Sorry about that: America covered in avalanche of apologies

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“I know what I was feeling, but what was I thinking?”

– Dierks Bentley

Why is it that we see so many people apologizing? We used to occasionally hear someone publicly say they felt bad about things they did or said. But lately it’s turned into a Niagara Falls of forgiveness.

Any indiscretion or poorly turned phrase can result in some group asking for the FBI to investigate. Political correctness has been around for a long time, but what’s going on now is something new, even for the language police.

It’s to the point where people seem to be lining up to confess their sins in very public ways. There they were in the same week: Oprah Winfrey apologizing for the fallout a Swiss shopkeeper was feeling; Jesse Jackson Jr. tearfully confessing to misusing his congressional office; and a rodeo clown who wore a mask of the president. Even a lowly Army private was sorry he stole secrets.

This apology thing has really caught me off-guard, because I always thought we were becoming something else – a nanny state, a place where people expected the government to subsidize their “pursuit of happiness.” From the past presidential campaign we learned that 47 percent of the people are dependent on the government in some manner. You sure don’t hear those people apologizing.

The people who apologize are in the other 53 percent. Actually, they’re in the 1 percent – the stratosphere of our society in which wealth and power matter. Maybe those folks feel they don’t ever have to apologize for what they say or do. In fact the English humorist P. G. Wodehouse said it’s a “good rule in life never to apologize.”

But that is all changing. I’m not sure where the tipping point was, but we are being exposed to enough apologies to fill a 24-hour reality channel on cable television. Remember:

• Bill Clinton admits he “misled” us and his wife about his intimacy with an intern;

• Tiger Woods “regrets” not being “true to his values;”

• U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford stoically said he “hurt a lot of folks” while outh Carolina governor;

• Mel Gibson apologized to
“everyone in the Jewish Community;”

• Paula Deen’s YouTube meltdown;

• U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson recanted his “You lie!” shout-out to President Obama;

• Lance Armstrong finally
came clean that he wasn’t so
clean;

• Reese Witherspoon was
“embarrassed” by an alcohol-
induced confrontation with
police;

• Kanye West apologized to Taylor Swift for dissing her;

• David Letterman punched his apology card twice: remorseful for attacking Sarah Palin’s child, and ’fessing up to an affair with a young staffer.

The list goes on.

Researcher Tyler Okimoto at Australia’s University of Queensland finds that apologies often make the apologizers feel better. His work suggests why many people initially would follow Wodehouse’s advice not to ’fess up. “Refusals to apologize,” writes Okimoto, “also make people feel better and, in fact, in some cases it makes them feel better than an apology would have.”

WHAT I HAVE found these folks all have in common, other than a public apology, is that they did not acknowledge their bad behavior until they were found out. Most often they are verbally beaten into submission by the speech police. Thinking they will get away with it may explain why they are reluctant to come clean in the first place. Who will forget Bill Clinton’s initial defiant, finger-pointing response: “I did not
have sexual relations with that woman ... .”

When they eventually seek the forgiveness that they hope will make this all the bad talk and bad feelings go away, the statements of contrition seem qualified and superficial. Really, who are they trying to kid?

In 1995 U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato used a stereotyped Japanese accent to mock Judge Lance Ito, who was presiding over the O.J. Simpson trial. He responded to the criticism by saying, “If I offended anyone, I’m sorry.” (Hey, if you’re not sure you offended anyone, then why are you apologizing?)

The storm did not die down for the New York politician, and a few days later D’Amato was on the Senate floor to “fully recognize the insensitivity of my remarks.”

I have no way of knowing who is going to apologize next. I suspect it may be me, asking my wife to overlook my tracking dirt across the floor she has just cleaned. “To err is human,” I might plead. To which she would probably respond: “Not in my house.”

SOME GREAT tips for structuring an apology have been collected on wikiHow.com. The next time you find yourself on the wrong side of a comment or deed, consider this: Determine what went wrong and take ownership. Use direct statements to make amends for an error in judgment. And ask for forgiveness.

