Of Recent Public Apologies

The apologies have been flying off the shelves this month, as many public figures respond to accusations of sexual harassment. A Washington Post article today does a nice job of summarizing the good and the bad of the public apologies we’ve been witnessing. The author, Allison Klein, notes that many apologies miss the mark because they’re still all about the offender, rather than the victim.

This highlights the challenge of the public apology, which has two audiences: the victims themselves, and the offender’s “constituency,” be it their fans or the citizens they represent. In contrast, the private apology that most of us have occasion to make is simply between us and the person we’ve offended. Studying public apologies gives us clues to how we can make our own apologies better – or worse.

Another good piece on apologies appeared today on National Public Radio. Interestingly, the author, Harriet Lerner, discourages asking for forgiveness. Her advice may be sound for public apologies, but for inter-personal apologies, asking for forgiveness is an indication that the speaker really desires reconciliation. It’s also a reminder to Christians of our obligation to forgive–eventually. It might not be appropriate where the offense was life-changing for the victim, but for everyday apologies, it’s good practice.

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