Several experiences this past weekend got me thinking about the meaning of a true apology. On Sunday, I read Gail Rosenblum’s column in the Star Tribune about whether women, in particular, are socially conditioned to say “I’m sorry” too often. After describing an Amy Schumer skit which ended with a female Nobel laureate apologizing to a coffee cup for getting in the way while dying of accidental coffee burns, Rosenblum shifts the issue to her real message: “…we need to learn how to do sorry well.” She quotes workplace consultant Fran Sepler who said, “The difference between an insincere and a sincere apology is miles apart.” (I was reminded of the commercial in which a burly guy looks down at his bicep and bellows, “No Regerts?” to which his candy-eating tattoo artist whines, “Soorrryy, I was eating a Milky Way.”). A true apology requires empathy and open acknowledgment of how you have hurt the other person, and a sincere wish to begin to mend the damage.
On Saturday evening, I went to a play entitled ‘Til Death, A Marriage Musical: A Hit Musical that’s Ridiculous, Squirm-Inducing and Lovely….Just Like Marriage. The creators of the show, a couple named Jeremiah and Vanessa Gamble, wrote in the program, “We wanted to take an inward look at our own struggles of trying to practice forgiveness and live out a committed relationship.” The show is an intelligent, witty and well-performed look at two couples whose marriages are acutely threatened by hurtful acts of omission and commission. Throughout the play, characters say “I’m sorry” in various inauthentic ways. It’s not until the moment that a character drops his or her defensiveness and justification and expresses true regret for hurting the other person that it becomes clear that a true apology has been offered….and accepted.
The fact is, a true apology will not always be accepted by the other person. That is beyond your ability to control. But making a true apology, with empathy, respect and clarity, makes YOU a better person. And the world a better place for you and your kids.
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