The perfect apology
I read this apology for an Islamophobic post from a British game company owner on Kotaku today. I got angry. I wrote an inline response. The bold parts are the apology’s original text. My responses are the rest of it. Yes, this lay-out is half-copied from the amazing nodontdie.com (which you should read) because I couldn’t come up with another one this fast.
If you’re trying to apologize, start by identifying who is apologizing, and what you’re apologizing for.
“I want to apologise for the Facebook post that I put out on Saturday in the aftermath of the horrific London terrorist attack.”
Perfect! In a great apology, this is where you stop. You did something bad, and you apologize for it. No conditions, no shifting blame. At this point, you could opt to speak to solutions to avoid this problem in the future. Solutions speak louder than words.
Whatever you do, do not make the apology into an accusation by saying you were just misunderstood by other people, and they’re the ones really at fault for missing your point. You should never suggest that what you did in no way was offensive.
“I was trying to air my views on extremist Muslims and it seems my comments may have been misinterpreted by some people and caused offence.”
Yeah, exactly that. Don’t do that. Really the only way to make this more of a faux-apology is by saying you’re only apologize to those who were offended, instead of apologizing for your actions in general.
“I am so sorry to anyone who was offended by my words – I was trying to voice an opinion on the minority group of Muslims who use their religion as an excuse for terrorism.
It’s going to be hard to recover from this one, unless you use the word ‘sincerely’.
“It was a knee-jerk reaction and I sincerely apologise.”
Phew. I guess that’s it! That’s not great, but it’s also not goo- oh? There’s more? Oh dear.
“For the record, [My Company] is one of the most diverse companies in the industry and I have championed equal opportunities and equality for all since I started out in 1994.”
Copyright champion of equal opportunity 1994-2017. All rights reserved except if you’re Muslim, then please leave the country.
“Anyone who knows me personally will vouch that I don’t have a racist bone in my body.”
Bones aren’t racist. People are racist. Actions are racist. Your post was racist, because despite you saying ‘Muslims’, what you mean is ‘Arab muslims’ and ‘Asian muslims’. I’m sure your post didn’t mean that Cockney-accented white guy at the bus station in a hip t-shirt and short jeans that happens to go to mosque twice a year for the holidays and say ‘Salaam’ to their parents on the phone.
“When we see innocent people slaughtered like we have in Manchester, London and other places around the world during the last few weeks, it is hard not to get angry and lash out.”
I got angry and lashed out too, and for some reason my post wasn’t removed from social media for hate speech, and there’s also no news articles describing them. Maybe it was because I didn’t call for 1.6 billion people to not have access to a country. Maybe it was because I didn’t call for the removal of people that might have fled to the UK away from terrorism. Maybe because I didn’t attack the religion or identity of the people that suffer most at the hands of terrorists globally. Maybe it was because my anger didn’t focus on British-born citizens that have no connection to socio-political terrorism on the other side of the planet. Maybe it was because I blamed terrorism instead of religion. I’m sure the exact reason you got trouble and I did not will remain a mystery to you.
“But I realise we all have different views,…”
We all have different views: not everyone is a Islamophobe and thinks it’s a good idea to air those views on Facebook while also being in charge of a company and its hiring, that is true.
“…and I will certainly not be writing any of mine on my personal social media account in the future.”
This sentence here reveals that the apology isn’t so much an apology for what he did, but an apology for getting in trouble. If your solution to saying something bad is ‘I won’t say it in public‘, that reveals a lot about what regrets you actually have. I guess “I’ll be an Islamophobe behind closed doors” might seem a solution, in that case.
I understand that being thrust into the spotlight for a mistake, a momentary lapse of judgement, or an unfortunate phrasing is incredibly scary. At Vlambeer, we’ve been on the receiving end of tons of criticism, and it never stops being scary. It never gets easier. But apologizing for messing up isn’t a hard thing to do if you’re actually sorry.
If you ever find yourself writing an apology (and if you gain any visibility, you likely will have to, at some point), here are four basic things you should know:
- Take some time away from the internet before writing an apology. There’s often a false sense of hurry instilled into you by the panic, but the honest truth is that a genuine apology takes time and clarity of mind. It requires you to truly understand what the complaint is, and it’s hard to do that when you’re in a defensive mode.
- Try mentally re-contextualising your apology to stepping on someone’s toes. If the apology you wrote comes down to ‘If me stepping on your toes hurt you, I am sorry. There’s many toes in the world, and I don’t step on most of them. Your toes might’ve misunderstood that I stepped on them, I was trying to cover them from rain. Maybe your toes shouldn’t have been where I put my foot down.‘, you should probably reconsider what you’re writing.
- A short and direct apology is the strongest apology you can make. Instead of focusing on your own defense, focus on what your future action are going to be, or what you have learned, and how you will avoid similar incidents in the future.
- Posting an apology does not mean that anyone has to accept your apology, or that the criticism will fade. An apology is not written to make bad things happening to you because of bad things you did go away. An apology is not a defense. An apology is you taking responsibility for the bad thing you did, and showing that you genuinely understand why what you did was bad.