On the other side, if you are the one who has been wronged, think about why you would ask for an apology. Is it to reconcile and restore a relationship, or to humiliate and pass blame?

The 99 percent of us can learn a lot from the public failings of the 1 percent. It’s a shame that we are exposed to these lessons on a regular basis. Fame, fortune and power do not always translate into good judgment.

Life might be a bit better if the 1 percent were more like the 99 percent. At least there would be much less to apologize for.

(The writer is a former Augusta mayor and current president and CEO of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy.)

Comments (21) Add comment
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soldout
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soldout 08/25/13 - 03:28 am
3
0
good stuff Bob

You did a great job with that. You covered the subject well. Let people talk; it tells us who they are or at least who they were at the moment they said it. You can be pretty sure the one most offended commits the same sin and doesn't like being reminded.

jkline
527
Points
jkline 08/25/13 - 05:07 am
2
3
Christian Culture

I think that it has developed from Christian culture. The idea behind it is that, if you confess your sins and say you are sorry, then all is forgiven.

I am not saying that this is right or wrong, but it is a feature of Christianity not shared by all religions, and Christianity is a big part of American culture. This accounts for all of the apologies. I consider it a sort of modern equivalent to a confession booth.

Bodhisattva
6849
Points
Bodhisattva 08/25/13 - 05:23 am
4
3
It is a whole lot better than

It is a whole lot better than the folks who think they never do anything wrong. I'll take folks who apologize any day of the week.

Riverman1
90742
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Riverman1 08/25/13 - 05:57 am
9
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Bob's Apology?

I'd like to hear Bob Young apologize for removing the Confederate flag from Riverwalk and making the display of flags historically inaccurate.

truth_be_told
231
Points
truth_be_told 08/25/13 - 06:33 am
7
1
And..................

Apologize for running for the office of mayor and then quitting before his time was up............
He put the M in moron

Rhetor
1042
Points
Rhetor 08/25/13 - 06:36 am
5
3
hmm

When people do something wrong, an apology is a good first step. It's the people who can't admit that they have been wrong who worry me the most.

CobaltGeorge
170599
Points
CobaltGeorge 08/25/13 - 07:17 am
4
3
Apologies Are Not Accepted In My Book

Anytime I have done something wrong in my life and have been proven wrong, I acknowledge it and always say "I Stand Corrected".

deestafford
30462
Points
deestafford 08/25/13 - 07:35 am
4
1
Good column Bob

Do you notice that the public figures apologize only when they are caught with their hand in the cookie jar? And then, in most cases, it's not really a sincere apology of asking for forgiveness but one which starts off by saying, "If I offended anyone..." rather than "Look, I screwed up and I'm sorry for what I did and I will never do that again."

Some of this whole apology thing maybe a lack of guts to say what you believe and stick to it no matter what others may think. There is nothing that says people have a right not to be offended.

soapy_725
43963
Points
soapy_725 08/25/13 - 08:18 am
0
0
Feels like another run for mayor to me. A lot of press. LOL
Unpublished

Feels like another run for mayor to me. A lot of press. LOL

soapy_725
43963
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soapy_725 08/25/13 - 08:19 am
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His work was not complete. He has a vision for ARC.
Unpublished

His work was not complete. He has a vision for ARC.

seenitB4
93819
Points
seenitB4 08/25/13 - 08:21 am
2
1
A littleout of hand

Too many & some don't seem legit! When I apologize for anything...(seldom happens) It will be the Real Deal.

Little Lamb
48010
Points
Little Lamb 08/25/13 - 08:44 am
3
4
Truth

If anyone in America ever told the truth, it was Rep. Joe Wilson. So now he has apologized for telling the truth.

harley_52
25117
Points
harley_52 08/25/13 - 09:31 am
4
4
I Thought I Understood...

....where Bob was going with this piece, but after a great start, he swerved to a totally different conclusion.

