Memo to Donald Trump: Here’s how to apologize

By Renee Garfinkel -

Monday, August 22, 2016

In their reporting of Donald Trump’s statement of regret, too many in the media seem to be following this advice from Robert Brault, who said, “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.”

Mr. Trump made no apology, addressed it to no one, for nothing that he did. Nor did he promise to avoid doing it in the future. His denial of responsibility remained intact — but just in case anyone might have been hurt by words he didn’t intend to be hurtful, he regretted that.

Check with your pastor, rabbi, imam or Friend of Bill — they will agree that there are several essential components to a meaningful apology — all absent from Mr. Trump’s remarks. The elements are designed to begin a process of change in both the injured person and the perpetrator of the injury. Here’s what it takes to apologize:

Name, specifically, what you did wrong, and say it directly to the injured party.

Recognize — both cognitively and emotionally — the suffering you caused and offer to compensate for it in some way, if possible.

Express your intention to change and never repeat the behavior in the future.

True apology is difficult. It takes courage and humility. Religions see it as the core of repentance and redemption, and therefore have developed systems to facilitate confession and personal change. In the secular world, steps 8 and 9 of Alcoholics’ Anonymous’ Twelve Step program bear directly on true apology. They advise listing all the people one has harmed, becoming willing to make amends, and then making direct amends to them (unless doing so would cause injury).

In their reporting of Donald Trump’s statement of regret, too many in the media seem to be following this advice from Robert Brault, who said, “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.”

Mr. Trump made no apology, addressed it to no one, for nothing that he did. Nor did he promise to avoid doing it in the future. His denial of responsibility remained intact — but just in case anyone might have been hurt by words he didn’t intend to be hurtful, he regretted that.

Check with your pastor, rabbi, imam or Friend of Bill — they will agree that there are several essential components to a meaningful apology — all absent from Mr. Trump’s remarks. The elements are designed to begin a process of change in both the injured person and the perpetrator of the injury. Here’s what it takes to apologize:

Name, specifically, what you did wrong, and say it directly to the injured party.

Recognize — both cognitively and emotionally — the suffering you caused and offer to compensate for it in some way, if possible.

Express your intention to change and never repeat the behavior in the future.

True apology is difficult. It takes courage and humility. Religions see it as the core of repentance and redemption, and therefore have developed systems to facilitate confession and personal change. In the secular world, steps 8 and 9 of Alcoholics’ Anonymous’ Twelve Step program bear directly on true apology. They advise listing all the people one has harmed, becoming willing to make amends, and then making direct amends to them (unless doing so would cause injury).

In a real apology, Mr. Trump would say, to each of the following “Mr. & Mrs. Khan/Senator McCain/Judge Curiel (plus the disabled reporter, women, Mexicans), I regret saying _______ to and about you. It was hurtful and wrong. I wish I hadn’t said it. Please forgive me. I will try never to say – or even think – such things again.”

Accompanied by a relevant charitable donation, that apology might be suspected of being sincere.

But let’s not kid ourselves. It’s tough to apologize; tough to admit one’s own meanness. It’s especially tough for politicians. The more narcissism, the harder it is to apologize.

So we may just have to content ourselves with this advice from Oscar Wilde:

Always forgive your enemies — Nothing annoys them so much.

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