Apologizing is a lost art. As social norms crumble and technology gets better at eliminating privacy, there is more opportunity than ever for people to get caught doing things that they ought to apologize for, but no one seems to have the skills.
They need to talk to my wife. It’s not that she has committed a lot of infractions (for the record, she has not), but she has had to mediate more than a few disputes in the family. From her experience with two children and a husband who makes a mistake now and then, she developed these rules for a good apology.
• Say what you did.
• Say the person’s name.
• Say you’re sorry.
What’s so hard about that? Apparently plenty.
Take a look at this statement by Milwaukee Brewers baseball star Ryan Braun, who has been caught for the second time cheating by using performance enhancing drugs. Kids, this is what not to do.
“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.” Right off the bat, we have a problem. This guy can’t say what he did wrong. No one accused him of not being perfect. Strike one.
He goes on: “This situation has taken a toll on me and my entire family, and it has been a distraction to my teammates and the Brewers organization. I am very grateful for the support I have received from players, ownership and the fans in Milwaukee and around the country.” Strike two: He cannot say who he hurt. He includes himself among the list of victims and acknowledges that the “situation” has caused “a distraction” for his team. But that’s the “situation’s” fault, not his.
“Finally, I wish to apologize to anyone I may have disappointed — all of the baseball fans especially those in Milwaukee, the great Brewers organization, and my teammates. I am glad to have this matter behind me once and for all, and I cannot wait to get back to the game I love.”
He winds up like so many false apologists by falling into a passive voice making what might look like an expression of regret, but it’s really an apology for something others did (being disappointed) — not for something he did (cheat at baseball).
And he ends with a flourish by forgiving himself, promising to forget everything and get back to making a ton of money for playing a game. Apology not accepted. Strike three!
Just so you don’t think it’s only young people who can’t apologize, our own Maine governor was equally inept when he was called to say he was sorry for a crude comment he made about state Sen. Troy Jackson last month.
Gov. LePage followed what looked like a bad joke by saying very seriously that Jackson was evil, had a “black heart” and, as a logger, was too stupid for government work.
Here’s what the media have been referring to as the governor’s apology.
“It was never my intent to ever, ever suggest that the loggers of the state of Maine are in the same league as Troy Jackson,” LePage said. “I owe that apology.”
Asked if he was sorry about making a vulgar comment in public, the governor went on defense.
“You know what’s vulgar? A senator saying we don’t care what the governor does. We have the votes to override him. I find that enormously vulgar. I find that despicable.”
But then the governor apologized. Sort of.
“It was not meant to offend anybody,” he said. “But I will say this. It was intended to wake the people of Maine up.”
So, you may have thought you were being offended but really you were just being woken up. No napping with this governor.
Jackson doesn’t need an apology — this incident may be the best thing that ever happened to him politically.
The publicity surrounding governor’s off-color remark could send the Aroostook County lawmaker to Congress in 2014. He announced his candidacy days after LePage guaranteed him 100 percent name recognition.
But the governor’s example does provide a few tips for the student of advanced apology avoidance.
• It’s not an apology if you apologize for something someone else did. (“I’m sorry that you misinterpreted my playful sense of humor” won’t cut it.)
• It’s not an apology if the words “I’m sorry” are followed by the words “if” or “but.” (“I’m sorry if you are too stupid to understand what I was saying.”)
• A bad apology is worse than none at all. If you are not ready to take responsibility for your actions, don’t give everybody another reason to be mad at you.
When people in public life master these simple rules, the lost art of the apology could make a comeback.
Greg Kesich is the editorial page editor. He can be contacted at 791-6481 or at firstname.lastname@example.org