Character is vital in creating an authentic apology. Those who lack character are not up to the task. Oh, they may try to give apologies that sound genuine. They may even use fancy words, but a real apology demands character.
You have probably heard many apologies in your lifetime. Even a child in elementary school has heard and has said, “I am sorry.” Some of those apologies were authentic, and some were not. What made the difference? Why did some ring true and others fall flat?
Consider this apology that headlined today’s news:
“I am sorry that they are finding themselves in this situation based on assurances they got from me. We’ve got to work hard to make sure that they know we hear them and we are going to do everything we can to deal with folks who find themselves in a tough position as a consequence of this.”
English teachers may cringe at the wording of that apology, but let’s not consider that right now. Let’s ask instead whether the apology is genuine. One columnist called the apology “simply appalling”, but is it? Let’s see if it has the required components of a real apology.
1. Is it directed to a specific person or persons? We do not have a full transcript of the speech, but the apology itself lacks this. Rather than speaking to someone, it speaks about someone identified as “they” and as “folks who find themselves in a tough position”. The speaker refuses, as it were, to look the wronged individual(s) in the eye, apologizing directly and honestly.
2. Does it take responsibility for a specific action? No, it fails on this point also. It never indicates that the speaker erred. It never tells you that the speaker’s actions caused the wrong suffered. He/she never expresses sorrow for a specific action. It wanders aimlessly to avoid pleading guilty.
3. Is there an offer of specific action that will set things right? Again, it is weighed and found lacking. The speaker talks of working hard to be sure “they” know they are heard. He/she talks of doing “everything we can to deal” with them. However, no offer of clear action is ever made. The recipient of the apology is left in a fog.
4. Does it come from a whole heart? Dare we believe an apology such as this is from a whole heart when it is so indirect and weak? It may be from some fraction of the speaker’s heart reserved for “I have to do it, but I don’t want to” occasions. It does not radiate integrity, however. It does not come from an undivided, unfractured heart.
This speaker lacks character. This apology lacks integrity, one of the most important character traits. It is indeed “simply appalling” as the columnist wrote. So let’s write a charactered version of the apology.
I am sorry that I said you would be able to keep the plan you had. I am sorry that I strengthened that assurance by ending it emphatically with the word, period! I knew that I was not telling you the truth. My advisers said that a great percentage of you would not be able to keep your plans. Now I must make it right. I have begun steps to implement the assurances I gave. In addition, I am going to make retribution for my lies by giving you greater benefits than I promised. Again, I am sorry. I ask you to forgive me and hold me accountable in the future.
Our new version is directed to the “you” who are listening and know you were wronged. It does not speak about the wronged individuals, but to them. It takes clear responsibility for the specific action of lying to those people. It offers specifically to implement the assurances and, in addition, add benefits. It sounds as though the speaker’s whole heart is in it as he goes out of his way to repeat his expression of sorrow, seek forgiveness, and ask to be held responsible in the future.
Now try this. My husband and I received this apology last Saturday. Run it through the four-point test and determine what it has and what it lacks. Then rewrite it, if necessary, to make it a genuine apology from a man of character.
“I want to apologize for the things I did to you personally, and ask you to forgive me.”
What do you think? We accepted the apology, and we forgave the man, but we had to work to get enough detail to do so.
Apologies are necessary and we must never avoid giving them when they are due. Before you give the next one, though, stop and think. Apply the four-point test and make sure you offer nothing less than an authentic, character-filled apology.