non-Canucks are confused by our propensity to do so. It's not always bad, either – my reflex to turn and apologize when someone walked into me I am pretty certain kept me from being mugged while travelling.

    OTOH, it is also what allowed our conservative government to fauxpologize for the historical treatment of Canada's indigenous population while at the exact same time wasting $ allocated for FN budgets specifically in additional middle management and doing nothing about the fact that several reserves do not have potable water.

    I feel like I want this tattoed somewhere on my body: "Acknowledge fault. Specify the actions that caused harm. Express remorse without qualifications or equivocation. State intent to do better and offer willingness to make amends." That there's some excellent limning, ty.

  4. CleverManka says:

    editrix1031 on Tumblr just clued me in to the website SorryWatch.com and it's pretty amazing.

  5. Kazoogrrl says:

    Once I learned about the non-apology I have tried to make sure I do better when I apologize, though at the same time I deploy the non-apology strategy in certain situations. Exhibit A: when a boss held up my EOY bonus because I asked him not to cuss at me via email, which he did after accusing me of screwing up something, when I was explicitly asked to do it by my manager: "I'm sorry you were offended by my request . . . ".

    • vladazhael says:

      Same. "Sorry if you were offended…" is the "well, bless your heart" of apologies, and I'll avoid that phrasing when I'm sincere, but deploy it as a weapon when I need one.

    • CleverManka says:

      Good point. There's a BIG difference between politically expedient apologies for one's career safety and personal apologies between friends. If I was writing this again, I would definitely make a distinction. Thank you for pointing that out.

  6. flitworth says:

    This American Life has done a few things on apologies. The 2nd Act of this rips up "This Is Just To Say"

    In college, I had an ex from HS "apologize" for cheating on me by saying "I was poly[amorous] and didn't know it". >.< o.0 ╭∩╮(︶︿︶)╭∩╮

  7. jenavira says:

    Thank you for this. I hadn't heard about the apology at Standing Rock; it's wonderful.

    I am not always so good at apologies, and I'm starting to realize it's because I always think everything is my fault. I take too much responsibility for things and then I don't know how to actually react when something goes wrong, because I'm aware that I tend to emotionally take on too much responsibility and frequently over-compensate by expressing less than I should. And I'm more likely to treat an error or harm as something reflecting on me than as something that injured someone else.

    I am not a very empathetic person. I have been working hard on not letting that be an excuse.

    • CleverManka says:

      I always think everything is my fault. I take too much responsibility for things and then I don't know how to actually react when something goes wrong

      The Burgomaster has a problem with this, too, thanks to a less than ideal upbringing. I hope you find a way to walk a balance between leaving behind unnecessary emotional responsibilities and being inexpressive. That sounds like a tough combo.

  8. vladazhael says:

    We have a strong cultural aversion to shame or embarrassment, so we have very little practice at admitting guilt. However, our shame at admitting fault must not outweigh the emotional or physical damage caused by our selfish or thoughtless behavior. As much as I appreciate (and exhibit) the appreciation of the individual in American culture, I believe the importance we put on ourselves as individuals, coupled with the massively negative connotations we put on shame and embarrassment, puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to apologies. Failure to acknowledge the fact that other people (not to mention a community) can sometimes be more important than our individual selves is an enormous contributor to the dismal state of our politics and government.

    Oh, so you've met my brother?

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