AVOIDING ABORTIVE APOLOGIES

How NOT to Make Confession of Your Faults to Others


Magic Johnson and Isaiah Thomas, two NBA Hall of Famers, recently reconciled after a long-standing feud.

Their dispute dated back to the late 1980s when the LA Lakers and Detroit Pistons played each other in two consecutive NBA finals.

Johnson further admitted in a book co-authored with Larry Bird–another Hall of Famer who played for the Boston Celtics–that he helped keep Thomas off the 1992 US Olympic Dream Team.

Who takes issue with a such a moving scene? What’s the deal? On the one hand, I hope this emotional exchange results in genuine, lasting reconciliation. It certainly appears sincere.

On the other hand, it contains a flaw that often mars effective apology making–what a lawyer friend of mine refers to as an “abortive confession.” It fails to deliver because of one tiny word.

Did you catch it in the video? Johnson started well for sure. “You are my brother. Let me apologize . . . (so far so good, but then) IF I hurt you.”

One little word at the very least tainted the efficacy of Johnson’s confession.

Other words can have the same effect–like “but” and “maybe.” Ken Sande, in his book The Peacemaker, explains:

The best way to ruin a confession is to use words that shift the blame to others or that appear to minimize or excuse your guilt. The most common way to do this is to say, “I’m sorry if I’ve done something to upset you.” The word if ruins this confession, because it implies that you do not know whether or not you did wrong. … Clearly, that is no confession at all. It is a superficial statement designed to get someone to stop bothering you or to transfer fault for breaking a relationship. Small wonder that genuine forgiveness rarely follows such words (127).

Perhaps that last statement overstates the case somewhat. God can heal wounds between estranged parties through flawed means. We wish the best for these two men, of course.

But Sande’s point keeps in step with Jesus’s emphasis in Matthew 7:5: First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Abortive confessions fail to remove adequately the logs of our own offenses. Removing specks from the eyes of others with impaired vision is a dangerous procedure.

For additional help in making an effective apology see The Seven A’s of Confession.

Question: When have you been on the receiving end of an effective apology? What made it contribute to lasting reconciliation?


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