The Healing Power of an Apology

All of us have felt the cleansing and restorative power of a simple apology. Whether offered or received, the words “I’m sorry” tend to make everyone involved feel better, dampening the flame of indignation and encouraging assuagement instead of outrage. When things go badly, someone — or many someones — is usually responsible, and acknowledging culpability (and perhaps explaining how mistakes were made) is often the first step in healing and growing and moving onward toward a better future. 

Powerful people seldom apologize. When they do, it’s news. The school teacher who abuses his students; the police captain who orders his officers to fire tear gas at a peaceful congregation; the scientist who suppresses unpleasant data — we despise their missteps, but we are more likely to forgive them and attribute them to human weakness when the miscreants acknowledge their humanity and ask to be forgiven for their mistakes.

Our nation, irretrievably indebted, polluted, and divided, could use an apology.

The United States of America would be a better country, a more vital and hopeful republic, if those who have lead us into our current morass would say to their fellow citizens: “I was wrong. I screwed up. I’m sorry.”

Given the bullying character demonstrated by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and the other administration loyalists over the past four years, not to mention the previous four, a White House mea culpa is about as likely as me being appointed to the board of Focus on the Family. But what of our fellow citizens? What of the millions of decent but badly misguided folks whose votes in 2004 provided Bush & Company the “political capital” that they vowed to spend (and subsequently overspend)? Wouldn’t America be a slightly better, demonstrably nicer, refreshingly different place if all the people whose money and votes re-elected these failed leaders in 2004 apologized to their fellow Americans, to the millions who didn’t sign up for four more years of wasted lives and bankrupted treasury? Wouldn’t the United States of America be a more united country if those who had an indirect hand in harming the populace stopped blaming spurious scapegoats — Muslims, gays, advocates of socialized medicine — and owned up to their errors in judgment? 

Instead, many millions of those same folks stubbornly refuse to acknowledge what seems obvious: America is in trouble, and not because we got terribly unlucky. We made choices, and they were bad ones.

I’m truly sorry about this. Isn’t anyone else?

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