A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

A Basic Primer on How to Apologize

Senator John Kerry’s recent comments directed at soldiers in Iraq or at President Bush have brought to my mind something more significant than who stands to gain politically from his gaffe. What I have been reflecting on is the most effective way to apologize.

Anyone who speaks publicly on a regular basis as I do, knows that it is inevitable that something will be said that will, by necessity, elicit an apology. It has not happened too often in my 22 years of preaching (Thanks be to God!), but I have on a couple of occasions said something in a sermon that, after it came out of my mouth, I wish I could have taken it back.

Over the years, I continue to be amazed that when an apology is in order, politicians hesitate, and/or worse, deny that something offensive has been said, which only makes the apology appear somewhat disingenuous. This happens often enough, that one would think that the best and brightest in both parties would know how to immediately handle the situation. So, as one who has occasionally suffered from ”foot and mouth disease,” let me offer A Little Pamphlet of Instruction on How to Apologize Effectively.

First, apologize as soon as possible. The longer one waits, the more people get the impression that the apology is coerced and done begrudgingly.

Second, apologize face-to-face. It takes courage to say, “I am sorry” in a public forum. Issuing a statement without an appearance, especially if the offensive comment was made publicly, will appear cowardly.

Third, under no circumstances offer any kind of justification. That will only be viewed as an attempt to lessen the offense and deflect attention away from the apology itself. If you believe your words have been misinterpreted, swallow your pride, suck in your gut, and apologize anyway. The injustice suffered at being misinterpreted will cause less heartache than the anger received from those who simply think you are rationalizing.

Fourth, do not apologize and blame someone else in the same breath. People will believe that you are not truly sorry for what you have said. Politicians on both sides of the aisle like to do this: “I am sorry for what I said, but…” Utter no words other than the ones that reflect repentance; you can always criticize the opposition the next day.

Fifth, after the apology, do not respond to your critics who will want to keep your words in the news. If you offer your sincere regrets and then refuse to speak further on the subject, the opposition that cannot let go of your comments will appear foolish.

Sixth, use the situation as a learning experience in order to avoid such carelessness in the future. The more times thoughtless words are uttered publicly, the less people will be willing to hear your apology and the more willing they will be just to assume that you are a thoughtless individual.

If this little primer has offended anyone… I apologize.

Cross-posted at RedBlueChristian.


David M. Smith said...

Hi Allan,

I hope you realize I was just teasing you at RBC. Sometimes I feel stupid using smiley’s but I never know for sure if it comes across as silly as it was meant.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Allan. Excellent thoughts. I like the stories when someone almost immediately, or during the same meeting apologizes. I remember a D.L. Moody story to that effect, when he apologized for a remark he had made during that service. And knowing one will have to apologize is surely something of a deterrent from further missteps.

I think too, it is good to err on the side of going ahead and making an apology if one is in doubt or wondering. Just today I had a kind of unfortunate exchange, which, though it could have been taken as humor, and a remark I thought myself justified in making in the context (over politics, what else?), yet left me uneasy. So tomorrow, I will apologize.

Thanks Alan.

Allan R. Bevere said...


I'm sorry, I didn't realize. Sometimes I'm not the sharpest pencil in the box.

Thanks for clarifying. I will be ready next time!

Allan R. Bevere said...


Our relationships would endure less pain, I think, if we were quick with an apology and slow with a rationalization.

Anonymous said...

Very true Allan. It is testy where I work with some, just to think differently on politics. Then if you joke about that you can be misunderstood. And sometimes I get a little worn down by a young one there, who at times really does not want to engage in a discussion. Though he and I do have good discussions oftentimes, even on politics.

John said...

Good thoughts, Allan.

I would add to the list: "I'm sorry that you misunderstood...." Real apologies should not insult the hearer's intelligence.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Good addition. Thanks!

Jim Martin said...

A nice piece. I really think spelling it out the way you did can be very helpful.

Allan R. Bevere said...

Thanks, Jim.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this lesson on apologizing. I just had to suck it up and do it tonight but I feel much more at peace and so much less angry about what she had done to me. I took responsiblity and apologized for me and it felt right and good. I will try to learn for future to do this much more readily and to not be afraid to humble myself and apologize to heal wounds or keep peace, even if I know it wasn't me. It's not about being right. 70x7 - I have to remember that!! :) Nicole