Oh, the fickle public. We hate Hollywood types for their plastic qualities and then we mock them for any portrayal of sincerity. That’s my perception when I read the comments after every public apology and plea made by singer, Robin Thicke, as he works to win the forgiveness of his long time love and wife, Paula Patton. From a mainstream magazine questioning whether he is using her (the situation) to promote his new album to the laugh worthy tweet describing his attempts as a “tyrannical campaign” to creep out the public while working to gain Paula’s affections, we are a culture with our arms folded, waiting on an apology then thumbing our noses at anyone who dares to issue one.
What more can a man do? If the shoe was on the other foot and Paula was publicly—and repeatedly—apologizing to Robin, would we make her fodder for ridicule or a sympathetic figure? There is undoubtedly a masculine perspective of weakness being applied to Robin for his shameless pursuit of forgiveness and redemption, so much so, that it makes me question whether men understand the maximum effort necessary to repair things when guilty of hurting their partner. To be fair, how many people, male or female, understand the art of apologizing?
Randy Pausch, acclaimed Carnegie Mellon professor and author was dying of pancreatic cancer, when he delivered his famous speech turned book, The Last Lecture, which gave a listing of great advice based on simple life lessons. The lesson that I most readily identified with was his anatomy of an apology: “Be willing to apologize. Proper apologies have three parts: 1) what I did was wrong. 2) I’m sorry that I hurt you. 3) How do I make it better?”
Robin’s attempts have fallen in line with the above advice but in many ways took them a step further. In my opinion, if you want forgiveness, you should apologize like Robin Thicke. Following up on the three parts suggested, I break them down the following way:
Apologize, Admit/Acknowledge, Accept, Agree
Apologize in specific terms. For most serious relationship offenses, I’m sorry, isn’t enough. It needs to be followed with WHY. I was once given a two word apology, followed with “you already know what I did” when I wanted to further discuss it, needless to say that didn’t help me feel better about the situation nor was I in the mood for forgiveness after. If you keep in mind that an apology is less about you than the recipient, you can’t go wrong. Whether your boyfriend or your favorite gal pal, a real apology is complete and thoughtful. “I’m sorry that I spilled red wine on your favorite shirt” has a better delivery than a quick, “I’m sorry”. And…
Admit that you are wrong. I know what you’re thinking: if you’re saying sorry you must be admitting to wrongdoing. Apologies are often ruined by leaving out this simple action. A sincere apology should be more than a “good enough” moment, it’s fair to couple I’m sorry for what I did with I know that it was wrong/hurtful, etc.
Accept responsibility for your actions without qualification. Apologies that include “but” don’t fit the bill of “real”. An apology is typically being issued due to a breakdown of trust, padding it with excuses isn’t trustworthy. Humility goes a long way in this step.
Agree to the terms laid out by the other party. This is the part that Randy Pausch referenced as, “how can I make it right?” Be willing to WORK FOR THE FORGIVENESS THAT YOU ARE REQUESTING. We often, unwittingly, say “I’m sorry” with the selfish and irrational expectation that it will be immediately accepted AND forgiven. When our expectations aren’t met we find ourselves creating a new argument or compounding the situation without resolution. Just like the apology isn’t about you, neither are the terms of acceptance.
Sincerity isn’t demonstrated when you issue the apology and attempt to create the terms of forgiveness. Whatever your friend or partner expects (within reason) should be acceptable. In turn, if you’re involved in the right relationships you should trust that the recipient won’t make it unnecessarily hard and that they will move forward in the relationship when the expectations are met. Bottom line, every error should be corrected with steps to change the behavior.
While the public continues to judge Robin Thicke harshly, I give him credit for understanding the rules of engagement when it comes to apologizing. Whether Paula grants him forgiveness and the relationship is patched up remains to be seen, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could all experience a sincere, “I’m sorry”, rather than the meaningless “my bad” that we’ve become accustomed to.