Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Apology (non-fiction book) by Aaron Lazare

My posting took a nosedive for a while, for a lot of reasons. One of those reasons inspired me to read this book. My hope was that it could help me get a better mental/emotional grip on one aspect of the things that have been going on, and on my feelings about it all.

At some point, I realized I couldn't remember how the book was organized or whether the chapter I was reading had a particular focus that was different from the other chapters I had read. It didn't really matter – I enjoyed this book anyway. I'm sure my response was due at least in part to currently being in a situation where many of the things Lazare writes about apply and could have been (could still be?) helpful. However, I think I would have enjoyed this book regardless – I just might not have been as likely to read it.

This book takes a very thorough look at apologies: their importance, what they accomplish for the person needing the apology and the person making the apology, the components of apologies, the reasons why people do and do not apologize, the timing of apologies, negotiated apologies, and forgiveness. Every chapter is filled with examples of apologies, from brief, simple apologies to more elaborate ones, from apologies between individuals to apologies between nations, and everything in between. Some stories of apologies were given to Lazare by people who had attended his workshops. Sometimes Lazare told stories in which he was the person apologizing or being apologizes to. Some of the apologies were taken from the news, history, or even literature. Some apologies were successful and some weren't.

Part of the reason I liked this book was its large number of examples. They often made this something like a book of mini stories, some of them with happier endings than others. The specific apologies that most made an impression on me were:
  • Curtis Oathout's failed attempt to get a more satisfying apology from Father Bentley, the priest who sexually abused him when he was a child (a lack of acknowledgment of offense)
  • Richard von Weizsacker (president of the Federal Republic of Germany) and his speech detailing the grievances inflicted on Germany's victims during World War II (a very thorough and explicit acknowledgment of offense)
  • Janet Dailey's apology for plagiarizing works by Nora Roberts - not a very good apology, and it reminds me a little of AJ Llewellyn's apology for pretending to be - and writing blog articles (one example here) with advice/commentary from the perspective of - a gay man when he is in fact a transgendered person who is biologically female.
Even when specific apologies didn't necessarily stick with me, I still appreciated all the apologies Lazare included and analyzed, because they made me more aware of all the situations in my everyday life and in things I read in the news (and even in the books I read - romance novels are filled with apologies and moments that require them!) where apologies might be useful and how they might be made. Since finishing this book, I've been in at least one situation in which I realized I needed to make an apology. Reading Lazare's book didn't make that apology any easier, but it did make me think about why the apology was difficult and why I needed to do it anyway.

One thing I wish this book had been able to do was a cross-cultural look at apologies. Although Lazare writes a little about apologies in China and Japan, and how they can be different from apologies made by Westerners, what Lazare wrote was really just a taste. I wanted to know more.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and am glad I read it. Some parts of it reduced me to tears, and I swear I post-it noted most the book while thinking of the ongoing situation that prompted me to read the book in the first place. On Apology hasn't given me a way to resolve that situation, since I'm not one of the people with the power to resolve it, but it does make me wish that all the people more directly involved in the situation could read the book. Maybe it would at least help open up a dialogue, since ignoring the problem has not made it go away.

I originally wasn't going to include a read-alikes list, because putting together read-alikes lists for non-fiction books makes me feel a little silly. The list below just includes a couple books from Amazon's "also bought" list, but I wanted to record them because I'd like to try reading them sometime.

Read-alikes:
  • Healing Words: The Power of Apology in Medicine (non-fiction book) by Michael S. Woods and Jason Isaac Star - One of the things that Lazare brought up several times was that, in the past, medical practitioners were told never to apologize, because of the potential for lawsuits. This position is now being rethought, as it has become apparent that apologies might in some cases have prevented lawsuits. If that statement sparks your interest, too, Healing Words might be a good book to try.
  • I Was Wrong: The Meanings of Apologies (non-fiction book) by Nick Smith - The description of this book makes it sound a lot like Lazare's, only perhaps with more of a religious and philosophical focus.

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