Sunday, March 29, 2009

About Apologies that Aren't

Following some correspondence with Voddie Baucham, I posted this information about apologies on the Under Much Grace Blog. The information on apologies can be helpful when working through forgiveness, and I think this is a good place to start on the subject.

What exactly is an apology? The word originates from the Greek (and the Latin) word “apologia” which literally means a "plea" or “a speech in one’s own defense.” This straight definition more closely resembles the meaning of the word “apologetics” which we use to describe giving an account of one’s faith and the hope within us, with both meekness and patience. It also corresponds with the third possible definition that the Oxford Dictionary lists: “a justification or defense.” But in terms of asking for forgiveness (the process of repentance for causing an offense), what the Oxford describes as “a regretful acknowledgment of regret or failure” and how we most commonly use the word, using a defensive approach usually proves to be a poor one.

In terms of asking for forgiveness, using just the Oxford dictionary’s first description alone, an apology includes a few components – something that gives it meaning and substance.
  • Failure
  • Acknowledgment
  • Regret
Both parties must acknowledge that the offending party committed an act that either failed to meet a certain standard or resulted in some undesirable outcome. The person offering a sincere apology must be specific about this action and the outcome, because the rest of the apology builds upon this foundation. That is why general, blanket apologies which do not make clear that the offending party understands what they’ve done lack substance. An apology teaches each party more about their own boundaries and the boundaries of others, hopefully effecting some lasting change for the better of both as a result of the learning process. If there is no identification of the specific failure, can there be any way to avoid repeating it in the future?

Many weak apologies avoid assignment of responsibility for failure, because it is a painful and disappointing process to do so. Our human nature tends to discourage an objective view of ourselves, complete with all of our faults. Taking responsibility for failures points out to us that we are flawed, inadequate, limited, and sometimes, powerless. And sometimes that acknowledgment of our responsibilities reveals the dishonor in our own hearts. Apologies become even more difficult when circumstances beyond one’s control contributed to the failure or offense, particularly when the person responsible for starting the chain of events never intended and could not foresee the end result of the negative outcome. When a person behaves responsibly and another suffers harm or offence as a result, the offending party comes face to face with the limitations of their humanity, and this can challenge beliefs such as the idea that “Life is fair,” or “I am a basically good person that is in control of my environment.”

All apologies must include some expression of regret. Regret poses an even more difficult aspect to measure, though it is also an essential element of a true and sincere apology. Sometimes apologies are offered with all the right components, but sometimes, the party offering them can only be making the effort for their own personal gain. If they experience negative consequences as a result of their actions themselves, if the offer of apology proves to be just a public show to promote a certain persona of themselves to others, or if the party has been compelled against their natural inclination to make amends by some outside influence, then the apology can be more offensive than the original act of offense for the one who "sees through" the ingenuous apology. These insincere apologies only draw attention to the lack of care, respect and consideration that the offending party holds for the offended. It only intensifies the injury.

As it is often difficult to measure regret, it is here where one’s actions often speak louder than our words when conveying an apology. Efforts of restitution speak powerfully to the offended on behalf of the one who committed the offense, as true regret includes a desire to restore the other party. An effort to make restitution serves to seal an apology and can become a measure of the apology’s essential element of regret. Timing and the manner in which one offers an apology also adds to the effectiveness. The person offering an apology must show contrition and contrition regarding the right elements, as apologies should never serve as license to commit the offense again. Without contrition, there is not impetus to avoid the act in the future.

Read the whole post HERE.