Friday, 15 April 2016

The Perfect Apology

A new scientific study has come up with the elements of a perfect apology. The study, led by Professor Roy Lewicki and published in the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research, suggests that the most effective apologies contain these six elements:

1.    Expression of regret
2.  Explanation of what went wrong
3.  Acknowledgment of responsibility
4.  Declaration of repentance
5.  Offer of repair
6.  Request for forgiveness

The study also suggests that some of these elements are more effective than the others. The most important element of an effective apology is acknowledging your responsibility. If something is your fault, say that it is. The second most important element is your offer of repair. If you say that you want to fix things, and explain how, your apology will go a lot further.

The least effective element was the request for forgiveness.

( – edited)

Interesting on a number of fronts, especially if we compare it to our apologies to God, i.e. confession of sin, both private and publicly in worship.

True confession does not excuse our sin; it acknowledges our sin and our personal responsibility for it.  True confession also includes the element of making things better by reparative action.  Our forgiveness is not based on our promise of reparation, but it certainly leads to an active effort to put things right.

The study even uses the term “repentance”, although that is not defined in the summary. (Sorry, the actual article would cost $6 to read online, so I am just going with the reported summaries.)

However, the really intriguing element was that asking for forgiveness was the least effective element in a good apology. It seems that fallen humans are just not good at forgiving.  What a contrast with the God of all grace and mercy:

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity… ( Psalm 103)

I thought it would be useful to compare the scientific study with the traditional Reformed teaching on repentance as expressed in the Larger Catechism, (Modern Language Edition) I think that we can see all 6 elements of a perfect apology in this biblical based definition:

Larger Catechism
Q. 76. What is repentance unto life?
A. Repentance unto life is a saving grace worked in the hearts of sinners by the Spirit and the word of God. By it sinners recognize not only how dangerous it is to commit sins but also how filthy and hateful they are to God. Understanding that in Christ God is merciful to those who repent, sinners suffer such deep sorrow for and hate their sins so much that they turn away from all of them and turn to God, attempting to walk continually with him according to this new obedience in every way.

Our apologies to those against whom we sin should, in some measure, be modeled on our apologies to God. If they are, we might find that they are more effective than the vacuous and generic “Sorry” that really is just a reflex reaction to the fact that our misdeeds have caused us hurt and we are forced to issue an insincere apology.

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