“An insincere apology can often do more damage than no apology at all.”
- Elizabeth Scott
I’ve had a lot of experience with apologies, both giving them and receiving them. I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of an authentic apology and I also know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a disingenuous apology. Because I understand the impact of insincerity in the context of an apology, I strive to make sure that my apologies are sincere.
When we initially make a mistake or cause harm to another person, we might not be fully cognizant of the depth of the harm we’ve caused. I can acknowledge that I’ve certainly had situations where I inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings or did something carelessly where I wasn’t aware how the other person felt. I can remember times when someone whose feelings I had hurt shared their experience with me, and where I initially felt as though they were overreacting or that what I had done was not that big of a deal.
I am grateful that I have come to learn and appreciate over time that when I have harmed someone, the apology is not about me. It doesn’t matter if I agreed that the person had the right to have hurt feelings. Nor does it matter whether I intended to hurt their feelings. What matters is acknowledging the harm that I caused and validating the aggrieved party’s experience. Moving forward, I can demonstrate my sincerity by taking action to not engage in the harmful conduct again.
This month’s World Changer of the Month is Willa Bruce. In 1912, Mrs. Bruce along with her husband established Bruce’s Beach, a safe haven for Black beachgoers in Manhattan Beach, California. Racial discrimination ultimately drove the city’s seizure of the land through the use of eminent domain in 1924.
Publicly, the local government stated that the land was needed to build a park, however, the city had just recently built a park near the location of Bruce’s Beach. Moreover, the park was not built until approximately 1960, over 30 years after the eminent domain proceedings had concluded.
It was not until this year, nearly 100 years after the Bruce family was divested of their property, that local and state officials took action to rectify the past injustice done to the Bruce family and returned the land to the Bruce family descendants. This action reflects contrition and a sincere desire to do better moving forward.
It takes integrity and courage to acknowledge the truth and take steps to rectify the past, especially when it is embarrassing, bureaucratically difficult and inconvenient to do so. Not only does acknowledgement of past harm create a path forward for healing, reconciliation and progress, but in outwardly recognizing the errors of the past, we guard against repeating them in the future.