July 9, 2006
One upon a time there was the “Unqualified Apology” when we could freely say “I’m sorry” and it would be accepted at face value. It was a measure of the person that they could acknowleg wrong doing, accept responsibility and offer some kind of reparation via the expression.
Then we moved into the area of the “Qualified Apology”. In those days we were sorry “IF” someone else felt hurt by some act perpetrated upon them by us. All of that self help stuff really helped us see that we were responsible for our own experiences, and as such, someone else’s hurt was really nothing to do with us.
Now I see a shift into what I call the “General Pre-emptive Apology”. I’ve seen this in a lot in cases of institutional abuse where a spokesperson comes straight out and apologises at the outset for all and everything the instutition did, could do or may do to people.
What’s the point of an apology anyway? I’m not in any way undermining genuine cases of bullying and harrassement – but I see so much hurt in the work I do that appears so simple in comparison and part of me wants to make it safe for us to be able to say those words. We live in a world that is increasingly litigious and those simple words which alleviate hurt, build trust and cement relationships are more often than not, simply not allowed any more. So much inter-personal conflict in organisations could be alleviated if we accepted that in all relationships we bump into each other, we hurt, we love, we can apologise and we can recover. But if I can’t say “I’m sorry for hurting you” what hope is there for meaningful reparation, a letting go and a move to another level? Will it ever be possible to experience the “Genuine Apology” without systems, procedures, policies and lawyers hovering in the background?