The art of apologising and meaning it

accreditation
Morgan Freeman poses in the press room during the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles earlier this year.
Morgan Freeman poses in the press room during the 24th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards in Los Angeles earlier this year.

There are some unavoidable facts of life.

For example, it’s inevitable that not everyone you meet will like you. It’s also inescapable that you won’t get everything you want in life.

But most importantly, the one thing that’s bound to happen in everyone’s life is that you will make mistakes. Plenty of them.

Not just that, but you’ll make mistakes that will be so hurtful that not only do they require an apology (if one is asked for, since sometimes some people won’t even want one), but you will also be expected to take corrective steps and make reparations.

In the golden age where we are finally beginning to see more people – particularly high profile celebrities – being held accountable for their actions, it’s become clear that not only have we had enough of these folk getting away with their appalling behaviour, but what’s often worse is their behaviour when they apologise.

READ MORE: How to call out your problematic family and friends

Recently, Roseanne was in the news for a racist tweet which resulted in her being fired. Her show was pulled from ABC, and other networks pulled reruns of her show, which resulted not only in job losses for the other cast members and production team, but in loss of royalties for her.

A significant move that shows that people are becoming a little more serious about taking action, although we’re still side-eying ABC a bit, since the record of her tweets shows that she had a history of tweeting offensive content specifically aimed at hurting marginalised communities.

The actress has since apologised – but while her initial apology could have been considered genuine – it was marred by the fact that she kept on retweeting people who were defending her.

I think by this time many people were already rolling their eyes because it appeared that she was trying to take the spotlight off her own actions by retweeting (and thus validating) people who were defending her.

And then she went and made it so much worse by going the deflection route and blamed it on the medication – Ambien – she was using.

Unsurprisingly, was she dragged for days.

In fact, she screwed up so badly that even Twitter’s sassiest dictionaries and the very pharmaceutical company that manufactures the medication weighed in and threw major shade.

READ MORE: To the teenage boys making disgusting gestures at me in traffic

In another recent and still unfolding event, actor Morgan Freeman at first apologised for inappropriate behaviour after at least eight women came forward to CNN with allegations of sexual harassment and improper conduct, according to Mary Ann Georgantopoulos and David Mack from Buzzfeed.com.

The allegations include reports of behaviour ranging from inappropriate touching to being asked invasive questions about choice of underwear and unwelcome comments about women’s bodies.  

In his initial response, Freeman said that he apologises for anyone who felt uncomfortable and disrespected by his actions and claims that it wasn’t ever his intent to offend anyone or make them feel uneasy.

Which, while not ideal, would probably have been considered sincere if he didn’t follow it up with a statement that said harassment shouldn’t be confused or equated with “misplaced compliments and humour.”

Sigh.

He has also since threatened to sue CNN for the way in which they reported on the story, according to Refinery29.  His lawyer has since sent through a document in which they accuse the network of reporting on a story that is “a product of malicious intent and falsehood” according to Refinery29.

For me it’s become clear that in the age of reckoning and accountability, people seem to have lost their grasp on what it actually takes to apologise and mean it.  

High profile celebrities particularly seem to be bad at it – even with a PR machine behind them – because there’s an intrinsic belief that the power of their name and reputation protects them and can help them weather any storm that may come their way.

Spoiler alert: It’s not looking so great for Harvey Weinstein at the moment, is it?

For the last year, all the apologies have distinctively taken on the tone of “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission, ” bringing to light that once again, the concept of consent goes hand in hand with entitlement.

But, we’re no longer here for weak non-apology apologies. If you’re going to apologise – do it right, mean it and take steps to offer reparations.

On the local front, one celebrity who actually got it right in terms of sincerity and taking immediate reaction for offense caused, was DJ Dimplez.

Remember back in October last year when he released the cover art for his single What a Night? The cover caused outrage across social media channels, with many accusing him of promoting rape culture.

In hindsight the image (a drunk woman was depicted being carried by a sober man in a back alley) was gobsmackingly awful, and the fact that he didn't get the immediate connotation that could be construed from it, says a lot about how pervasive and insidious rape culture still is in South Africa.

However, to his credit, he issued an apology stating that it wasn't his intention to promote rape culture and took the immediate step of removing and reworking the art. The immediate action, coupled with his apology is everything that makes his apology so sincere to me.

READ MORE: Willow Smith bravely revealed a painful secret that affects too many SA teens and young adults

Here are quick and easy ways to get it right.

Approach someone when they feel ready to sit down and talk

Your apology shouldn’t be about you. Yes, you want to make amends, but being sincere means giving the hurt party the chance to have some time (if the person has asked for it) before they want to talk.

And if they don’t – you have to respect that the hurt you may have caused is too great for any reparations to take place. You hounding someone for forgiveness means that the apology has become about wanting to make yourself feel better.

Say exactly what you mean and mean what you say

Don’t ever be vague about your apology. A general “I’m sorry” may be well-intentioned, but it could also be seen as being flimsy. Take full responsibility and own up to your actions by putting effort into what you want to apologise for.

Apologies are hard – if they were easy we’d all be dropping them left, right and centre – and you will feel bad, but part of making amends means being willing to a) be awkward and uncomfortable and b) face up to your shame.

I am a firm believer that while it may be hard to show your shame to others, it also makes you that much more sincere. And anyone willing to accept your apology and genuinely forgive you, will want to move on and not throw your shame back in your face.

WATCH: Why and how to say sorry

Don’t expect instant forgiveness

On that note, and depending on how badly you’ve messed up, you shouldn’t expect instantaneous forgiveness.

Yes, you feel bad for your behaviour and you want absolution as soon as possible, but people often need time – and sometimes that can mean weeks or months before someone is either willing to talk to you or willing to forgive you.

Respect their time and space and if they never ever forgive you (some hurts are bigger than others), you have the knowledge that you’ve tried in addition to learning a valuable, if painful lesson.

Explain your actions without defending them (if one is required)

Trying to defend your actions means you’re making excuses. Making excuses takes away from the earnestness of your remorse.

So yes, provide someone who wants to know the why of your actions, with a reason, but don’t be defensive, don’t deflect and don’t use the opportunity to justify what you’ve done – like Roseanne and co, you’ll only land up with egg on your face.

Finally, forgive yourself (unless you’re not sorry about anything you’ve done)

Part of the saying sorry process not only involves expressing genuine remorse, but learning to forgive yourself for making a mistake that’s caused harm.

And even if you never receive someone’s forgiveness, forgive yourself anyway because you’ve gone out of your way to make amends and did all you could to fix the situation.

Sign up to W24’s newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our hot stories and giveaways.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Luxity has released a report rating luxury brands according to popularity in South Africa. Which brand is your favourite?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Results
Gucci
15% - 34 votes
Hermès
10% - 22 votes
Dolce & Gabbana
14% - 31 votes
Louis Vuitton
23% - 51 votes
Burberry
12% - 27 votes
Chanel
25% - 55 votes
Vote