The art of not apologizing

By Joy Carrico | Published Saturday, December 2, 2017

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You may have heard, powerful men are being accused of sexual harassment and misconduct and even assault and rape. In this wave of accusations against them, we’ve seen a lot of statements released and interviews given that are being characterized as apologies. But when I read these statements, there’s not a lot of apologizing going on. They seem to have the appearance of an apology without actually apologizing.

If you wish to look like you’re apologizing without actually doing so, you can learn a lot from these men’s statements.

First, start with a positive about yourself. It’s a good tactic to start off by making a statement that says “Hey, I’m a good guy.”

  • Charlie Rose: “In my 45 years of journalism, I have prided myself on being an advocate for the careers of the women with whom I have worked.”
  • Kevin Spacey: “I have a lot of respect and admiration for Anthony Rapp (his accuser) as an actor.”
  • From here, you can take several avenues. You can express shock, horror or sorrow at the tale of woe you’ve just heard.

    • Kevin Spacey: “I am beyond horrified to hear his story.”
  • Russell Simmons: “I have been informed with great anguish of Jenny Lumet’s recollection about our night together in 1991.”

You can claim either not to remember the incident in question at all, or say your memory of events differs from what is being said. It’s important to remember here not to discredit the accuser, as that will turn the audience against you. Just make a mild statement of “I don’t remember” or “I don’t remember it that way.”

  • Kevin Spacey: “I honestly do not remember the encounter.”
  • Charlie Rose: “I do not believe all of these allegations are accurate.”
  • Ben Affleck: “I don’t remember it, but I absolutely apologized for it. I certainly don’t think she’s lying or making it up.”
  • Matt Lauer: “Some of what is being said about me is untrue or mischaracterized, but there is enough truth in these stories to make me feel embarrassed and ashamed.”
  • Russell Simmons: “While her memory of that evening is very different from mine, it is now clear to me that her feelings of fear and intimidation are real.”
  • Al Franken: “While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.”

At this point, if you haven’t already done so, it would be a good idea to say you greatly admire the object of your apology, be as broad as possible.

  • Russell Simmons: “The voices of the voiceless, those who have been hurt or shamed, deserve and need to be heard.”
  • Al Franken: “I respect women. I don’t respect men who don’t.”
  • Harvey Weinstein: “I so respect all women and regret what happened.”

Next, you can show you have the ability to recognize that another human was harmed by your conduct (whether you remember it or not) and show compassion for their pain.

  • Kevin Spacey: “I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”
  • Charlie Rose: “All of us, me included, are coming to a newer and deeper recognition of the pain caused by conduct in the past.”
  • Harvey Weinstein: “I cannot be more remorseful about the people I hurt.”
  • Louis C.K.: “Now I’m aware of the extent of the impact of my actions.”
  • Matt Lauer: “There are no words to express my sorrow and regret for the pain I have caused others.”

At some point, painting yourself as a victim of circumstance or of the culture might be in order. Or if that won’t work for you, talking about how times are changing will suffice:

  • Harvey Weinstein: “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then.”
  • Russell Simmons: “This is a time of great transition.”

Offer up an un-apology. An un-apology is based on the if/then contingency. “If I hurt you, then I’m sorry.” It has the benefit of really looking like an apology when in fact the speaker owns no responsibility or even acknowledges that harm has occurred.

  • Kevin Spacey: “If I did behave as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.”
  • George H.W. Bush (or rather, his spokesman): “He [President Bush] most sincerely apologizes if his attempt at humor offended Ms. Lind.”
  • Ben Affleck: “If I was ever part of the problem, I want to change.”

You can also apologize for a lesser included offense, like insensitivity or failure to understand or plain drunkenness.

  • Kevin Spacey: See un-apology example above.
  • Charlie Rose: “I have behaved insensitively at times, and I accept responsibility for that.”
  • Russell Simmons: “While I have never been violent, I have been thoughtless and insensitive in some of my relationships.”

Keep the terms of your offense vague and always, always, always in the past. The more remote the past, the better. Make sure they understand that you are different now, but that your wiser, older self is willing to face the consequences of your past, more ignorant self.

  • Matt Lauer: “I realize the depth of the damage and disappointment I have left behind.”
  • Harvey Weinstein: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain.”
  • Charlie Rose: See example above about harming others.

Finally, end by stating you will use this as an opportunity to change and grow as a human. If you can include the words “soul searching,” even better.

  • Louis C.K.: “I will now step back and take a long time to listen.”
  • Matt Lauer: “Repairing the damage will take a lot of time and soul searching, and I’m committed to beginning that effort. It is now my full-time job.”
  • Kevin Spacey: “I want to deal with this honestly and openly, and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
  • Harvey Weinstein: Too many examples of awesome stuff he’s doing to quote here. In fact, most of his overlong statement is about the things he’s been doing and will do to be a better person.
  • Russell Simmons: “As for me, I will step aside and commit myself to continuing my personal growth, spiritual learning and above all to listening.”

A real apology takes courage. It takes admitting to events as accused, admitting you were wrong, expressing remorse for your behavior and promising not to do it again. Of all the “apologies” I reviewed, only one held these elements.

Louis C.K., although meeting some of the elements above, did indeed offer what seems to be a sincere apology. The one thing he did that no one else did was say, “These stories are true.”

But a real apology is scary and painful, so why would we want to take that road when we might skip some of the responsibility by appearing to fall on our swords and slip away into obscurity? We would only need to continue to lie to others and to ourselves. That shouldn’t be too hard.

Joy Carrico is a Messenger graphic artist. She offers up her most sincere apology for anything she might have done in the past, although she cannot recall it, if it caused anyone pain.

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