Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Much has been written, recently, about the positive effects of apologizing. Some risk managers tell us to say "I'm sorry" when we mess-up. They believe that these words can prevent a law suit from being brought forth, and thus recommend that we do it. Maybe. To that effect, every so often I read in the paper about a plaintiff who said something to the effect of, "Had the doctor just apologized, I would never have sued." Yeh, yeh right! At the risk of seeming cynical, which I am not, I believe that these people do not understand forgiveness.

I believe that we, as people, apologize because it makes us feel better. And sometimes it gets us off the hook. I think we learn this as children.

I do believe that the recipient benefits from an apology. Namely it makes them--the recipient--feel better. Most importantly, the act of forgiveness is very therapeutic to the forgiver, rather than to the person who is apologizing. It is simply unhealthy for people to hold onto anger and internalize it. So lets say that I am a big believer in the power of the apology. I'm just realistic about it what an apology can accomplish and when it ought to be used.

For example, should people be absolved of their wrongs simply because they apologize? I don't believe so. Recently, in NY, a woman had a bilateral mastectomy due to lab error. I don't think an apology would suffice in this case. Moreover, the error was the result of short-cuts taken by the technician in the lab. Something tells me, that his apology to the boss found deaf ears, as it should have. The technician may have been fired, but the owners of the lab may lose their livelihoods over this incident. No, I don't believe that an apology means much in this case.

In my own office, I had a receptionist download a file sharing program on the office computer. I discovered it instantly. She immediately apologized, but I fired her on the spot. Her contrition would not have corrected the many problems her act could have caused, such as data loss, data theft, or an RIAA lawsuit. Her apology meant nothing to me.

Two years ago, my 4 year old pushed my 1 year old, who fell down a step. The 4 year immediately apologized, because she saw that I was angry. I responded, "I don't care that you are sorry" and then I explained to her that her apology does not undue the pain she caused on her sister. The 4 year old--an exceptional 4 year-old--understood, and she has never pushed her younger sister again.

I think we need to re-learn the purpose of "sorry." If you find yourself apologizing for personal gain, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. The goal ought to be for healing. If the goal is for healing, and healing alone, then it'll be accepted.

Anyway, just my thoughts.

I thank you for your time.

The IU.