When an Apology isn’t an Apology

We’ve had a nearly month-long flood of sexual-harassment allegations and while some of the accused remain silent or deny the claims some choose to apologize. Or do they? Because the resulting apologies are some of the most pathetic things I’ve ever seen or heard.

Take, for example, Kevin Spacey’s response to allegations by Anthony Rapp that Spacey sexually assaulted him when he was 14:

He casts doubt on the allegation by stating he doesn’t remember, then he makes an excuse for the behavior by saying he was drunk. And then he drops a real doozy, he uses his apology to come out. Deflection, misdirection, invalidation and a nice big scoop of narcissism.

Then we have President George H.W. Bush’s apology for having groped young women:

To try to put people at ease, the president routinely tells the same joke—and on occasion, he has patted women’s rears in what he intended to be a good-natured manner. Some have seen it as innocent; others clearly view it as inappropriate. To anyone he has offended, President Bush apologizes most sincerely.

This word salad essentially boils down to: I’m sorry you’re sorry. Perhaps one of the most infuriating “apologies” available. President Bush accepts no responsibility for harming the women he groped here and instead focus his attention on their reaction to the groping as the problem. The problem wasn’t his hand on your ass, the problem was your delicate emotional fiber that made you so upset about it.

Harvey Weinstein’s statement is no better:

I came of age in the ‘60s and ‘70s when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.

If you were to model the moral and ethical fortitude of a lot of celebrities and leaders today you would think apologizing was a sign of weak character. Take this unapologetic buffoon for example:

I think apologizing’s a great thing, but you have to be wrong. I will absolutely apologize, sometime in the hopefully distant future, if I’m ever wrong.

I’ll let you guess who that is.

The truth is. Admitting wrong doing and apologizing takes a lot of grit and giving a sincere apology is a clear sign to those around you of strong character. If you need help, science has pretty much perfected the art of apologizing, so just go give that article a quick read and buck up. The basics:

  1. Expression of regret
  2. Explanation of what went wrong
  3. Acknowledgment of responsibility
  4. Declaration of repentance
  5. Offer of repair
  6. Request for forgiveness

If you’re in real trouble and an attorney is advising you to not say sorry, just don’t say anything at all, because a garbage apology is worse than none at all.


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