Perhaps you heard the latest apology from Sean Spicer. The White House press secretary, was forced to make amends last week for his latest ‘woops’ moment when he was criticized for excusing Hitler.
He is certainly not the only public figure to find himself in this position. In today’s social media world, the faux pas of our leaders are outed fairly regularly.
Apologies are necessary in society. They are the lubricant in relationships and workplaces. We need them to smooth out the rough places. We all make mistakes and when we do, we need to own up.
In Canada, we are ahead of the game. We are a nation of apologizers. Here, apologies aren’t cheap, they’re free and frequent. We say sorry for each little near mishap as we navigate crowds. We continue to be the polite nation, apologizing for things that often need no apology. It’s part of our charm. Our boy, Justin Bieber captured this reality in his pop song, “Sorry.”
People in public office and others in positions of trust have a greater responsibility to maintain that trust. When they mess up, we need to know their apologies aren’t just publicity stunts and that they’re more than just words. Celebrities increasingly find themselves in the same position.
Sometimes apology analysts get involved. They try to determine which apologies are sincere and genuine and which are bogus, simple play-acting, posturing for the public, just words.
If only they could intervene and offer their insights when the cheapest apologies are spoken. Cheap apologies are the standard currency of batterers in situations of domestic violence. The battering cycle has a tension building phase, an acute battering episode and a honeymoon phase.
During the tension building phase, the spouse (and any children) instinctively walk on eggshells, trying not to trigger a battering episode. But of course, they cannot prevent it. It is bound to happen. After the episode, the batterer typically feels ashamed for the outbreak and apologizes, sometimes with tears for his or her behaviour.
These are ultimately cheap apologies because they do not lead to any change in behaviour. They are simply words calculated to restore the trust of the victim. The victim wants to believe. How dare they not believe the abuser has changed? And so the cycle continues.
These apologies are both cheap and very costly. Lives are at risk. Domestic violence doesn’t typically de-escalate, it builds, it gets worse. Victims who decide to end the relationship and leave are especially at risk.
Cycles of abuse are identifiable. Saskatchewan has a big problem with domestic violence. We need to help young girls and boys understand the cycle and what fuels it. We need to educate so young men and women can break generational patterns and head into relationships with eyes wide open.
I’m sorry to have to say this, but, beware the cheap apology.