Character Vs. Get-off-the-Hook Apology” – those words should be inscribed boldly on every wall of every home, office, and other building in the world. They should be ingrained in the mind of every adult, every teenager, and every child.

Why? Because all of us, whatever our age, are tempted to use get-off-the-hook apologies.

What do I mean? Any employer who pays attention to employees can tell the difference between a sincere apology and a “get-off-the-hook” apology. Every father or mother who pays attention to a child knows when the child is sincerely sorry and when he or she is simply spouting a “get-off-the-hook” apology. Attentive teachers should be able to do the same.

Look at three examples of get-off-the-hook apologies.

1.    Imagine your secretary coming back from lunch a half hour late, and failing to finish a necessary report by the two o’clock deadline you gave. You watched the secretary stand in the hall talking to a co-worker for fifteen minutes. Later, you saw her check personal email. She worked on an idea for next month’s employee picnic, too, but when you ask for the report at two o’clock, what happens? “Sorry, Boss,” she says. “I was waiting for information from downstairs and they didn’t get it to me.”
With those words, she attempts to wriggle free of the hook and pin her failure on others. She does not apologize for her lack of diligence in staying on top of things. She offers no apology for her lack of perseverance that would have taken her downstairs to wait until she received the information so you could have your report on time. Her apology lacks character and is, after all, not an apology.

2.    A politician stands up in a very public venue, and makes a speech in which he tells a blatant lie about another politician’s family. The media demand an apology, as does the other politician, his family, and his political party. The offender calls a press conference, and says, “I want to apologize if my words offended anyone.”

He tries, with those words, to wriggle off of guilt’s hook. He does not apologize for his dishonesty in making the statement about the other politician. He does not exercise compassion toward the politician’s family by correcting the lie. His is another non-apology that shows a lack of character.

3.    Picture twelve-year old Gregory dashing in the door, laughing at six-year-old Katie who’s close behind him. Dad stops Gregory with a strong hand and turns to ask Katie why she is crying. “Gregory hit me on purpose with a ball,” sobs Katie. As Dad turns back toward Gregory, the pre-teen stops laughing. “Sorry, Dad,” he says quickly, as he has said so many times before. “I just threw the ball up in the air and it came down where she was standing. I couldn’t help it.”

Gregory expresses no regret born of compassion. He never says he is sorry the ball hit his sister. He accepts no responsibility for his actions and his father does not hold him accountable. Gregory is adept at get-off-the-hook apologies, but his lack of character is evident.

You probably know people of every age to whom moral standards are arbitrary, not absolute. Things are only wrong if they think they are wrong. They sort out what’s right and wrong for themselves – and in their minds, nothing is wrong with what they did. It’s always a matter of what someone else did or felt or said.

Nothing is wrong with failing to meet your employer’s deadline if the necessary materials were not made available without you going out of your way.

Nothing is wrong with telling a lie about another politician and his family as long as they don’t cry “foul” because they were unduly offended.

Nothing is wrong with hurting another child as long as you can make a joke of it and your parents do nothing about it.

The only thing wrong in the eyes of many people is a thing that results in being caught and punished. Even being caught is acceptable, as long as you aren’t punished. As long as you manage to get off the hook with a quick, insincere apology, anything goes.

Speeding down the highway? There’s nothing wrong with speeding as long as there are no police around, right? Wrong! However, drivers who lack character think that if a police officer does stop them, a get-off-the-hook apology that blames someone or something else is the best defense.

Spreading vicious rumors about someone? There’s nothing wrong with gossiping as long as it doesn’t get back to the person about whom you gossiped, right? Wrong! Yet, people who lack character think that if their gossip does go full circle, a get-off-the-hook apology that fails to take responsibility is sufficient.

Character does not deal in get-off-the-hook apologies.

People of character, no matter their ages, know and embrace the fact that moral standards are absolute. There is safety in that fact. Things that are wrong for one are wrong for all. Things that are right today are right tomorrow. Moral standards do not change from person to person or from day to day. They are fixed in stone, and people of character are glad, because they always know when they have done right.

People of character know, too, when they have done wrong, and they are not content to have offended the moral standard, whether they are young or old. It doesn’t matter if they were caught or got away with it. It doesn’t matter if they will be punished or not. They know in their hearts that they fell short of moral excellence, and they are not satisfied with themselves. If there is someone to whom an apology is owed, they offer a sincere apology that comes from the heart.

Then they take steps to be sure they do not repeat the wrong they did. They not only say, “I’m sorry” to the offended one, but take steps to make it right, and purpose never to do that thing again.

Character will never offer a get-off-the-hook apology, no matter who we are.