ApologiesClever Manka, · Categories: Manka's Posts · Tags: emotional growth is the worst, language
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.
Clever 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.