We live in a culture of apology. As young children, we are taught to apologize when we are wrong. This teaches us empathy (the apology) and compassion (the forgiveness). It also helps us shape an independent self-identity as we accept responsibility for our own actions. An apology can take us to the next level in life as it permits us to move forward, without the burden of the past. An apology is behaviour which is best learned by example. We all do it. Our biblical prophets also did it: Jacob apologized to Esau for taking his birthright.
There are also literary apologies. While we apologize to acknowledge our misdeeds, for which we seek forgiveness, and as an expression of regret, the literary apology is for a much different purpose. Plato's Apology, which famously describes Socrates defence of his teachings during his trial for sedition, is a persuasive justification and not a true apology. The only regret shown by Socrates is over the tribunal's inability to understand.
Some apologies are constructed for a particular outcome. Political apologies are an attempt to resuscitate bad publicity. Sometimes those apologies work as in the instance of President Bill Clinton's apology over his sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. Soon after his public apology, he was re-elected for a second term. John Edward's apology did not have the same effect.
In law, apologies are crucial. Criminal law sentencing principles encourage, and essentially reward, apologies. A remorseful acceptance of responsibility by the accused is a mitigating factor in sentence. Further, an accused is given a statutory opportunity to apologize through s. 726 of the Criminal Code. The concept of restorative justice presupposes an apology. Even in the civil context, an apology can reduce damages and sometimes, even thwart a law suit as in the case of slander or defamation. Recent laws, such as the Ontario Apology Act, encourage apologies by restricting such an incriminatory admission from use in subsequent proceedings.
It seems, therefore, that it never hurts to say sorry as we encourage others to open up, take responsibility, and seek forgiveness. But sometimes, saying sorry is not enough or deemed not required. In tomorrow's post, I will explore this concept in the context of government apologies.