January 25, 2020

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Need to make an apology? Ask the experts

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/2/2018 (709 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Plenty of people are saying sorry these days, but their apologies often seem cheap.

Some people do it only after they are confronted with their misdeeds and have no chance of escape. Their apologies are like tapping out during a mixed martial arts bout.

Some don’t apologize directly to their victims, but issue a general statement on social media. It’s as if they’re more concerned with restoring their reputation than restoring relations with people they’ve hurt.

MLA Stan Struthers, a former NDP finance minister, apologized Feb. 8 in a public statement for "inappropriate" interactions with women, but there’s been no indication he offered respectful, in-person apologies to the eight or more women he reportedly tickled and groped in a sexual manner.

Several women went public with full details of their alleged harassment by Struthers, and none said he attempted a personal apology. Struthers has apparently been able to confine his remorse to a press release.

Emerson MLA Cliff Graydon apologized on Feb. 6 for offensive tweets, including calling asylum seekers a "drain on society." The wider context, though, is that he didn’t apologize until his Progressive Conservative colleagues publicly distanced themselves from his views, putting his career in jeopardy. It makes one wonder: has Graydon truly had an overnight conversion and is now sincerely sorry for his attitude towards asylum-seekers? Or is he just sorry he got caught?

NDP Leader Wab Kinew is Manitoba’s master of apologies. The only people in Manitoba who have apologized more than Kinew might be connected to the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, who haven’t won a Grey Cup in 27 years.

Kinew apologized when it was to his strategic career benefit, before he entered the provincial political arena as a candidate for Fort Rouge in the 2016 election. He apologized repeatedly for his behaviour in the previous decade, which included misogynistic and homophobic tweets and musical lyrics he wrote and performed. He also explained away past convictions for assaulting a taxi driver, for refusing a breathalyzer and legal allegations that he threw his then-girlfriend across a room, which he denied.

In the avalanche of accusations via #MeToo, some men feel inclined to apologize because the movement has enhanced their understanding of sexual harassment.

If guys now feel called to apologize, but are unsure how to go about it, considering sexual harassment is such an impassioned matter, ask the apology experts. Recovering alcoholics have lots of experience in making amends as they clean up the wreckage of their pasts.

The long-timers in the Alcoholics Anonymous organizations know there are right ways and wrong ways to apologize. It’s a crucial part of the commendable AA 12-step program that was introduced in 1935 and has been borrowed by many groups of people trying to improve their lives. They don’t stay sober by settling for cheap apologies.

People working the AA program mine their memories and list everyone they’ve hurt. Everyone. Even the minor hurts. If they can remember it, it needs repair. Some people in AA have done so much damage before they finally admitted they are powerless over alcohol, they need more than one sheet of paper to compose their list.

Next come the apologies. Typically, they approach their victim and ask permission to apologize. The exceptions are instances where it would hurt the victim further to contact them.

Sometimes a message through a third party is a sensible way to make the offer. If the victim tells them to go to hell, that’s their right. That response should be accepted without anger.

If the victim is open to receiving an apology, it’s delivered without attempts to rationalize or justify. For example, don’t say "the reason I touched you inappropriately is that you’re so sexy." That’s victim blaming. The apologizers should talk only about their own behaviour.

It’s also wrong to ask the victim for forgiveness.

That’s their choice to bestow or withhold.

It’s important here to note apologies are only a small part of the 12-step program. There are sound reasons why apologies are left until step 9. The prior steps lead people through a difficult soul-searching process that requires great pluck to undergo with rigorous honesty.

It takes courage to make face-to-face apologies because it’s a position of risk and vulnerability.

And perhaps that’s as it should be. If the apology is uncomfortable, it’s memorable and lessens the chance the culprit will reoffend.

Sincere, respectful apologies can relieve shame and restore relationships. There’s nothing cheap about that.

Carl DeGurse is a member of the Free Press editorial board.

Carl DeGurse

Carl DeGurse
Senior copy editor

Carl DeGurse’s role at the Free Press is a matter of opinion. A lot of opinions.

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