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Apologies and Their Complexities

To acknowledge imperfections, some of us have to confront our idealized image, a narcissistic view of the self that dictates we must be perfect. In this case, a mistake and the need to apologize, can be experienced as like a blemish that needs to be hidden.
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Man to Woman: "I am sorry that I've embarrassed you by wearing my penguin suit." He thinks but doesn't (necessarily) say, "But I'm not sorry I've worn it."

Although the words "I'm sorry" possess a mellifluous sound, they usually don't roll off the tongue with ease or authenticity. Instead these syllables can be as unpalatable as pebbles- hard to swallow.

Most of us would probably agree that apologies happen too rarely. We miss opportunities to say "I'm sorry" and often have to devote time and energy to compensate.

The art of apology is not easy to master-- something like the art of loosing gracefully. Perhaps there is a deeper connection between the two: Not uncommonly, we associate apologizing with loosing.

One way to dissect the subject is to separate an action from its (perhaps unintended) impact, as depicted in the cartoon above. Although the example is a tad silly, it makes a valid point. The man isn't sorry that he wore his penguin suit (the action) , but he is genuinely sorry that his partner experiences embarrassment (the impact) at being seen with him in this attire.

An example from everyday life is Ms .H who didn't recognize her mistake and the fallout in failing to communicate how much she spent at the department store. However, she was genuinely sorry about the unfortunate repercussions--bouncing a check. Appropriately, she apologized to her husband for the inconvenience and the expense that resulted.

Politicians seem to have an especially difficult time because apologizing means taking responsibility for a mistake. As Hubert H. Humphrey humorously, said, "To err is human. To blame someone else is politics."

Perhaps too few realize that failing to apologize can give someone the appearance of haughtiness, entitlement and indifference to others.
Paradoxically, displaying humility and acknowledging fallibility can increase popularity and trust.

Some obstacles that interfere with apologizing:
1. We think we have to project strength and invincibility in order to attain a political position or climb the ladder of success.
2. We fear that if we apologize someone will take advantage of us.
3. We depend on our confidence and we associate an apology with an impairment of our ability.
4. We fear that apologizing jeopardizes our appearance/image of our capability.

To acknowledge imperfections, some of us have to confront our idealized image, a narcissistic view of the self that dictates we must be perfect. In this case, a mistake and the need to apologize, can be experienced as like a blemish that needs to be hidden.

Rabbi Elka Abrahamson interprets the great medieval philosopher Maimonides' steps on apologies:

The apologizer must:
1. Own his behavior/ take responsibility
2. Impact (to acknowledge)
3. Express remorse
4. Repair (the damage)
5 Refrain from repeating

(The above components can be remembered with the mnemonic: Oh, I ERR.)

Conclusion: To err is human but to admit our humanness and apologize requires courage and strength of character.