“I’m sorry” is a phrase so commonly used that it starts to become second nature to many, but is one actually sorry? Elizabeth Spelman goes into the depths about how an apology is not an apology unless sincere sorrow is exhibited. She writes, “In order to apologize-really apologize, and not just utter some words-for something one has done or failed to do, one has not only to acknowledge responsibility for but express sincere sorrow and regret over this action or inaction” (Spelman 82). I feel it is provoking that she chose to explain this because an apology to many is something we learn from childhood. We are taught as kids to respect one another and, when we messed up, to say “I’m sorry” for it. But when is “I’m sorry” not enough? When does it mean anything at all? That is the basis at which Spelman is trying to point out to so many who think a simple apology can mend all scares.
An apology is something I say and hear every day. Whether it is walking to class or in class you are bound to hear someone say “sorry”. For me, it is when I am walking to class and accidently bump into someone. In that scenario a simple “sorry” is acceptable but there are plenty of situations where a “sorry” does not quite cut it. Spelman touches upon a situation like this when discussing the Tuskegee Study. Clinton apologized on behalf of the U.S and said, “What the United States did was shameful, and I am sorry” (Spelman 88). Clinton’s apology becomes meaningful when adding in the fact that he owns up to what the U.S. did. He admits that what went on was “shameful”. It the difference between a simple apology and one that actually means something. Spelman adds, “…it must be clear that he regrets what he has done and feels sorrow over what he has wrought” (Spelman 83). Admitting to the mistake is essential in a meaningful apology, yet, so many people overlook it. If Clinton were to have just gone on about how sorry the U.S. felt for what took place and never admitted to messing up, the apology would have been no different than him simply saying “I’m sorry”. By accepting the mistakes made it ensures those affected that their scares are trying to be mended. That what they went through is not viewed as nothing. That their injuries are being thought of and cared about.
Through adolescence we have been taught, for the most part, that an “I’m sorry” is the key to fixing anything broken. Break your best friends favorite pencil? Say “sorry” and move on with it. Lose your friends video game? Nothing a “sorry” can’t fix. Sometimes people even try to mend more serious mistakes with “I’m so sorry” thinking an emphasis on the apology is going to make a difference. Crash your parent’s car? That requires an “I’m so sorry!” for sure. Spelman explains though that two words, maybe three, are never enough for a genuine apology. A genuine apology consists of owning up to the mistakes made and showing respectful condolences for them.
When we are kids our parents would always make us confess to what we did wrong and apologize for it. I know I always heard my mother say, “a sorry is not enough”. I would get so accustomed to apologizing then quickly running off that the words that were coming out of my mouth were becoming meaningless. This idea follows up Spelman’s point of appropriate apologies because most situations where we say “sorry”, a “sorry” really is not enough. Saying that one simple word does no repair for those affected by the mistake. Without verifying that you are clear on what you did and you know how it affected someone, the apology might as well not be said.
Owning up to a mistake seems to be difficult to so many people. People seem to have difficulty acknowledging failure or messing up. For some, an apology means loss of pride. For others, an apology is embarrassing. Who wants to admit that they messed up? Who wants to put themselves below someone else voluntarily? It seems to be no one these days. Nobody wants to say they messed up because failure is viewed as a sign of weakness. If you apologize then you now failed. It is the ability to acknowledge failure and prevail from it that creates a meaningful apology.
Spelman has discussed different gender roles and discrimination throughout the text. She touched upon how, in employment, it is more commonly seen that men, like Willie and Fred, are the ones doing the dirty, physical work, whereas women, such as Louise, Irene, and Elizabeth are the ones doing feminine work. Relating to gender differences, I find it them men, more than women, have difficulties admitting to mistakes. Men tend to display a brave and tough persona. An apology is seen as a sign of weakness and men cannot be seen as weak. For males, confessing that they messed up is like giving up a piece of manhood. There is almost an image that a male is so mighty that no mistake should ever be made. When apologizing, you are voluntarily giving someone else superiority over yourself. You were the one who messed up and now must take the repercussions for it. It is common to see that men wish to feel superior. Willie and Fred like to take control of their work and make it their own in some way. So by apologizing it now means that that man is no longer superior. Do you think Willie would apologize for making a motorcycle too strong? Do you think Fred would apologize if a customer did not think his work was up to par? In my eyes, I would guess no. These men take pride in their work and to admit to a mistake made would be detrimental to them.
Compared to Willie and Fred, Louise, Irene, and Elizabeth would have a different approach the issue. If someone were to say to the trio that the color of the paint they used was incorrect, I feel as though they would apologize thoroughly without a second thought. Females seem to be more emotionally connected and therefore much more willing to properly apologize. To them, there is no shield they must hold up to defend themselves. There is no masculinity at stake. An apology is not a difficult task when you understand what wrong was done and confront the issue. Women seem to be more willing to accept failure and learn from it. Men have this idea that in order to protect their masculinity and manhood that no apology could ever easily be given. Due to a woman’s inner emotional connections drawn out by gender roles it becomes more natural to acknowledge mistakes and take credit where credit is due.
We see differences in genders throughout Spelman’s Repair and though she does not directly discuss the differences in terms of apologizes she creates an image for both men and women to work off of. The males are seen as tough, brave, and more physically connected to both people and object. On the other hand, the females are seen as feminine, delicate, and emotionally connected. It is the differences in genders that conflict with the ability to appropriately apologize. Females tend to more easily admit to mistakes made and take responsibility for them. Males tend to put up a fight and resist the need to admit to messing up.
Whether a male or female, we homo repareans tend to fail to meet the standards of a proper apology. It is adolescence that has accustomed us to two words that fix all problems, “I’m sorry”. Spelman explains though how two words can never be enough to mend the serious scares some receive. In order to show sincere sorrow to those who are hurt one must display genuine condolences and acknowledge failures made.