Is Just Saying “I’m Sorry,” Enough?

Apologizing businessmanMercer Mayer authored a series of children’s books entitled The Little Critter Series. I used to read these wonderful and inspiring books to my children when they were young, and was able to draw profound life lessons from them to share with my budding adults. They learned the art of sharing, how to demonstrate respect and that sometimes, saying “I’m sorry,” just isn’t enough.

In light of the recent apology by Rupert Murdoch for the illegal and immoral actions of phone hacking by his staffers, I thought it quite appropriate to write about apologies and the power they do and do not have to right a wrong. In the case of News of the World, it was not merely insinuated that an apology be given, but it was demanded, and most likely was a last ditch attempt by Murdoch to salvage any public and political influence he might ever wield in the future. His apology that ran earlier this week in The Guardian was short and to the point, to put it mildly. He said, “We are sorry for the serious wrongdoing that occurred. We are deeply sorry for the hurt suffered by the individuals affected. We regret not acting faster to sort things out.” And then he added, “I realise that simply apologising is not enough.”

You bet it’s not. He does go on to say that his organization will be taking “concrete steps to resolve these issues and make amends for the damage they have caused.” But does that really have any impact whatsoever on the thousands, maybe tens of thousands, of people whose privacy has been violated? Does it re-privatize information that has been viewed by millions of readers, information that should never have been made public to begin with? Does it even begin to instill a sense of security in those whose lives have been altered, damaged and exposed? I don’t think so Rupert.

Unless the apology comes with sincerity, genuine remorse, a willingness to admit all culpability and the commitment to change behaviors, it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. When a husband cheats on his wife and apologizes, I don’t think she feels all warm and fuzzy inside because he said those magic words. When he accepts his rightful role in the blame, tries to empathize with her feelings and the pain he has caused, and decides to do whatever is in his power to address the issues behind the affair and change them, then maybe he’s got a shot.

Society has made apologies as fraudulent as the people issuing them. Rarely are we exposed to genuine regret when a public apology is issued. We utter apologies as casually as we say “God Bless You,” when someone sneezes. And I doubt most of us mean either one. But in the case of harmful, hurtful acts, it is imperative to apologize. Even if the offender does not see the full measure of the wrong they have inflicted, the recipient of the apology needs to hear those words spoken sincerely and with import. The authenticity of the apology can be delivered over time through commitment, resolve and actions.

When trust has been lost in a relationship, an apology is the first rung on the ladder toward rebuilding that foundation. When an abuse survivor receives an apology from their offender, it does not take the pain away. It does not bring back their lost childhood. But it fills a void that needs to be filled. It allows them to reconcile with the part of their mind that has been shouldering the blame. An apology is often the first ingredient in the recipe for recovery.

Apologies have a significant psychological impact on people. Expecting an apology that never comes can cause someone to feel frustrated, angry and even outright perturbed with the aloof person. When we do not feel vindicated, we feel victimized. And no one likes to be a victim. Not everyone will be able to apologize either. Some people have it hardwired into their psyches that accepting blame or admitting flaws makes them weak. Others cannot honestly see their role in the situation at hand. Waiting for an apology from someone like that can be an exercise in futility.

If you feel like you are owed an apology, ask. Do not let it fester inside you. Do not gossip and disparage the offender. Do not act out in ways that satisfy your need for revenge. None of those actions will quell your craving. And worse yet, they may result in something that you have to apologize for.

© Copyright 2011 by Jen Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Calvin

    Calvin

    July 18th, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    “An apology is often the first ingredient in the recipe for recovery.”

    This may be true in personal interactions and any hurt caused to a person in such a relationship. But when it comes to something like this when the person responsible for causing you all the hurt is nowhere related to you and then an apology comes in a public manner, I dont think that will really help any recovery of the person.

  • K. Hatch

    K. Hatch

    July 18th, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    The only thing Murdoch is sorry about is being caught imho. The News of the World is well known in the UK for muck-raking and that they stooped to such levels doesn’t surprise me. Murdoch made millions upon millions from that trashy newspaper. Sincerity? He doesn’t know the meaning of the word. No apology will come with that.

  • Jason

    Jason

    July 18th, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    Apologies are such simple things to say and to not mean at all. Murdoch’s apologies will wring hollow until he lives up to his intent of changing the way that his companies do business. My personal opinion is that he needs to step up and put the people that are responsible for this travesty in the headlines.

  • ambershotts

    ambershotts

    July 18th, 2011 at 8:19 PM

    I’m very quick to apologize if I’m in the wrong.It’s the right thing to do and we all make mistakes. My husband’s the opposite. He won’t admit it and say sorry even when it’s plain as the nose on his face that he is. He’ll just stop talking about whatever it was that the argument was over. What’s the best way to handle that? Because if I keep going on about wanting an apology he just gets mad and I get more hurt that he won’t.

  • jolanda clark

    jolanda clark

    July 18th, 2011 at 8:38 PM

    Good post. I’d like to know what you do if you ask for an apology and the response is “what for?”. How can you let it go and move on instead of allowing that need that’s never going to be fulfilled to fester? That’s my problem. I have an ex that treated me badly and either can’t or won’t see it.

