“Sorry seems to be the hardest word”
– Elton John
It’s been painful.
LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s most recent cringe-inducing “apology” on CNN for his racist rants almost makes Paula Dean look quaint. However cynical anyone may be about Sterling’s motives for his public display of contrition, he almost appeared sincere. Until he kept talking…and talking…and saying everything all over again. (“You can put down the shovel now, Donald. Six feet is deep enough.”)
When done well, it says everything. Yet, so often we think it’s not enough.
We have to clarify ourselves (“What it meant to say…”).
Or rationalize ourselves (“The point I still want to make…”)
Or absolve ourselves (“I was just reacting to what you said when…”)
Or shift the emotional responsibility (“For anyone who may have been offended, I am sorry…”)
Or pretend our brains were victims of identity theft (“That’s not who I am…”)
There are times when such occasions for confession invite dialogue to build understanding, but it is hardly ever in that same moment, and rarely as often as we think.
This visceral aversion to unqualified apology cuts across every area of life – in relationships, marriages, families, and (perhaps most famously) in business. It is a rare bird to see a business and/or its leader have the courage to stand there and just say “I’m sorry” when that is exactly and all they should say. To slather that apology with all kinds of carefully crafted addenda reveals a self interest – and self interest is the enemy of true confession and restored trust.
When we say more than “I’m sorry” we take. When we can say “I’m sorry” alone, we give.