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When is an apology not an apology?

51404667741_c029a13c79_e TL;DR - When it's all about you.

(Note - edited Aug 19)

  • When you say your behaviour is inexcusable, then offer up excuses, refusing to accept responsibility.
  • When you apologize, then expect the other person to do their part and pardon/forgive you.
  • When your motivation, and any regrets you feel, are only based on others now seeing you as a bad person. BTW - you'll know this if you immediately feel better, no more regrets or shame.

What might be a good apology?

  • Start with "I'm sorry." Not just regrets.
  • Add in, carefully, details such as 'sorry I hurt you, sorry I crashed your car, sorry I ignored you."
  • Acknowledge the consequences of what you did.
  • Offer a plan on how you will fix this wrong and how you will try to avoid it again.
  • Be clear that any forgiveness/pardon/trust is entirely up to them.
  • Push back, gently, if they try to say it was nothing. If you hurt them, then it was something.

I was thinking about this after the recent 'apologies' by Will Smith and the Pope. Smith said his behaviour at the Oscar's was inexcusable, and then offered up excuses. I think the Pope's motivation was political pressure, if he refused he would appear insensitive. And he just passed the ball back to his victims, asking them to not only their forgiveness but their prayers. 

Our Prime Minister apologies often, and usually well. Less bone-head moves to apologize for would help, but that's another topic. Do you have any examples of what you think was a good apology? From a political leader, from a friend?  

Edit - I posted on this a few times in Facebook, sometimes with excellent feedback, sometimes none. I'll gather that here, as is, so I don't lose it. 

Apr 15 - 

I was musing a few days ago on when is an apology an apology.
What about forgiveness? There often is an expectation of forgiveness to complete the cycle, to restore the moral balance between oppressor and victim, to re-instate trust and enable reconciliation. Unwillingness to forgive can be pushed onto the victim as their own moral failing. So how does one move on?
From this article - "Good Friday and Easter remind us that forgiveness is real and possible. Apologies only work when they restore relationships and change the oppressor-victim dynamic."

Aug 6 -

Is forgiving people common to all religions or is it just a Christian requirement?
What's in it for you if someone forgives you?
What if you're the person doing the forgiving?

JP -Forgive and forget? Forgiving someone is for you. To be able to put it aside and move on. Forgetting is a whole different thing.

JW -I don't think anyone gets anything from someone forgiving them. It would depend on the person, and if they even know they're being forgiven. Forgiveness is so healing and freeing for the one who does the forgiving. It's actually an act of self love, because you realize you wouldn't be who you are without that person - good or bad - and to forgive them is like saying you like how you turned out regardless, despite or because of that experience.

MY -I think it's wrong to do as the Pope did and ask for forgiveness. It seems like he's putting it back on the Indigenous of Canada, in that now he's done his bit and apologized, now it's up to them as "good Christians" to forgive him and move on.

 - They might forgive him and/or what was done, but that should be entirely their decision, rather than a condition.

JW -yes I think it's BS to ASK for forgiveness. It is given freely when it's time.

NH -this is a very different context. I think this actually requires more than verbal apology, it requires justice and action. And indigenous First Nations groups have been very clear in what that means to them. Not doing so by the church and the state makes their apology seem empty and performative.

 - Forgiveness and mercy are extremely important in Islam. We forgive first with our hearts, then our words, and if it applies actions. But it doesn’t have to be verbalized and made to make someone feel guilty. Forgiving others purifies your own heart, the more we forgive others the more Allah (God) forgives us. Repenting/Apology is also important. All part of the same vibration. Clear hearts make pathways for good relations. Treat one another with respect love kindness and care.

MY - (Late long response) I think many connect too closely the apology from the transgressor person, and forgiveness from the offended. Meaning the transgressor tries to make forgiveness from the other as a part of a complete apology, maybe even as a way to lessen their perception of how much they hurt the other person, hoping to hear "it's all ok, I forgive you". Even saying if you claim to be a good Christian, you must forgive me. Guilt trip.
It can also be a genuine gesture though, as a way to show the person you offended that you are concerned that you have hurt them, and want to ease that pain for them.
In their turn, for an offended person a 'good' apology may be a necessary component for their own forgiveness/healing process.
And it is a process, a personal one. You had some sort of relationship with the transgressor, an assumed pattern to interactions, and they broke that trust by acting/speaking on a hurtful way. You now have to assess their actions and words to decide how much they have changed and what the relationship is now. More trust? Less? And realize their hurtful actions do not diminish your worth as a person. People talk about 'moving on', but it doesn't mean sweeping all this actions and feelings under a rug, they need to be dealt with internally.




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Chris Smith

What is the proper purpose of an apology? It must be to reduce the suffering of the beings you have wronged. Doesn't that imply that sometimes an apology should be a lie, because the truth will cause them more suffering?

Will Smith did not apologize to Chris Rock, because he doesn't believe he wronged Chris Rock (in fact he believes the opposite). His apology to the rest of us for shocking our expectations (a very minor discomfort) was a necessary lie, so the Hollywood world could continue to turn on its axis.


The purpose of an apology is to show the other person that you are sorry that your actions/words hurt them. Your hope is that the apology reduces their hurt, but it may not. I can't see where lying would help - you mean just lie that you are sorry when you are not?

Will Rock

What is the purpose of showing the other person you are sorry? If it is for the benefit of the transgressor (eg to ease their own conscience), who are you to tell them the best way to do that? If it for the benefit of the other party (as I believe), then a proper "showing" may require a calculated display for the benefit of the other party.

For example, if a starving wolf ate your child, it could apologize deeply and profoundly and honestly for your loss, even though it knows it must do the same thing again in the future if necessary. To ease your pain, it would not mention that second part.


Will - I think part of the hurt is that that they acted in a way that you did not expect. You had an image of them, the relationship, their assumed behaviour, a trust as it were. Then they acted differently in a hurtful way. Part of your process in dealing with that, call it healing. forgiveness, whatever, is realizing your worth as a person has not been diminished, that it's the other that changed. And now what? Hopefully their apology will indicate if this was a momentary lapse, or a real flaw that was there, and what their future behaviour is likely to be. And then you need to decide what your new relationship with them will be like - if any.

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