Wednesday, December 27, 2017


If you've done something wrong in your dealings with another person, it's as if there's an infection in your relationship. A good apology is like an antibiotic; a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound.
~Randy Pausch

photo by Tiberiu Ana

Thinking about apologies this Wellness Wednesday. When I was a kid, I really hated saying I was sorry. I felt like that it was the apology itself that meant I had done something bad, and if I didn't apologize, I must not have done anything bad. Clearly, there was a flaw in my logic!

Should people be forced to apologize when they aren't sorry? A bit from The Atlantic (Why Apologize? by Noah Berlatsky):
The reason to teach kids to apologize isn't to make the wrong-doer feel better. It's to make the person wronged feel better. Secondarily, it's to make the wrong-doer feel worse, or at least, to make the wrong-doer understand that he or she has done something wrong and unacceptable.

Okimoto and the other researchers argue that...apologizing...strengthens community and reduces interpersonal violence. Vedantam concludes that people who have a low sense of self-worth have trouble apologizing in the service of these greater goods. Or, as he says, it's strong people, not weak people, who can apologize. He concludes that children feel vulnerable, and so are unwilling to apologize. Rather than coercing apology, he says, it would be better to create a loving environment, where the children feel safe and confident enough to apologize. As a parent, you're not just trying to increase your children's sense of self worth; you're trying to turn them into a civilized human being.

Which seems reasonable, but rather overlooks the fact that one way you create a safe and loving environment is by making it clear that treating each other badly is wrong and won't be tolerated. Insisting on apologies may make the wrong-doer unhappy -- but it assures those who are wronged that what has happened to them is, in fact, wrong, and that someone has their back. As a parent, you're not just trying to increase your children's sense of self worth; you're trying to turn them into a civilized human being. Part of doing that is teaching them that they need to think about others' feelings, not just their own. Which means that when they do wrong, they need to apologize -- a lesson which is more, not less, important because it's a difficult one to learn.

I actually do feel better when I apologize. It's feeling like I've done something wrong but haven't done anything to try to fix it that makes me feel awful.

The two following articles about apologizing have good information, although they do come down differently on asking for forgiveness. (The second one sounds right to me. What do you think?)

How to Apologize: The 7 Steps Of a Sincere Apology

How to Apologize (And Seem Like You Mean It)
("Seem like" sounds funny. Wouldn't "Show" sound better?)

Apologizing for Medical Missteps: Whether it's a Mistake for Physicians
An 8-part comic for people who say "I'm sorry" too often

A final quote:
“By the fifth 'I'm sorry' for the same cause, it's better to just say, I meant to do it.”
― Anthony Liccione

1 comment:

HWY said...

I liked the second article a bit better than the first one, too...but the first one did make some very good points.

One thing I would add: when you say "I'm sorry," be sure to add what you're apologizing for ("I'm sorry I was snappy.") Or, if it is an expression of sympathy rather than an apology, say something like "I'm sorry your horse ran away." It can be awkward when you say "I'm sorry" (sympathy) and the other person says "It wasn't your fault." Being clear right up front can really help.