How About an Apology?

Lately I’ve been observing the spread of a disease. No, not swine flu. I mean a condition that I call apology aversion. Its distinctive symptom is an apparently permanent inability to speak the words “I’m sorry” and mean them.

Years ago a wildly popular novel about True Love at Harvard told the world that being in love means never having to say you’re sorry. If that were so — and it emphatically isn’t — it would point to a remarkable conclusion. Considering how few people these days ever express honest regret for their misdeeds and mistakes, you’ve got to figure that the world has been inundated by a tidal wave of love.

If only it were so!

Often enough, of course, people do say they’re sorry. But time and again they do that without really meaning it. The clumsy oaf who stomps on your foot and mumbles “Sorry” as he stumbles off to cripple someone else. The charming lady who cheerfully cuts you off in traffic while flashing you a beatific smile of regret. The expressions of sorrow in these and other situations are roughly equivalent to “Tough luck, fella.”

This is apology aversion in everyday life. Refusal to admit mistakes in matters of public significance is more sinister and equally common.

Consider all those journalists and think tank talking heads who helped sell America on the need for the war in Iraq and then, without so much as a word of apology, turned on George Bush for getting it wrong. Think of all those members of Congress — of both parties — who were looking the other way while the economic bubble expanded and now are busy demagoguing the bubble’s collapse at somebody else’s expense. And on and on and on.

In a special way these days I’m reminded of those Catholic sources — periodicals like the National Catholic Reporter and Commonweal as well as some individuals claiming special wisdom — who raised their voices often and loudly last year to declare that even if Barack Obama and the Catholic Church didn’t quite see eye-to-eye on everything, the candidate was moderate man, committed to reducing the frequency of abortions and to much else congenial to the Church.

Having loaded up his administration with veteran pro-abortion activists, however, Mr. Obama so far has reinstituted funding for groups that promote and perform abortion overseas, significantly expanded funding for stem cell research that involves killing human embryos, and set the wheels in motion to overturn a Bush policy extending conscience protection to hospitals and medical personnel who object to abortion.

A little down the line, Obama’s choice to succeed Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court will almost certainly be a liberal pro-choicer, while the question about his health care reform isn’t not whether but how far he and congressional Democrats will go in attempting to mandate abortion coverage.

Nor is there much encouragement in the president’s disclosure that a White House task force is looking into ways to cut the number of abortions. The answer almost certainly will be more sex education and contraception — of which we have plenty now — plus swift enactment of Obama’s domestic program.

Dialogue? So far as is known, Mr. Obama has had one half-hour meeting with anybody qualified to speak for the Catholic Church — the president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal George of Chicago. Even admirers concede the administration is tone-deaf on Catholic concerns.

So are Catholics who said Obama and the Church would have a lot in common saying they’re sorry? No way. Apology aversion won’t allow that.

Russell Shaw


Russell Shaw is a freelance writer from Washington, D.C. You can email him at

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  • Cooky642

    “If only it were so!”

    I’ve learned over the years that saying I’m sorry–with the sincere intent not to re-commit whatever error was involved–is a whole lot easier than defending an untenable position. The writers of the movie were SO wrong! Love is saying you’re sorry every time it’s needed, and meaning it.

    Sorta like confession, don’t you think?

  • Saying you are sorry is important but I believe we must go further than a simple “I’m Sorry.” We need to include, “Please forgive me,” as we ask our Lord to forgive us. Being married for 46 years I have had to ask my wife’s forgiveness more than I would like to admit. For without the asking for forgiveness there cannot be true healing.

    Sorta like confession, don’t you think?

  • Bruce Roeder

    I don’t even remember where I picked this up, but I have taught my children there are four parts to this, which they must say — out loud:

    1. “I made a mistake.” (If you don’t recognize you made a mistake, you can’t fix it.)

    2. “I’m sorry.” (Even when you recognize you’ve missed the mark, you have to WANT to hit the mark.)

    3. “Please forgive me.” (Then, you have to make yourself vulnerable to allow the other person to respond and restore the relationship which has been damaged.)

    4. “I’ll try to do better in the future.” (Finally, you have to change direction and go forward in an improved, Christ-like way.

    Most of us are far, far from this model; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice it.

  • They are not sorry that is why they will never say it or get to even the first of Bruce’s Four Statements. They are happy; they wanted this.

  • Cooky642

    Deacon Don, thank you for a profound response to my post. I’ve been married (yes, to the same man!) for a year longer than you, and it’s true that an I’m-sorry without a please-forgive-me doesn’t quite get the band-aid to stick. I was trying to get my thought across in “shorthand”: thank you for enlarging it.

    Bruce, I agree that your 4 parts are necessary to instructing children in the art of asking for and giving forgiveness. However, it seems to me that we should “put away childish things” and have enough maturity to make “I’m sorry” mean all the rest. That’s why I tried to relate it to confession. A confession is certainly not a good one (is it even valid?) if you don’t have the intention of doing things differently/better next time. I wish I had been raised by parents who know what you know and cared enough to share it.