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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

I'm Sorry I Apologized

I can hear my mother's voice:

"Say you're sorry."

As a child, those words were addressed to me on more than one occasion after I had committed a transgression against a neighbor friend, a school friend, a sibling, and was taken by the hand to apologize in person to the injured party. In the adult world of today, however, some contend that no one, especially a public figure, should ever say they're sorry. Recent research indicates that apologies can lead to people respecting the apologizer less, the apologizer respecting him or herself less and an erosion in the impact of future apologies that person might make.

I'll add a reason to consider taking a breath before expressing penitence: It often doesn't result in forgiving and forgetting. Politicians say and do offensive things all the time, after which they frequently try to walk back the blunder with a few carefully scripted words of remorse. Does anybody really forget the initial offense? It becomes part of the politician's permanent record and they are mocked for following up the original sin with an apology assumed to be insincere. As much as it leaves a bad taste in one's mouth, the public figures who do the dance best seem to be those who never say they're sorry for anything. By not seeking forgiveness in the first place, they don't look foolish when it doesn't come.

This phenomenon also occurs in our private lives. Let's say you and I have had a relationship of substantial length, but I then wrong you. I admit responsibility, I apologize, I make amends and I promise it will never happen again. Are you obligated to accept my apology? Some transgressions are unforgivable by any measure, but in a gray area, does an injured party owe the offender the opportunity to patch up the relationship and move forward? Though again with a bad taste in my mouth, I would understand the thinking of a politician if he advised me not to go all out on an apology tour at least until I sensed you were willing to forgive and forget.

None of this is meant to suggest that I'll never say I'm sorry to anyone again. In fact, on the chance that one day you'll be due an apology from me and it isn't imparted, I apologize here in advance.

How'd I do, Mom?

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