Saying I’m sorry and being “sorry” are not the same! The dictionary definition of apology is a written or spoken expression of one’s regret, remorse, or sorrow for having insulted, failed, injured, or wronged another. The problem is when one uses the “apology” to deflect or avoid taking any actual responsibility for having insulted, failed, injured or wronged the other, and instead use it to redirect the blame towards the “other” by making it merely the misinterpretation or misunderstanding of the offended individual and not truly an offense at all. When one feigns sorrow or regret in order to “move-on” or avoid the discomfort the regrettable circumstance(s) has caused, it can be even more injurious or offensive than the origin of the apology itself. Unfortunately this is the formula for many, if not most, so-called apologies.
Apologies have become meaningless exercises in forced behavior modification and conformity to a norm perpetrating the false belief that the wrongdoer has actually taken responsibility for their behavior and want to be forgiven. In most cases this is patently false, particularly in social settings where we have only limited contact with the people with whom we are interacting, like the work place, academic settings, social clubs, and/ or religious settings. These are spaces where the offender and offended have a relationship resembling that of an acquaintance more than say an intimate bond or affiliation shared by family members or people living together. That is not to say this is always the case, as many people live in close contact with people they rarely speak to or even know intimately. It is a sign of the times in which we live that allows electronic and social media to distract and inhibit deep or intensely personal “knowledge” of one another. We speak and interact in sound bytes and tweets. Our connection to one another is often perfunctory or superficial so we don’t really “feel” responsibility when we wound, offend, or transgress another. More probably, we think of it as their failing not ours, but we apologize anyway because the meeting must continue – the “business” lunch, or the presentation. It is better to just “grin and bear it” than to dwell in the discomfort that addressing the offense or transgression would cause. This is certainly true when the “apology” had no intention of being authentic or genuine, but was merely an exercise in decorum.
What then should we do? Consider what you have invested in the relationship whether business, professional, or personal. Consider the amount of time, energy and value placed on that relationship. Once it is determined that the relationship, for whatever reason, is more important than not (and I submit that most are whether personal or professional) these are steps you could take. You must be prepared to address the offense of the other in an open and honest manner. This means being willing to be uncomfortable while navigating the realities of real human connection and behavior. It requires that you pay attention to your responsibility as either the offender or the offended and “if” an apology is required to restore the relationship, it must be sincere, it must be genuine, and it must be connected to a CHANGE in the behavior that generated the offense in the first place. If that is not possible…please, “No MORE Apologies. “
Tawnya Pettiford-Wates, Ph.D.
Founder and Artistic Director
The Conciliation Project and
Virginia Commonwealth University
Up Next Week: Bullies at Work & Bullies at School