One Good Thing About Covid: The Art of Apology When You’ve Done Nothing Wrong
Table of Contents
- The Art of Apology When You — Think — You’ve Done Nothing Wrong, I Should Say.
- Has Apology Run Amok?
- I’m Sorry or I Care?
The Art of Apology When You — Think — You’ve Done Nothing Wrong, I Should Say.
Just this week, someone (we’ll call him Dave) asked if we could discuss his apology to a family he believes he infected with Covid on a weekend visit with them at their home.
He said, of course, he did not mean to infect them on purpose. In fact, he tested negative right before he entered their home, and there were no known cases of Covid at the gathering he attended the week leading up to this visit.
In listening to this, it all of a sudden occurred to me that Covid has raised exactly this issue of how or whether to apologize when we know we have hurt another but don’t believe we have done anything wrong. And, in so doing, Covid has given us an opportunity to practice and get better at something not a a lot of us are all that good at.
This happens a lot, feeling a tug to apologize while feeling we have done nothing wrong. And, not just with Covid. Let’s say with lay-offs, breaks-ups, and other heart wrenching occasions of the kind. And, now that I think of it, a lot of people do struggle with how to do this well.
Even in the President’s first Covid presser, there was an air of defensiveness I thought — against the implication that his manner of physical greeting and affection might have put others at risk. More evasion than any sort of apology I thought.
Then again, some are saying that apology has become so commonplace, so over used and overdone, that it hardly even means anything anymore anyway.
Has Apology Run Amok?
Social scientists call it “Normative Dilution,” the term used in a New York Times piece by Pat Thomas: “He’s Sorry, She’s Sorry, Everybody is Sorry. Does it Matter?” Thomas tells us:
This month alone, we’ve seen apologies from:
Hal Rogers, representative from Kentucky, who told a congressional colleague to “kiss my ass” when she asked him to put on a mask.
The rapper Nelly, after he accidentally uploaded a video of a woman performing oral sex on him to Instagram.
A defensive lineman for the Washington Commanders, for tweeting that he’d like to have dinner with Hitler.
A local Florida sheriff, who apologized to his wife for … well, it’s unclear, because the thing for which he was apologizing was never actually public, even if the apology was.
And this guy, an otherwise private individual, who angered enough people on Twitter when he joked, “if you’re someone who brings a book to a bar … nobody likes you,” that he delivered a mea culpa that was 27 times the length of the original offense.
The sum of it is that with everybody doing it, too often without even feeling it, nor even fully grasping what exactly they are apologizing for, many of the apologies are so useless that they render apology in general more than a bit suspect.
I’m Sorry or I Care?
A physician once told me that the best way for a service provider to avoid lawsuits is simply to make sure the patient, the client, the customer… knows you care. From one of my earlier posts:
Take medical malpractice. Stuff happens in the world of medicine. And sometimes people sue, but less so when they have been granted the consideration, affirmation, respect, and dignity of an apology than when they have not.
And that is where my client landed. Showing that he cared.
He had already apologized to the family for infecting the family, but did not come away feeling particularly forgiven when his host said she was not ready to respond “positive” yet.
What then would be the purpose of another apology? Or sending a gift; he considered that. To try again to make himself feel better? A lot of people apologize ad nauseam, if not grovel, to make themselves feel better, and I believe that is at least part of why so many apologies fail.
In this case, it seemed clear enough that, even though he had not meant them any harm, his host was in no mood to make him feel better while she and her whole family were feeling so bad.
If, however, he really did want them to know how much he cared about them and their relationship, he decided that he could check back in at some point to see how they are to let them know how much he cares.
Maybe you’ve had a situation of your own, where things went south without anyone doing anything wrong? Would love to hear your thoughts!
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