Several times a month, if not every week, there’s a story in the news about an apology that’s not really an apology. A “sorry-not-sorry” if you will. Sports figures are caught doping or abusing the people in their lives and somehow manage to pawn the responsibility off onto someone else. Politicians commit egregious missteps and then tell us that mistakes were made (well, except Donald Trump – to his credit, I suppose, at least he’s not guilty of insincere apologies). People rationalize, distance themselves from their actions, or worse yet, blame the victims of their bad behavior.
So often what is passed off as an apology is really an attempt at self-justification that dances around the concepts “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry.”
I remember how last decade Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld, responded to a heckler by dropping the n-word. Later he “apologized” by saying that he wasn’t really the sort of person to use that word. Except, well, he DID use that word, which would, by definition, make him the sort of person who would use that word.
And to me, that’s the crux – the failure of these apologies hinges on this wish to distance oneself from the offensive behavior rather than take responsibility for it. You are entitled to manage your image, insofar as you are able. You can try to control how people perceive you, sure. But, when a less appealing aspect of who you really are manages to break through to the surface, just go ahead and own it.
I get it. Being wrong feels awful. A couple of weeks ago I was completely boneheaded at work. I should have helped some coworkers move a plane and I didn’t do my part of it until I was reminded, which wasted everyone’s time. When this was brought to my attention I felt like an idiot (or, you know, a bonehead). It was so tempting to try to deflect blame, but really, there was no excuse. I made a mistake. So, I said as much, and apologized, and that was the end of it. I won’t make that mistake again. I wonder if truly owning a mistake makes you less likely to repeat it.
There is a lot of power in a true apology. A simple “I am sorry, I did wrong,” can go a long way.