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What makes a good apology.


Question & Answer

Q: By A Reader
I was really inspired by Rep. Alexia Ocasio-Cortez’s response to the insults of Rep. Ted Yoho, but I was equally disappointed by Yoho’s pseudo-apology. What makes a good apology?

A: By Brian D. McLaren
Dear Reader,

First, for those who haven’t seen or read AOC’s eloquent, firm, and gracious response, you can find it here.  And if you haven’t seen Rep. Yoho’s apology, you can find it here.

Rep. Yoho’s apology really is a case study in what not to do, and I winced when I saw it, remembering times I’ve made the same tired old mistakes.

He begins by touting his virtue: “I am a man of my word.” He avoids addressing Rep. Ocasio-Cortez directly, thereby increasing the dehumanization. Instead he says, perfunctorily and with no specificity, “I arise to apologize…” He minimizes the gravity of his offense, as if “abrupt manner” was the offense, and as if the offense would not have been as grave if he had called her a “disgusting f*cking b*tch” less abruptly. Then he mentions being married with two daughters and “being very cognizant of my language,” a common ploy used by men of weak character to hide behind the women in their families. He admits to “offensive language” but minimizes it by saying these words “were attributed to me by the press,” as if the whole problem is the press’s fault, and then further exonerates himself by saying his words “were never spoken to my colleagues,” and apologizes for those who misconstrued them that way — a clever but obvious dodge of the real issue, not to mention a classic act of blame-shifting.

He then recalls being on food stamps when he was young, and then becomes teary in empathy for… himself! The final insult of his non-apology comes when he claims the moral high ground: “I cannot apologize for my passion, or for loving my God, my family, and my country.” Having hid behind women and poverty, he then hides behind religion, family, and the flag to defend himself. It was a truly reprehensible performance that reflects mistakes many of us have made in apologizing authentically.

The best guidelines I’ve ever encountered for a legitimate apology come from V (formerly known as Eve Ensler), author of The Vagina Monologues. She recommends a four-step process for apology in her powerful book The Apology and in her TED talk, “The Profound Power of an Authentic Apology”:

1.     Say what, in detail, you did.

2.    Tell the story of what made you capable of doing what you did, not as an excuse, but as an explanation. In so doing, you show that you have done some inner work of reflection so you can address the deeper roots of your action, which makes you less likely to repeat it in the future.

3.    Feel what your victim felt.

4.    Take responsibility and make amends.

So, I humbly offer this fix for Rep. Yoho, inserting numbers for the different parts of the apology, in thanks to V:

I need to publicly apology to this House, and especially to my esteemed colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 1) I recently called Rep. Ocasio-Cortez a filthy and dehumanizing name. There is no excuse for my action. Then, when caught, I denied it, another inexcusable failure of character. 2) I have examined myself about how I came to this place. I realize that I am an arrogant man and when I encounter a strong and intelligent woman who disagrees with me or my ideology, I want to bring her down in some way. I have never admitted or adequately addressed this toxic masculinity in myself. Now I must. 3) I can only imagine how many other arrogant and childish men my gifted colleague has had to face to get to where she is today, and I feel deep regret about adding to her pain, and the pain of other women. In addition, I regret setting a terrible example for other men, and I must change going forward. 4) I take full responsibility for my actions, and I would like to ask my colleague what it will take to make appropriate amends so I can grow as a human being and a member of Congress, and so that together, we can work for a better Congress, a better country, and a better world. I failed my colleague, this Congress, and my responsibility as a leader to set a positive example, and I am sorry.

We can only imagine what a difference an apology like this could have made. May we all have the courage and wisdom to apologize authentically the next time we do wrong and cause someone harm.

~ Brian D. McLaren

About the Author
Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. He is a passionate advocate for “a new kind of Christianity” – just, generous, and working with people of all faiths for the common good. A leader in the Convergence Network he also works closely with the Center for Progressive Renewal/Convergence, the Wild Goose Festival and the Fair Food Program‘s Faith Working Group. His most recent joint project is an illustrated children’s book (for all ages) called Cory and the Seventh Story. Other recent books include: The Great Spiritual MigrationWe Make the Road by Walking, and Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? (Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World).

***This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

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