The Art of Apology

12 07 2010

One of the easiest things to say in life is to say the word “Sorry” but ironically, one of the hardest things to do is to mean it. This seems especially difficult in our legally conscious culture, where the first thing you are supposed to say when accused of a crime is “I want my lawyer.” Not only that, we are experts at blame shifting. Excuse fabrication is our natural habit. Why? In part because we do not like dealing with repercussions, with consequences. But more so because we really have no regret or remorse at all. Simply, we’re really not that sorry, but we convince ourselves that we are better people than we actually are and follow the social norm by speaking the empty words of confession.

Lisa Belkin writes an excellent piece in the NY Times Magazine “Why Is It So Hard to Apologize Well?” explaining that giving  “nonapology apologies” (apologies that do not want to accept fault) is far worse than no apology at all in the context of the current BP oil leak fiasco and General McChrystal’s conduct leading to his dismissal. Belkin points out that when we fail to properly apologize we lose two things: victims are not asked for forgiveness and they are not given a chance to grant it.  She’s right but not entirely. Apology is not just a step towards moving on but a step towards rebuilding. The effect of a failure in apology is the loss of our social humanity. Our ability to live amongst each other, a part of it is left broken, unrestored. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu says, “Without forgiveness, there is no future.” It is not just our conscience at stake, but an entire future. Such is the importance and gravity of forgiveness and reconciliation. So then how are we to attain this future? How can we apologize properly?

Well, I believe that the answer cannot be found within ourselves, it is somewhere outside of us, as the eighteenth century English poet, Pope, put it best, “To err is human, to forgive divine.”



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