Demanding the Apology

Considering why demanding an apology is a waste of time, disadvantageous and distracting to both the offender and the offended.

Every now and then we read or hear of this person or that organisation demanding an apology from someone or some other organisation. If you told me that on this planet someone was demanding an apology from someone else every 30 seconds, I am likely to believe you, especially if you bought my breakfast that morning.

The demand often sounds something like this:

You hurt my feeling. I is demand that you apologise for hurt my feeling. Help. Help. Make him say sorry” or some equally pathetic whine along those lines.

Those that make such demands fail to appreciate that an apology only given upon demand is worthless.

An apology is qualitatively similar to charity. They share two very important features: voluntariness and sincerity.

Let us consider this first.

To be charitable, in the truest sense of the word, is to give something (money, time or effort) voluntarily without hope or expectation of a quid pro quo. This facet of voluntariness suggests that the effort or finance of charity is a result of a person inherent desire to do so. It is sincere. It is not due to some extrinsic factor or influence.

You would agree that putting a gun to someone’s head with the promise of pulling the trigger if they do not contribute is not charitable. It is criminal. Neither is emotionally blackmailing or doing anything to prompt, demand or insist to act charitably considered true charity. Charity loses its special quality and transforms to mere contribution when there is coercion. Contribution is only a component of charity. It is not definitive.

Similarly in apology, the only worthwhile kind is the ones that are given freely and sincerely. The only apology worth accepting is the kind that is wrought from the actual (as opposed to imagined) remorse a person feels internally to the point that he needs to manifest that remorse externally as an apology. That remorse expressed is being offered in exchange for the offence caused earlier. This remorsefulness may arise but it cannot be expected and so demanded.

Which is a bit like love, which may explain why an apology possess some of its elements, albeit fragmented. You cannot force remorsefulness any more than you can force love.

What is more a true apology is one without expectation of redemption. The key feature of an apology is not simply in the voluntariness and sincerity but it has to be driven by the internal remorse that is felt, not simply the outward show of apology.

We can feel the presence of that internal remorsefulness from the manner in which an apology is expressed even if we cannot explain all of it. This may explain why sometimes even when an apology is offered we may not feel it is heartfelt or sincere. I think our heuristic tendencies determines this most of the time.

And this is why I think an apology demanded is worthless. That an apology is not volunteered indicates a lack of internal remorse on the part of the offender. To demand that an apology is to miss the point completely. Such a demand does not change the offender’s personal conviction or provoke internal remorse. It will instead provoke resentment on the offender’s part because he has not conceded or admitted his “offence” to himself yet. How then can you expect him to concede it to others?

What the demanded apology does is skew the focus of attention from the real dispute/offence to discussion on the apology. Should it be given? Is the apology sincere enough? It was not given soon enough, etc. So instead of focusing on the issue itself, the attention is wasted on the meaningless discussion on the apology which does not serve any purpose if there is no internal remorse.

The apology when demanded also transforms the relationship between offender and offended to one of righteousness over the issue. It may make the position more intractable because the offender may now feel that giving an apology after a demand is made would make them appear “wrong” or the “improper party.” The apology then masks the hidden subtext of: “I am right you are wrong.” So demanding an apology may make wanting to give one even more difficult because it forces consideration of other different and more perception related issues.

This is why I would discourage demanding apologies. Pre-empting an apology with a demand may jeopardise the possibility of a sincere and voluntarily given apology. And more importantly, people need time to think over, re-consider, allow the possibility of error and finally summon the courage to accept and then admit their error. The process of admitting one’s self wrong is not always a quick and simple one.

So the time and space given for an apology to be forthcoming should be borne in mind if at all a demand has to be made.

But really, why bother expecting and demanding one when you would be far more happier or content with an apology that is not expected and genuinely offered? An apology given upon demand is to never have apologized at all.

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Fahri Azzat practices the dark arts of the law. Although he enjoys writing and reading, he doesn't enjoy writing his own little biographies of himself. Like this one. He wished somebody else would do it for him. He has little taste in writing about himself in third person. He feels weird doing it. But the part he finds most tedious is having to pad up the lack of his accomplishments, or share some interesting facts about his rather uneventful life, as if there were some who found that oh-so-interesting; as if he were some famous person, like Michael Jackson. When he writes these biographies, the thought, 'Wei, Jangan Perasaan- ah!' lights up in his head. So he usually just lists what he got involved with, positions he held and blah, blah. But this time. Right here. Right this very moment. Uhuh. This one. This one right here. He's finally telling it like it is.

Posted on 7 May 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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