Kate Harveston is a political writer from Pennsylvania. Her favorite topics are feminist-focused, but she writes on a wide variety of social and cultural issues. If you enjoy her work, you can follow her on Twitter or visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.
"Say you're sorry." Many of us received this demand as a child, and we may have followed our parents’ insistence on saying the words even if we didn't really mean the apology sincerely. While our childhood apologies may have lacked sincerity, as we grow and mature, we ideally move up through Kohlberg's theory of moral development, and we learn how to apologize in a heartfelt fashion.
Sadly, it seems many celebrities hit a roadblock on the moral development highway. As celebrities and other public figures serve as role models, shoddy apologies from the A-List set encourage others to mimic their bad behavior. This new year, my fondest wish is for those walking the red carpet to set a better example by learning how to apologize gracefully and correctly.
Celebrities Who Need to Learn How to Apologize
Some celebrities prove the theory that having money and fame can equate to bad behavior. In fact, there are quite a few notable people who really need to learn how to apologize.
Consider celebrity chef Paula Deen. She carelessly dropped the "N" word in a deposition and publicly posted pictures on social media featuring relatives wearing "brownface." The apology she issued was so lackluster, her show was canceled and her career completely derailed as a result.
Outrage also swept the LGBTQ+ community when actor Kevin Spacey tried to draw a correlation between sexual orientation and pedophilia. Spacey stood accused of groping a teenage boy. Not only did his so-called apology anger those of us with even a hint of common sense or compassion, but he has yet to face any consequences other than being ousted from his role on Netflix's House of Cards.
Kevin Hart recently refused to apologize for a series of homophobic tweets, and who can forget all the pitiful apologies that came in the wake of the #MeToo movement? Even in an era during which many companies and organizations have begun taking serious measures to eliminate workplace harassment, the lessons of #MeToo and #TimesUp still seem to fall on deaf ears when it comes to those who truly need to hear them.
What Makes a Proper Apology?
Many of us believe apologizing means simply saying the words, "I'm sorry." But a sincere, quality apology contains much more than that. Any right and proper apology consists of three elements.
1. Expressing Remorse
The first step of apologizing involves expressing sincere remorse for your actions. People can sense another person's lack of sincerity, so acting authentically may make the difference as to whether the person you wronged forgives you or not. Simply mouthing the words, "I'm sorry," does little to repair relationships, whereas, "I'm so sorry for [insert thing you did]. I feel embarrassed by how I behaved," can mend far more fences when spoken in a genuinely contrite manner.
2. Admitting Responsibility
Admitting responsibility for your errors makes for the second step of apologizing properly. Here's where many celebrities fail when they issue public apologies — instead of accepting personal responsibility for their wrongdoing, they make excuses and place blame on other people or any host of other factors such as intoxication.
3. Changing Your Ways
Speaking a sincere apology means little if you continue displaying the same bad behavior. End an apology with a promise to change your ways and avoid similar behavior in the future. And then FOLLOW THROUGH. Even the most generous folks tire of hearing the same apology time and again with no subsequent modification in behavior and become less likely to forgive with each insistence of change.
The Power of Forgiveness
Not all celebrity apologies fall onto the cringe-worthy scale. Some have mastered perfect apologies, such as Samantha Bee, who apologized sincerely and correctly for calling Ivanka Trump a profane name (although I can’t say I blame her, personally!). Most notably, Bee followed all the steps to make a proper apology, including promising to change going forward.
In 2019, I sincerely hope other celebrities learn from Bee's example and issue genuine apologies when they harm someone or a group of people. Young people adapt their behavior to what society deems to be acceptable, and witnessing specious apologies from celebrities lead children to think any harm done to others can be fixed with platitudes. If we wish to build a kinder, gentler society, those we admire need to set better examples.