Everybody these days likes to say: I’m sorry. Usually they have tears in their eyes or running down their faces. Their voice breaks and they spew forth their heartfelt… what? Is it true sorrow and remorse at what they have done? A firm assurance that they understand what they did was wrong and a strong promise to never do it again? Or is it an excuse?
Too often, I sense it is the latter. We all can tell when an apology is insincere, can’t we? As soon as the words “I regret if anyone was hurt by…” That transition into the passive voice is a dead giveaway. What’s more they don’t regret hurting someone — an active stance that admits their own guilt and recognizes their transgression. Rather is the passive ‘if someone was hurt…” In other words, there is a chance no one was hurt. It’s conditional on their feelings rather than on my actions.
Of course, the perpetrator may have misspoke, may have wanted to validate the sense of hurt felt by the other person. May indeed be keen not to re-victimize the victim. Or… they just don’t want to take responsibility.
I remain cynical of most apologizers. It seems to me as if they are doing it by rote — following the rule that if you say you are sorry than the transgression is diminished or even eliminated. “I’m sorry that my drug use offended society — please re-elect me as mayor.” “I’m sorry if women felt victimized by my harassment. If I can keep my position of authority, it will never happen again.”
True contrition has to, of course, contain an element of honouring the victims of whatever it was you did wrong but it is more than that. It is an acknowledgement that the action was wrong in and of itself. The perpetrator has to acknowledge that the harm they caused wasn’t an accident, wasn’t the by-product of some legitimate action, wasn’t in fact,, mere regret at being caught.
Apologies are a great thing. I make them all the time. But they always start with: I was wrong. What I did was selfishness and, as a result, I caused you harm. I regret what I did and I am very sorry for hurting you. I will do what I can to make up for it no matter what it costs me.
Honesty, accountability and consequences. That’s what an apology encompasses. In this case, it is all about you.
But that’s ten minutes.