Reposted from For the Sake of Argument by Brown Thrasher
OK folks, it is time to set down some rules about apologies. Almost every week some prominent person, politician, or official is in the news for something they said, or did, which was offensive to the public in general and some group or person in specific. And each time, after an unconscionable delay, they issue an "apology", which is then supposed to render the issue resolved. Trouble is, 99% of the time, the apology is disingenuous, and should be rejected out of hand.
So let us set down some ground rules by which we can measure the sincerity of an apology. But first, let us define "apology", specifically the definition that we, the public expect:
apol·o·gy: an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.
There is a second definition, which is given as the primary in some dictionaries:
a: a formal justification : defense b: excuse 2a
This definition is what a lot of apologies are, but they are passed off as the former, rather than the latter. Unless the person making the apology specifically states he is making the latter use of the word, then we expect them to be admitting error and regret.
Here are some rules for evaluating apologies:
1) If an apology contains a conditional modifier, especially the word "if", or is limited in any way, it is NOT an apology.
"I am sorry if I offended anyone."
"I am sorry if you were offended."
"I am sorry to those I offended".
"I am sorry you found my remarks offensive..."
All of these statements are conditional and are not admission of error, nor true regret. In essence, the person is stating that they are only sorry under a certain circumstance, and/or to a certain group of people. A person making an offensive statement or committing an offensive action has made an offensive statement or committed an offensive act. Either your statement/action was offensive, or it wasn't. If it wasn't, then why are you apologizing? If it was, why are you equivocating and trying to "limit" your regret.
Other words likely to invalidate an apology are "may", "might", "could", and "but". Also, beware use of the passive voice and sudden shifts into the third person.
2) Apologies which offer excuses which attempt to limit, justify or re-direct the blame are not apologies.
"My remarks were 'off the record'".
Well, now they are "on the record" and you have to answer for them. The fact that you made your remarks "in private" doesn't render them inoffensive. Just because a reporter may owe you an apology for failing to keep your remarks "off the record", doesn't abrogate you responsibility to apologize.
"I am sorry my remarks were misinterpreted."
This redirects blame from you to the person you offended. You are saying there was nothing wrong with your remarks, the person you offended is just too stupid to understand them. This is also offensive and warrants a separate apology.
"My remarks were made at the end of a long and grueling day..."
Simply being in human is inherently stressful and often requires long hours with little sleep. Despite this, you must still act and speak responsibly. If you can't, and by this statement you just admitted you can't, you should not seek to negate your apology by offering excuses.
"My remarks were made in the heat of the moment."
You lost your temper, which requires a separate apology.
"I am sorry you overreacted..."
My reaction is not germane, your offensive remark/action is.
"OK, I am sorry I overreacted..."
You lost your temper, which requires a separate apology.
3) Pointing out that the offended party has committed a similar offense against you, or some other person/group, invalidates the apology.
"While I apologize for insulting your mother, I would like to remind you that you insulted my mother last week."
You are accounting for your own actions, not theirs.
"We both said things we now regret..."
This may be true, but again, this is an veiled accusation, not an apology. The other person may not have said what they said, but for your offensive remarks/actions. Even if this is not true, your are answering for your own conduct, not theirs. Also, they may not regret their remarks at all, and it is arrogant of you to make assumptions on their behalf.
4) Claims of benign intent are irrelevant, and also invalidate the apology.
"It was not my intent..."
Obviously it was not your intent, since if it were, you would not be apologizing. You may explain what you meant, but you may not try to invalidate how it was interpreted by others. For example, you made a joke which offended your listener(s). You may explain your intent thusly:
"I meant my remarks humorously, and to my deep regret, I failed to convey that properly and offended you. Upon reflection, my attempt at humor was inappropriate, and I apologize for the hurt my poor judgment caused."
You have explained that your comment was not motivated by malice, but by error (an acceptable clarification IF
true). You are expressing that you have reflected upon this error, regret having made it, and offer apology for the offense caused.
5) Expressing regret for what happened rather than what you did, is not an apology.
"I am sorry this happened."
"I regret that this happened."
It did not just "happen", your actions
precipitated the offense.
6) Apologies must be made to all parties directly offended, not to surrogates, nor issued generally at a meeting/press conference. Public apologies should, by courtesy, be made after private apologies (and yes, you must apologize privately) and your public apology may not deviate from your private apology. You cannot offer a genuine private apology, then a public non-apology. Doing so invalidates the private apology and the offended party is entirely justified in calling you on it, publicly.
7) Apologize and STOP.
Don't keep talking because if you do, you will invariably offer an excuse, shift the blame, or accuse the victim. Apologies should stand alone, and not be tacked on to any other point of discussion.
"Before I begin this meeting, I would like to offer an apology..."
"Before we wrap up here, I would like to apologize for my remarks yesterday..."
An apology is not a preface or an addendum, it is the central point of what you have to say. It is about righting a wrong, not engaging in a rhetorical digression. An apology should never be diluted by giving it "co-star" billing with any other topic.
8) You don't get decide whether the apology is accepted, nor may you pressure and/or obligate the victim to do so.
"I Hope you you will find it in your heart to forgive me..."
"I wish to put this issue behind us..."
"I hope you accept this apology in the spirit it was offered..."
All of these statements negate the apology. It is up to the offended party how they will receive the apology. Sincere apologies should be accepted graciously, but the judgment of that sincerity is up to the wronged party. Also, while accepting your apology (in essence accepting that the apology was sincere), the offended party is under NO obligation to forgive you. Accepting an apology and forgiving the offense are two SEPARATE things, one does not automatically convey the other.
If the offended party fails to accept your apology and/or forgive the offense, then that is their choice. Refusing to accept an apology, no matter how sincerely you or others may judge it to be, is not offensive, though many people feel it is. If you find yourself getting angry that your apology was spurned, then your apology probably wasn't sincere. If you find yourself saddened by the rejected apology, then it was probably sincere, and such is life. You have discharged your social/ethical/moral obligation to apologize and may carry on with your life with a clear conscience.
9) Regretting having done something is NOT the same as regretting actually doing it, i.e. beings sorry you did something is not the same as being sorry your were caught.
Remember, an apology has two components: 1) Admission of error. 2) Regret for the action. You cannot weasel on either. An apology does not require groveling, it is not an admission of weakness, nor is it a power play. If you can't be sincere, then spare us further insult.