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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8 Responses to Demanding the Apology

  1. Mikey

    I DO understand what your'e trying to say but I don't see any recommendation to solve this issue.

    Apology delayed is apology denied, :-o

  2. Mikey

    No apology, no royal commissions, forget about both?

    so, what can we do. STFU? Any suggestion?

    Susah la loyar mau cari makan. Sabo betul.

  3. Fahri,

    "… do you realize how nauseatingly reactionary the participants behave? It’s the same script over and over again. I think you offended me and so I demand that you apologize for it. Has anybody stopped to ask whether a demanded apology is worth anything? …

    Let me give you another example. Royal Commissions. These days everybody asks for one. …. Teacher can I go to the toilet? Royal Commission! Nobody is asking whether a Royal Commission is worth anything. …

    That’s why I have said earlier, forget Royal Commissions and even inquests. They don’t do anything. Just keep pressing for the police to be charged with the actual offence i.e. murder, manslaughter, etc."

    I, like, totally agree with the above bro.

  4. Abdul Haleem

    Fahri. I truly hope you'll not serve me with law suit. I dont mean to offend you with the brekafast trick. My comment was not more than support for your piece. What we are witnessing day in day out is the same old tricks. Which I define as flare. Mere flare. Demanding apologies,royal commisions,lodging tons of police reports like SMS votes for Akademi Fantasia(for lame reasons like insulting the religion,ruler, my dog died and what not). "That is if you want to actual do something meaningful as opposed to merely playing politics." As you wrote – this is what I meant by we need substance. Something worth an effort, time, money to dispense. I wonder what **** these super hero alike NGO's shouting about KETUANAN MELAYU, KEDAULATAN RAJA MELAYU and etc. Can someone tell what kind of circus going on in Kelantan Royal Palace? For God Sake we hold ransom a Ruler. Who need medical attention. The usual lame statement will be it is a family matter. What garbage? Anyway – Fahri, lets continue this over breakfast? And I am not buying cause it may offend you or worse MACC will be behind our ***.

  5. I foresee another demand: "Fahri Azzat didesak meminta maaf secara terbuka kepada PERKASA kerana kenyataan beliau itu seolah-olah memperlekehkan dan mempersendakan usaha PERKASA."

    It's headman will point his finger and say, "Fahri, don't talk sh**!"

  6. Unintentional or slip of the tongue mistake are often resolved with an apology with both sides accepting it.

    Intentional or knowing in one's heart that what is uttered can really hurt someone but willing to apologised on demand is worthless.

    Poll: What Is Your Opinion Of Umno's Constant Threat Of Another May 13?"

  7. Abdul Haleem

    Fahri. I dont know if you wrote this piece specific to an incident recently or someone who bought you breakfast demand you to write this. The fact is we are living in society who wants flare than substance. Its OK to shout and burn anything. After all they will be on Buletin Utama. I wonder why the same entity who represent the major ethnic of this nation (as they claim) not doing anything for KEDAULATAN SULTAN KELANTAN, BUKIT BINTANG KIDS, and many other issues. As long as we continue to give attention to these idiots we will be continously fed with this sort of garbage.

    • Haleem, I am not quite sure what your response is having read your comment and do not know what you mean when you suggest that I wrote this at the behest of someone who brought me breakfast. Let me assure you that whatever I write in my name is entirely mine and upon my own machinations. I am not one of those who writes for others who wish to remain anonymous, and certainly not for mere breakfast!

      What inspired this piece is our extremely superficial and malicious political environment. So often do we have to read about someone or other causing offence to some other person or organization. And do you realize how nauseatingly reactionary the participants behave? It's the same script over and over again. I think you offended me and so I demand that you apologize for it. Has anybody stopped to ask whether a demanded apology is worth anything? Nope. Nobody's thinking in the political arena here – everybody's reacting. They just ask for it because that's what everybody seems to be doing – so it must be right.

      Let me give you another example. Royal Commissions. These days everybody asks for one. Death in custody? Royal Commission! Police murdering suspects? Royal Commission! Teacher can I go to the toilet? Royal Commission! Nobody is asking whether a Royal Commission is worth anything. Not the opposition, not the lawyers, not the family members. Nobody cares that all our Royal Commissions have been an utter complete waste of time, money and effort. Nothing comes out of it. The last two – VK Lingam video clip and the IPCMC – can be said to be utter shams. For the former, despite the recommendations, Attorney General decides there's no case and for the latter, the present Home Ministry said they will not bother with their recommendations (125 in all) and will come up with their own.

      So why ask for one?

      Because those calling for it are really not looking for a resolution or closure. They just want a stick to beat the other side/government on the head with. That's all. They want the Royal Commission or an apology so they can play up their victim hood and arrogate the moral high ground hoping that if they keep at it, it would be a political victory against the other side. If it were as harmless at that I wouldn't mind. What these people don't seem to understand is that by making such a demand they are putting themselves in a worse off position.

      Why? First, they are asking for something no one wants to give or is utterly worthless. In both circumstances to ask for that is very pathetic. Secondly, and more importantly, by making that demand, they are giving valuable political capital to the government, or rather the political parties behind it. Valuable because now the ball is in their court and they can kill two birds with one stone – kill off the controversy by not carrying through the recommendations and appearing magnanimous for acceding to the victim's request for one. What's more it gives the government more time to ready post-Commission action to completely subdue the controversy. If the victim then complains that the Royal Commission was a waste of time, their reply would be you got what you asked for. And if you complain some more, you just may start appearing unreasonable or just tedious. That's why I have said earlier, forget Royal Commissions and even inquests. They don't do anything. Just keep pressing for the police to be charged with the actual offence i.e. murder, manslaughter, etc.

      So, in sum, my view is that the demanded apology/Royal Commission is a red herring and we would do well not to waste our time with such issues in future. That is if you want to actual do something meaningful as opposed to merely playing politics.