  • Up, Down and All Around... with Jen :-)

    Up, Down and All Around... with Jen :-)

    July 19th, 2011 at 4:57 AM

    Thank you all for the wonderful comments

    @ambershots and jolanda, I’ve been there, waiting for the apology that never came. I have had to navigate around the action, and asked for an apology for the delivery; meaning, I don’t expect the person to ever “get it” and accept responsibility for what they did, but rather to apologize for the way the action made me feel. If the apology still doesn’t come, I must move on. I have to accept the limitations of that person and not let their choice determine my happiness.

  • TK

    TK

    July 19th, 2011 at 9:28 AM

    Sometimes the mistake is so big that no amount if I’m sorry is going to help or make the victims feel better.But I really really believe that there is always something,some action from the perpetrator that can turn things around upto an extend and give solace to the victims.I don’t know what that action would be in this case but he really needs to think about it.And e will do that if and only if he is REALLY sorry!

  • A.Vincent

    A.Vincent

    July 19th, 2011 at 12:54 PM

    You know, if somebody just screams at you in anger and then says sorry it is understandable.But when a corporation plans,discusses and then executes an illegitimate operation like this one, it is just not pardonable.

    Mr.Rupert Murdoch,how about an apology in the form of prison time?

  • nikki hayes

    nikki hayes

    July 19th, 2011 at 1:23 PM

    I really wouldn’t care if Murdoch prostrated himself weeping on the floor before those he wronged, kissed the ground they walked on, and swore a blood oath to never do it again. What he allowed his staff to do was criminal on an international scale. And on a moral scale, hacking a murdered girl’s phone messages is beyond forgiveness. Saying sorry doesn’t even begin to cover this atrocity.

    I don’t believe he was unaware of their actions as he will no doubt contest in an effort to wriggle out of this.

  • Doris R.

    Doris R.

    July 19th, 2011 at 2:45 PM

    Nope. A thousand sorry’s wouldn’t be enough. If you knock someone over, saying “I’m sorry” is not enough. You have to correct what you did wrong as well, which usually involves pulling the person back up. Will he be helping back up the people whose lives he invaded like that poor dead girl’s family and correcting his wrongs? No, he won’t – a) because he’s arrogant and b) because there’s nothing you can do to repair that kind of hurt and invasion of privacy.

    You can’t unhear what you heard. Shame on him.

  • Ellie Spence

    Ellie Spence

    July 19th, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    He’s fooling nobody. He knew it was going on imho and did nothing to stop it. There is no way a powerful newspaper magnate like him would not have known what was going on within his own company for several years. Heck, that’s the kind of stories that made him his fortune. They just got away with it up until recently when the police investigation began in January.

  • Tristan Oliver

    Tristan Oliver

    July 19th, 2011 at 4:57 PM

    There are always innocents caught up in such scandal that get forgotten about. Another apology Murdoch should be making is to the News of The World staff that weren’t involved for costing them their jobs when the paper was shut down by him. Although we’ve more chance probably of Hell freezing over first.

    I have a feeling he’s going to find out soon he isn’t above the law.

  • Isabel Rowe

    Isabel Rowe

    July 19th, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    @Tristan Oliver-Even then that’s not good enough. Murdoch’s spent his life building an empire and you can’t convince me that you can do that while being 100% squeaky clean. He’s a businessman and would have pushed the boundaries to make a profit whenever he could. He can apologize all he wants but apparently we are all in agreement that he is a criminal, and should be sent to prison along with everyone else involved.

    Didn’t someone, somewhere, ever let it cross their minds that what they were even doing was illegal?

  • Thad D.

    Thad D.

    July 19th, 2011 at 10:44 PM

    @Isabel Rowe: That’s what puzzles me the most. Why could they not see this phone hacking tactic as a train wreck waiting to happen? Journalists have to be extremely careful because many celebrities would leap at the chance of suing the pants off them in retaliation for all the gossip and speculation they spread. Maybe they just don’t fear that.

  • Xavier

    Xavier

    July 19th, 2011 at 10:55 PM

    @Isabel– “Didn’t someone, somewhere, ever let it cross their minds that what they were even doing was illegal?”

    Of course they did. But knowing it’s illegal and caring about it are two different things. They get the big paychecks for the big stories and obviously there’s been no questions asked about how they sourced the information for their lurid stories.

    The NOTW’s demise is a great day for print journalism. It would be a dream come true if their style of tacky sensationalism died with the paper. I’m not going to hold my breath though.

  • Glen

    Glen

    July 20th, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    Big corporations do unethical stuff like this all the time.Its only when they are caught…or rather caught but are not able to buy their way out…that this kind of a situation arises…

  • Mel A.

    Mel A.

    July 20th, 2011 at 6:58 PM

    I hope in light of this they bring in more stringent restrictions and stiffer penalties regarding what the press can and cannot do. They lack in both ethics and restraint, refusing to respect the privacy of others for the sake of other’s entertainment.

    That said, those others are the buying public and the newspaper’s advertisers. If the public didn’t have an appetite for such stuff and the advertisers refused to support them by buying ad space, these rags would fold.

  • Russ McKinnon

    Russ McKinnon

    July 20th, 2011 at 7:42 PM

    I have to agree on society making apologies pointless. I say it in a sarcastic tone if they were completely overreacting to what I did and/or demanded an apology when they were in the wrong themselves. The second an act of politeness becomes expected, it starts to lose meaning. No heartfelt sorry’s will pass my lips for hypocrites.

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