Medical Tuesday Blog
The WSJ Bookshelf By Barton Swaim
Book Review: ‘Sorry About That’ by Edwin L. Battistella
The typical public apology purports to be an expression of regret and self-reproach, but in fact is meant to defend and justify
Public apologies might not be so nauseating if there weren’t so many of them: Corporations apologize for real and imagined misdeeds; celebrities apologize for drunken tirades; and politicians apologize for nearly everything. Their aim, you feel, isn’t to express genuine remorse or accept blame but to make the offense go away as quickly as possible. In 10 short chapters that examine scores of public apologies, Edwin Battistella’s readable and incisive “Sorry About That” explains why some apologies succeed, or at least avoid exacerbating the original offense, but most of them fail.
The problem begins with the word itself: What is an apology, anyway? The classical meaning was a defense or explanation; the modern definition emphasizes the mental disposition of sorrow, regret and self-reproach. The typical public apology purports to be an apology in the modern sense—assigning blame to oneself, pleading for forgiveness—but in fact is meant to defend and justify. . .
Sometimes it’s not clear what is and isn’t an apology. After Hillary Clinton‘s health-care initiative failed in Congress in 1994, the first lady said in an interview: “I regret very much that the efforts on health care were badly misunderstood, taken out of context and used politically against the Administration. I take full responsibility for that, and I’m very sorry for that.” Clearly she meant to blame others for the bill’s demise, but was she apologizing for letting them do it? . . .
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