At our house, the radio is often on in the background, especially out in the barn. I like to listen and catch up on the news as I go about the chores. This past weekend, there was a really interesting piece airing about the art of the apology.

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I don’t know if it is COVID fatigue, spring fever or Mars in retrograde (that’s a thing, right? I don’t really get it), but lately everyone seems a bit tetchy. Hmm. Possibly I am the tetchy one? In any event, I am intrigued by the nature of apologies.

Thinking I could just re-listen to the bits I missed, I did a quick online search to find the program. Found it, but turns out there’s a lot out there about apologizing. There are personal narratives, research studies, case histories – all kinds of conversations and all of them fascinating.

Much of the info is fairly common sense. In order for it to be effective, the party in the wrong must know it, feel remorse and be both willing and able to express that. A fake version, or a blame-shifting version, won’t work.

At its core, an apology is mending a tear in the social fabric. In our earliest days as a species, repairing those rifts could be a matter of life and death. I would argue it still is.

“A Case Study in How to Apologize for a War Crime” is a transcript of an NPR podcast. It explores “what makes a successful public apology by telling the story of Japan’s attempts to apologize to U.S. prisoners of war that were used as slave labor during WWII.”


It is a powerful piece. It took the conversation from the day to day and on to a larger scale. It reminded me of the mind-blowing work on war crimes done in Sierra Leone by Fambul Tok, and it made me think about the moment we are in now. Right now. A time when we are witnessing unarmed Black men and – heaven help us – children gunned down and assaulted. A time when people of Asian heritage are attacked in the streets. A time when the fabric feels like it is tearing.

It made me wonder, what happens when there is no apology? What happens when there is no honest reckoning, no facing of a wrong done? How much damage can a relationship, or a society, sustain?

Our nation was forged from a lot of wrongs. Land that was stolen, cultures that were stolen, humans that were stolen. I think maybe these wrongs are so big, so scary and so foundational that we’ve never known how to even start to look, let alone acknowledge. In that light, even the idea of an apology sounds silly.

And yet the science shows that traumatic as it may be, an honest reckoning and genuine apology have the power to heal. Both sides of the offense. It is time, past time. To be honest with ourselves, our neighbors, our families. To own the wrongs and make amends.

So, apologize to your loved ones for the errors of the day. Chances are they’ll forgive.

Then take it up a notch. Embark upon the hard work of seeing, acknowledging and owning the errors of our history as well. It is the best shot we have at saving the fabric of our communities before the tears grow too large. We are worth the work.

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