I thought his point was to be that too many people spend too much time apologizing for too many things. That we have all (or mostly, anyway) become too caught up in the demands of Political Correctness and have stopped living our lives as individuals with the moral and legal right to our own opinions. That something we say or do MIGHT offend somebody used to be far less of a concern than the importance of expressing our honest opinions clearly and succinctly. That's where I thought he was going and it's a point with which I am in complete agreement.

But, alas, I was wrong. Bob's point is more about perfecting the art of apologizing and accepting the apology of someone else.

Bob, you managed to turn a great start into a squishy ending. What a letdown.

How very P.C. of you.

myobgdi
6
Points
myobgdi 08/25/13 - 09:35 am
4
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Wrong, Bob

O.J. Simpson's judge was LANCE Ito, not Lawrence.

Gary Ross
3346
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Gary Ross 08/25/13 - 09:47 am
3
1
There are always some who take advantage

One of my aunts went on a rampage in swindelling all her mother's money and blaming my brother and I for it, all under the "plan" to confees in Church and all will be fine. My brother and I still hurt from those immoral accusations. Is she really forgiven by God? I don't think she is. Words carry different weights depending on sincerity.

The last sincere appology I can recall from a politician was JFK after the Bay of Pigs. Everything from there seemed to go on a downhill slippery slope in moral standards. This is a great article, outlining some of the examples our government (big brother) is setting for the rest of us. No wonder this country is in such a mess!

harley_52
25117
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harley_52 08/25/13 - 10:06 am
2
5
"So now he has apologized for telling the truth."

Right on, LL.

This is what Political Correctness demands. What's true and correct has become far less important in our discourse than what MIGHT offend somebody somewhere, sometime.

It's a symptom of tyranny. It's antithetical to everything that made this Country great. It's substituting group think for our Constitutional right to free speech and freedom of expression.

justthefacts
24061
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justthefacts 08/25/13 - 10:21 am
7
0
Opps

Wrong Bob,
"O.J. Simpson's judge was LANCE Ito, not Lawrence."

Bob's sorry.

dichotomy
36291
Points
dichotomy 08/25/13 - 10:46 am
3
1
Apologies by politicians and

Apologies by politicians and public personalities are done because they are on the check list after being caught.....but they carry no sincerity and have no meaning.

corgimom
36811
Points
corgimom 08/25/13 - 06:01 pm
1
1
"The last sincere appology I

"The last sincere appology I can recall from a politician was JFK after the Bay of Pigs"

JFK was never sincere a moment in his life. He was a politician who couldn't be honest if his life depended on it. And he learned from the best, his father, who was equally corrupt and amoral.

JFK, who ran the country while on speed- now called meth.

corgimom
36811
Points
corgimom 08/25/13 - 06:26 pm
2
1
The only thing those people

The only thing those people are sorry about, is that they got caught.

allhans
24522
Points
allhans 08/25/13 - 07:47 pm
1
1
Word ban....Apology...(it is

Word ban....Apology...(it is has been made meaningless).

Darby
28399
Points
Darby 08/25/13 - 11:07 pm
1
1
" U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson recanted his

“You lie!” shout-out to President Obama;"

.
Instead, he should have hired a 'plane to sky-write, "I was right, Obama lies!" over DC.

Darby
28399
Points
Darby 08/25/13 - 11:10 pm
2
1
What did that quote mean,

and who the heck is Dierks Bentley?

Did Bob Young get paid to write that drivel? I certainly hope not. I'd like to think my monthly subscription was better spent.

mrenee2003
2946
Points
mrenee2003 08/27/13 - 07:37 am
1
0
No sense

The article does not make any sense. The first half points out that there is too much apologizing and then goes on to school us in the art of apologizing. So do you want people to apologize or not? Public apologies are often offered so that celebrities/politicians can maintain their status and convicted criminals can get lighter sentences. I am also suspicious of deathbed apologies (so, why exactly are you sorry NOW?). Apologies are a good thing if people are sincerely sorry about the hurt they caused others (not themselves) and if they have every intention of changing the behavior that was hurtful. Apologizing to your spouse about infidelity is pointless if you are still screwing around.

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