Sunday, January 17, 2010

Methodists tell us about the Ethics of saying 'I'm Sorry'--the apology both public and private...

by Peter Menkin

In a report on ethics of apology, United Methodist News Service (UMNS) Linda Green examines sincerity and authenticity, two ingredients lacking in our American sense of public apology. Public apology consists of thin, self-serving, and manipulative purposes according to three noted Methodist ethicists.

“I fear that apologies have become techniques for diminishing the consequences of behaviors that are destructive and damaging,” said Bishop Kenneth Carder, professor of the practice of Christian ministry at United Methodist-related Duke Divinity School.

Methodist writer Linda Green notes:

Recent apologies in the news came from Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez, who apologized for using steroids; Olympic gold-medalist swimmer Michael Phelps, who apologized for smoking marijuana; The New York Post, which apologized for but defended a cartoon with racist images; and former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, who apologized for not paying taxes that he owed.

“When apologies are deeply rooted in confession, contrition, a recognition of the damage that one has done and one’s implication in the hurt of others-- in the context of genuine repentance and confession with a goal of restoration of integrity, restoration of relationships and restitution for damage done, then apologies have depth,” Carder declared.

Clearly, Methodists do not find apology of the kind prevalent today by public official’s confessional in any manner, offering remorse or contrition, and essentially a means of manipulating opinion or engaging in media spin. People in the United States and especially public figures have either forgotten, given up, or willingly ignored what is known as repentance in their apology. They make no statement of making restitution or of change in their ways, Methodist ethicists proclaim.

“The apologies we hear today are mea culpa,” said the Rev. Katie Cannon. “Repentance means being willing to make restitution or reparation and a sacrifice has to be offered and some good faith act needs to follow so that it is not cheap or an action that has no substance behind it.” Cannon is professor of Christian social ethics at Union Theological Seminary-Presbyterian School of Christian Education, Richmond, Va.

Writer green says in her UMNS article:

The rash of recent apologies has resulted in cynicism and skepticism, leaving the public to wonder if they are apologizing for their conduct or because they were caught.

This practice of false apology does little to provide the true “I’m sorry.” Our World Wide Web is trying to help solve this problem…but…there is a proliferation of failure to apologize with honor and honesty that holds true. Re the web, Cannon agreed. “Some basic human social skills are gone,” she said, noting that today’s high-tech culture has lost the ability to learn from human interaction. “We need these sites for education of the high-tech generation or for those who live their whole lives on the computer.” The web is not helping us enough how to learn to apologize, according to Cannon.

“…[W]e have not made it a habit to say I’m sorry and we have not cultivated within ourselves the capacity, the grace or readiness to say I’m sorry.” The Rev. J. Philip Wogaman is a Christian ethicist and pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church, Omaha, Neb.

Linda Green reports:

Web sites that teach the science of apology show that society has lost some measure of civility, according to the Rev. Rosetta Ross, dean of academic affairs at Howard University in Washington. Today’s culture has invested a lot in saying biting and hurtful things to people and such sites indicate a loss of appreciation for being kind, compassionate and sensitive, she said.

Theodore Dalrymple calls the False Apology Syndrome ones that relate to historical sins and the crimes of ancestors.

“A false apology is usually accompanied by bogus or insincere guilt, which is often confused with appropriate shame,” said Dalrymple, a physician and author of “Our Culture, What’s Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses.”

“False Apology Syndrome is a therefore rich but poisonous mixture of self-importance, libertinism, condescension, bad faith, loose thinking, and indifference to the effects it has on those who are apologized to.”

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