The little boy had taken a bite of his friend’s apple without his consent. It had happened a few times but this time the teacher witnessed it. Both boys waited outside Mr. O’Shea’s office. Silence. Tension. Fear.
The door opened and they marched into the den of discipline. After a very quick investigation and an admission of guilt the teacher said ‘Say you’re sorry, Michael!’ Michael looked meekly at Paul and uttered a feeble ‘Sorry’. ‘Shake hands!’ ordered Mr. O’Shea and after the gesture of reconciliation they ran off into the playground. Is this a real and meaningful apology?
Many people grow up not knowing how to apologise. Children at this school are not learning how to apologise properly. Researcher Aaron Lazare maintains that an effective apology has four parts:
1.Acknowledges the offence
2.Offers an explanation for the offence
3.Expresses remorse or shame
4.Involves a reparation of some kind
In Michael’s case it would mean that he would acknowledge that he has done wrong (he should not eat other people’s food without their consent), offer a reason (that he was hungry and forgot his lunch), express his sorrow (not merely by uttering a word but through a sentence or two) and in terms of a reparation give Paul half of his chocolate bar.
As a psychologist I have met many people who are still waiting on a proper apology. I have also met people who are very poor at expressing remorse. Forgiveness comes easier if an apology has some meaning. Do you know how to say sorry?