Apologies can be a simple human act, but one that has the potential to transform relationships in our individual lives but also between political communities. Good apologies meet some of our most basic psychological needs; they can erase humiliations, ease our guilt, remove our desires for revenge and rebuild trust. The very fact that many of us find it difficult to apologize is an indication of its potential power. In this short article, psychiatrist Aaron Lazare explains why apologies can play a major role in promoting a more peaceful world.
Aaron Lazare is a leading authority on the psychology of shame and humiliation. For many years, he was a professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and from 1991-2007 served as chancellor and dean of the school. His most recent book is On Apology (2004), a book filled with wonderful examples of apologies — between individuals and on behalf of nations — that serve to reveal the power of this simple human interaction.
Click here to read the entire article
You can also find online another article “Go Ahead, Say You’re Sorry” by Aaron Lazare that is ideal for student discussion. You can find it posted on Psychology Today’s site.
Some assignment ideas:
- The topic of apologies raises some interesting discussion questions:
What makes a good apology?
What psychological needs are met when you receive a satisfying apology? Have students think of an apology that they have received.
Why is it difficult to apologize meaningfully to someone we have injured?
- Students could also assess the value of an apology that appeared in the news recently, considering the motives behind it and its effectiveness. You can find some examples of recent apologies in On Apology or on the humiliationstudies.org website.
- Psychologist Floyd Webster Rudmin from the University of Tromsø in Norway has called for non-state actors to engage in an apologies project for actions that their country or ethnic group have committed against another identifiable group; for educators, he suggests that we ask our students to research such an event and then conceive of a way to express apology for the harm done. As he writes:
The list of transgressions is immense and without end, and probably no nation or people is without a reason to apologize….An apology seems like a win-win situation. Those who apologize come to understand the reality of their national history that is often sanitized from history books. An apology is verbal and thus does not require huge resources. Individual activists and small groups can successfully apologize. If an apology is strongly opposed, then the opponents must enter into a debate about history, and must reveal motives, both past motives and current motives. An apology is a human bond, since it entails sympathy with someone else, who before the apology was treated as non-existent, with non-existent suffering.