Saturday, October 3, 2015

Michael Josephson: Authentic apologies

  “I’m sorry.”

  These are powerful words. Authentic apologies can work like a healing ointment on old wounds, dissolve bitter grudges, and repair damaged relationships. They encourage both parties to let go of toxic emotions like anger and guilt and provide a fresh foundation of mutual respect.

  But authentic apologies involve much more than words expressing sorrow; they require accountability, remorse, and repentance.

  An accountable apology involves a sincere acknowledgment that the person apologizing did something wrong. “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt” is a fake apology because it accepts no personal responsibility. A better apology is: “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” An even better one reveals an understanding of the wrongdoing from the point of view of the person injured and asks for forgiveness: “I’m sorry I called you a bad mother. I was speaking out of anger, and I ask you to forgive me.” Given the natural human tendency to interpret our own words and actions in a manner most favorable to us, it takes great self-awareness to be accountable.

  An authentic apology also conveys remorse. It’s easier to forgive persons who have hurt us if we believe they have suffered some pain themselves in the form of regret, sorrow, or shame. Self-inflicted guilt is a form of penance or reparation that clears the road to forgiveness.

  Accountability and remorse must also be joined by repentance – recognizing something we did was wrong coupled with a credible commitment to not do it again. Without such a commitment, an apology is hollow. Thus, repetitive apologies for the same conduct are meaningless and often offensive. “I’m sorry” is not a Get Out of Jail Free card that lets people off the hook who repeatedly break promises, get drunk, or say cruel things.

  It takes character to both give and accept an authentic apology.

  About the author: Michael Josephson is one of the nation’s most sought-after and quoted ethicists. Founder and president of Josephson Institute and its CHARACTER COUNTS! project, he has conducted programs for more than 100,000 leaders in government, business, education, sports, law enforcement, journalism, law, and the military. Mr. Josephson is also an award-winning radio commentator.

  This article was published by the Josephson Institute.

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