The Fine Art of Apology
There are proper ways to apologize. Then, there are creative ways to seem like you are apologizing. The website Proflowers.com has a resource titled, “61 ‘I’m Sorry’ Quotes” making it quite convenient to scroll down and pick the proper apology for your situation. Examples include, “Can I get a redo?” Or, “If I said ‘I’m sorry’ even though I don’t know why I’m saying it, will it reduce my time in the corner?” And the classic non-apology, “I’m so sorry about what I said when I was hungry.”
In politics, places of worship, entertainment, and varied life settings, there are those who have done us wrong, yet cannot bring themselves to compose a proper apology. Take the case of Kevin Hart, who, in the past, made harsh homophobic remarks. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Spencer Kornhaber recounted that Hart called someone a “fat-faced fag” in a 2009 tweet. In 2010 he said someone’s profile pic “resembled ‘a gay billboard for AIDS.’” One of Hart’s comedy routines played on his anticipated anguish should his son come out as gay.
Ellen DeGeneres has come to Kevin Hart’s defense. She accepts Hart’s apologies and has pronounced forgiveness on behalf of the LGBTQ community. She wants him to rescind his resignation as host of the upcoming Oscar ceremony. Hart did not exude much sincerity when he “apologized” for his routine about possibly having a gay son. Rather, he stated, “I wouldn’t tell that joke today, because when I said it, the times weren’t as sensitive as they are now.”
There are more important issues playing out in the public arena demanding genuine apologies. Some people issue a genuine one by having the courage to take full responsibility for their actions. Then there are others, such as the pastor who encouraged parents to punch their gay children. Later he said, “I apologize to anyone I have unintentionally offended. I did not say anything to intentionally offend anyone in the LGBT community…. It is unfortunate I was not more careful and deliberate. I can understand how these words could be misunderstood.”
Peterson Toscano, a Central Pennsylvania Biblical scholar and gay activist, delved into the precarious world of apologies as he shared his blog about John Smid, a former conversion therapy counselor. Smid realized the harm he had done to former patients and wanted to apologize publicly. He reached out to Toscano, one of his former patients, as the first to receive Smid’s apology letter. The letter fell far short of its mark and prompted Toscano to thoroughly edit it.
Toscano reflected on this task, “I recognize that history cannot be erased, and it does nothing to the strength of LGBTQ communities to overlook or minimize the wrongs against us. It also does not aid in the liberation of our oppressors to overlook or minimize painful past actions. In other words, writing an apology can prove challenging both to those giving and those hearing.” Toscano is a co-founder of a web forum for those who have undergone conversion therapy, Beyond Ex-Gay.
The art of apology is a lost art. Many half-hearted apologies do not result in change for the better. There are three important steps to a sincere apology. The acronym OAT may serve as a reminder. Key ingredients include Ownership of the offense, Addressing the proper parties and Taking positive action. One must own the offense, not deflecting it onto others, denying it altogether, or becoming defensive. Apologize to those who were offended by one’s words or deeds. Ambiguous references, such as “those who may have been offended,” render the apology insincere. The third step is to take action to rectify the offense, and build a new foundation of positive behavior to move both people forward.
CNN’s Don Lemon felt something was missing in Kevin Hart’s apology. As Neal Broverman wrote January 5, 2019 in The Advocate, “Lemon is not satisfied with Hart's handling of the scandal—or DeGeneres acting as if she's the decider on who is forgiven and who's not. Lemon acknowledged Hart apologized after he stepped down as Oscar host, but reminded viewers that he previously refused to apologize and never, in the intervening years, offered a substantial denunciation of his homophobia. ‘I don't see any meaningful outreach to the LGBT community,’ Lemon said of Hart. ‘Apologizing and moving on does not make the world a better place for people who are gay or who are transgender. Being an ally does.’”
We know that actions speak louder than words. So, apology accepted, now get to work and be an ally. Become an advocate. Show you sincerely care. ▼
David Garrett is a straight advocate for equality and inclusion. He is also the proud father of an adult transdaughter. Email David Garrett