University of Calgary

Public apologies

May 7, 2009

Public apologies: True healing or covering legal butt?

An hour-long radio program exploring the strategies behind making public apologies and their consequences will air tonight on Ideas, on CBC Radio 1.

A medical error, a major accident, a political decision gone wrong: an apology for wrongdoing once meant opening the door to a lawsuit, but changes to some provincial laws now means an apology can be protected from litigation. Does this reduce the meaning of an apology?

Why People Apologize: Public Apologies and Their Consequences was the topic of debate at a recent community seminar co-hosted by the U of C’s Calgary Institute for the Humanities and the CBC radio program Ideas. An hour-long radio program exploring the strategies behind making public apologies and their consequences will air tonight on Ideas, on CBC Radio 1 (99.1 FM or 1010 AM) at 9:05 p.m.

“I didn’t realize that the admission of wrongdoing is a fundamental aspect of formal apology,” Wayne McCready, institute director, says about some of the ideas discussed. “As opposed to saying, ‘I’m sorry’ and thinking now we can move on, in a formal apology—personal or collective—you need to articulate what wrong you have done and then be prepared to acknowledge that wrongdoing so that the other party understands clearly that you know what you’ve done wrong.”

This admission alters that relationship, shifting power to the wronged party by acknowledging shame and wrongdoing. The response back in forgiveness then begins to re-equalize the relationship.

This marks the 10th year for the partnership between Ideas and the institute, and the 29th annual community seminar. This seminar and the radio show feature three panelists talking about apologies from different perspectives.

Barbara Benoliel is a mediator and head of the conflict management company, Preferred Solutions, in Toronto. She deals in how to work with apology in mediation.

Michael Ross is a professor in the psychology department at the University of Waterloo. His research questions the nature and effectiveness of apologies through their context.

David Gustafson is the co-director of the Fraser Region Community Justice Initiative Association in Langley, B.C.

For more information on tonight’s Ideas program—Public Apology: Good PR or Powerful Healing?— see www.cbc.ca/ideas/features/public-apology/.

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