There are so many situations that would be improved if only people knew how to apologize. A good apology isn’t really that hard to make. When the author known as Lemony Snicket recently made a strange comment at the National Book Awards after Jacqueline Woodson won in the young adult category for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, he apologized as if he meant it. He characterized his comment as “monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist.” He said he shouldn’t have said it, he realized he shouldn’t have said it, and he’s sorry he said it. And he recognized that his words didn’t just hurt Woodson.
Then, noting that he made this remark under a circumstance where what he was supposed to be doing was help shine a light on great books, he donated $10,000 to a campaign for diversity in publishing, and asked everyone else to donate, noting that for the next 24 hours he would match all donations received up to 100,000.
None of which makes is comment retroactively all right, but because he didn’t go with the typical, “if people were offended, I apologize,” or “my comments were misunderstood,” or “anyone who knows me in daily life knows this isn’t the kind of person I am.”
When people go one of those routes, they aren’t apologizing, they’re making excuses and trying to get out of trouble. They don’t really believe that what they said or did was wrong. And they don’t believe that anyone who is offended is “legitimately” hurt.
It isn’t fun to admit that you’re wrong. Most of us are not socialized to admit that we are wrong about something. We’re taught that being wrong is bad—not just a mistake, but that there must be something seriously wrong with us if we are wrong.