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Commentary: Saying Sorry

Posted: November 30, 2017 at 4:35 pm by , in Commentaries, Featured

We are seeing a ground swell of women claiming their voices and experiences as part of the #metoo movement.
In reaction, those being accused are shifting responsibility away from themselves, with a little more sophistication than they have historically. They are using “doublespeak” apologies that leave those who listen wondering what just happened.

 

 

If such apologies were spoken by a child in the playground, adults around them would demand a higher level of accountability, remorse and commitment to make things right. Yet, when spoken by these men in power who have created grave harm to the women and children they have hurt, the beguiling apologies are brushed aside or ignored.

These apologies are followed or preceded by dignity eroding tactics that leave those who are hurt disempowered and holding the bag with the responsibility for being hurt. At the same, those who are witnesses or bystanders are left confused, uncertain and afraid to advocate for those who have been subjected to unwanted sexual acts and innuendo. And, those who have perpetrated harassment and assault are free to continue with the status quo.

We are hearing, “I am sorry, IF I acted in that way.” The “if” very deftly discounts the harmed person’s experience. It is a statement that sidesteps direct accountability and leaves doubt about the credibility of the victims’ accounts.

We are also hearing vague apologies. They come in the form, “for that which I did that caused you harm, I am sorry.” They do not name what happened. Consequently, it is not clear that the person apologizing admits to what they did and has true remorse. Those apologizing are merely parroting “sorry” out of obligation, without true remorse, as a way to get the accusations over with, so they can continue with business as usual.

There is also the tactic of shifting responsibility. It comes subtly as these words are uttered: “For how you perceived my actions, I am sorry.” The uttered remorse is for how the event was perceived, rather than for the actual actions.

It also comes with excuses that shift the responsibility to social norms or others who acted similarly, such as “Back in the time that I acted in that way, it was usual,” OR “Others did it first,” OR “It is male nature to act that way,” OR “I had a very difficult childhood.”

And then, there are the apologies which include one of several ways that those hurt are perniciously re-victimized. They are blamed and questioned with a but. There are the: “I am sorry, BUT she led me on;” “I am sorry, BUT it was not entirely my fault;” or, “I am sorry, BUT it took place long ago.”

We don’t have to perpetuate our history of letting most of the men who abuse their power off the hook.

We have systems in place to invite accountability and repair harm. We use these systems with people who have less power. We use them in schools as part of our anti-bullying campaigns. We use them at home, with employees and with friends when their actions are damaging. We ask for them to step into a place of taking responsibility and making things right.

Dr. Beverly Title, in her book Teaching Peace, outlined the steps beautifully. They include:
* Admitting to one’s contribution to the harm done by describing what happened.
* An acknowledgment of the pain and harm created.
* Taking responsibility for the harm.
* A statement of remorse. AND,
* A commitment to a set of actions that would meaningfully make things right and ensure that the harmful actions would not be repeated. Words are not enough. We need reparative actions.

It is time for us to become creative and consider how to address the imbalance of power, and demand the same level of accountability and process of harm repair for the men in power, as we do of our children, friends, employees and other “everyday” people.

I invite you to have the conversation with others. Make the commitment to do one little thing to ensure a level playing field of accountability and to practice the outlined apology format presented by Dr. Title.

As a society, we know what meaningful apology and repair processes are. Let’s apply them equally for everyone.

 

Jessica Dancingheart is a personal and organizational consultant. Find out more at www.openingtopossibilities.com.