A Sincere Apology Fosters Forgiveness, but People Still Find It Hard to Say 'I'm Sorry'

Article excerpt

Byline: Hilary Shenfeld Daily Herald Staff Writer

The three sweetest words used to be "I love you."

Nowadays, the three words setting hearts aflutter are "I am sorry." Not as cuddly, perhaps, but just as meaningful.

President Clinton has discovered the power of these words. Once he figured out that denying his sexual involvement with Monica Lewinsky was getting him into trouble instead of out of it, he started apologizing for his indiscretion.

And apologizing and apologizing.

The sincerity of the president's apologies may be called into question, but their effectiveness is clear - polls show that the American people are more willing to forgive him now that he has said "I'm sorry."

So if apologizing helps lubricate sticky situations, why are people still loathe to do it?

"Pride clearly plays a role," said Rabbi Eliezer Diamond, a professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the New York university that ordains conservative rabbis. "It's a blow to one's sense of ego to say 'I goofed.' "

Fear of reproach also keeps people from apologizing, said Chuck Lynch, an ordained Baptist minister in Kansas City, Mo., and author of "I Should Forgive, But ..."

"The truth is, when you are honest and admit an honest mistake, (others) usually admire you for it," he said. "The consequence is rarely as great as was feared."

How to apologize

As with most things, there's a right way and wrong way to apologize. "I'm sorry for spilling grape juice on your carpet, but it's your fault for giving me something to drink," is an example of an apology that clearly needs a little work.

The best apologies are sincere, and sincerity is hard to fake. That's why laying down rules for delivering a sincere apology doesn't make much sense.

However, effective mea culpas usually follow a pattern.

First, consider the timing. "If I just did something to make you hopping mad, I can't turn around one second later and say I'm sorry," Diamond said. …