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August 29, 2013

Question:  What are the elements that make up a genuine apology?

Canadians are known for their ready habit of apologizing. We are always saying “Sorry.”  We are sometimes criticized for this ease of apology because it could indicate weakness. By contrast, in some cultures apologies are never or rarely offered, even when they are justified and necessary. The ready apology, even if it is offered when some trivial or imagined slight has occurred, can be helpful. It serves as ointment to smooth human relations and deflects any possible offence that may have unknowingly occurred.

But there are limits to the apology, especially when it is offered after serious harm has been done. Whether it be in the personal, religious or political arena, a current opportunistic attitude has developed that basically uses the apology as manipulation to get the problem to go away.

A verbal apology should not always be deemed sufficient to right the wrong. When the opportunity exists, an apology should be followed by action, remedial steps to assuage or reverse the harm that has been done.  When the law has been broken, legal recourse is justified, unless the victim has been able to find “satisfaction”  through other means. 

The bench mark for a genuine apology must be sincerity. It follows that sincerity must be preceded by remorse or contrition. When no genuine contrition exists, the apology cannot be sincere.  To be sincere, apologies should not be followed by justification. The “I’m sorry but…” formula is not a genuine apology. The “but” is justification and will bring neither peace nor resolution.  If the apology becomes a frequent habit, it indicates that the ground of the offence has not yet been detected and rooted out. Professional counselling may help.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen August 29, 2013
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