How Not To Apologize

In his final work, The Notebook, José Saramago recounts the church’s apology to Darwin on the occasion of his 200th birthday for the mistreatment he had endured because of his work on The Origin of Species. Even if Darwin came back from the dead to say, “I forgive you,” the cruel comments would still be there, Saramago wrote. And in the end, it was only the Anglican church that benefited from the increase in goodwill. 

Today’s Twitter-fare spotlighted a video of Pathum Kerner apologizing to Dr. Shafi for the contemptuous attack on the doctor’s reputation following the 2019 Easter bombing. Kerner wants to get involved in politics, but because the internet is eternal, people will dig through trash when it is most inconvenient. During the witch-hunt in 2019, he posted the following:

Today, he felt compelled to apologize – not because he had come up with the idea on his own, but because others had called him out on his hatred and racism.

Here is the apology:


You can either try to make amends or rub salt in the wound. This last type of apology is what Kerner offered. This is a perfect illustration of how NOT to apologize.

  1. He blames it to an external force that amplified prejudice, and hence he was a victim who fell into a trap created by others.
  2. He normalizes and minimizes racism, arguing that we all have a little bit of racism in us.
  3. He makes it sound acceptable to smear someone’s name with lies and help destroy a person’s career just because he’s feeling emotional after the bomb attack.

All in all, not the greatest characteristics we are looking for in a future leader. Sri Lanka is at a pivotal stage and people have to identify future leaders carefully.

Alice MacLachlan in her article, Apologizing for Evil, gives the below objections to the idea of an adequate apology:

Apologies aim to repair, and evil can never be repaired.

Good apologies express adequate remorse, and there is no degree of remorse adequate to address evil.

Good apologizers, by definition, are incapable of evildoing, and vice versa.

A good apology satisfies the victim, and victims of evil could never be satisfied (and may even be re-traumatized) by evildoer apologies.

A good apology is morally transformative, and evil is incapable of such transformation.

Alice MacLachlan

But then is there no hope for someone who truly wishes to apologize? Ms. MacLachlan talks about an ideal apology that should attempt to achieve one or more of the morally significant functions:

a. Truth telling: setting the record straight about the details of the wrongdoing, including the apologizer’s role and responsibility, thus affirming the victim’s own narrative;

b. Acknowledgement: naming and recognizing the addressee as a person worthy of respect who was negatively impacted by those wrongs, and accepting the addressee’s assessment of that impact;

c. Moral reaffirmation: sincerely disavowing those wrongs and the attitudes, motivations, dispositions, or policies that led to them, and expressively demonstrating that disavowal;

d. Commitment: establishing the intention to make some amends or enact some reform or repair to the harms;

e. Supplication: humbling oneself before the victim, renouncing any prior threat or claim to domination;

f. Request: the initiation of some process aimed at either forgiveness or reconciliation, or both (ideally only on the victim’s terms/at the victim’s pace);

g. Closure: on the other hand, enacting appropriate closure of the relationship by putting the conflict to rest in a satisfying way.

Alice MacLachlan

It is good for our soul to be wise and compassionate. It is too much heartache to be evil.

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