131: I’m Sorry, But … It’s Time for a Crash Quiz on the Spiritual Art of “The Apology”

    It’s time for Apology 101.
    I’m not alone in shaking my weary head. Just a few days ago, NPR’s Diane Rehm turned to one of the country’s leading experts in this field, Dr. Nick Smith, who teaches philosophy at the University of New Hampshire and wrote the Cambridge University Press book on apologies: “I Was Wrong.” Rehm quizzed him about the sorry state of being sorry.

    (Click on the cover or the title of his book to jump to our review — and, in this case, trust me — you need a copy of Smith’s book on your shelf. Strongly consider ordering a copy. You can order one right now at a discount from Amazon through our online bookstore.)

    As Americans, we’re all confused about this crucial moral rite of passage, aren’t we?
    The governor of New York, despite his moral failings as pretty much one of 2008’s biggest arrogant boobs — did turn in a pretty solid apology recently. His apology was complete with tangible steps toward repairing the damage. Like a cowboy in a Grade-B Western, he said he was sincerely sorry and he rode out of Dodge in a hurry.

    Not so in Detroit, still one of the U.S.’s major metropolitan hubs.
    In Detroit, the mayor was formally charged with multiple felonies on Monday, all stemming from his apparently willful decision to lie under oath about an affair with his chief of staff. Along the way, he also burned through millions of dollars of desperately needed city funds trying to cover his shameful tracks. And, although he claims to have apologized to the city and his family on television — a careful analysis of his apologies shows that he really played the classic blame game.
    Mainly, Detroit’s mayor was sorry for all the annoyance the news media is causing in his city.

    And, before you dump on Detroit’s mayor for poor performance on apology — we’ve got to admit that this is very difficult work!
    Even Pope Benedict — who theoretically should be a master of this process — seems almost incapable of delivering what Smith calls a full and “Categorical Apology.” Two years ago, the pope made a bone-head choice of repeating a medieval verbal attack on Islam in a talk at a German university. When people around the world expressed outrage, the pope did issue statements in an attempt to end the dispute.
    But, rather than admitting he was wrong, the pope repeatedly said he was sorry that Muslims misunderstood his scholarly remarks. Blaming the victim of an offense isn’t really an apology, Smith indicates. In fact, it pours salt in a wound.

    So, today we’re strongly recommending Nick Smith’s book. If you’ve got a congregational discussion group — whatever your faith — grab a copy and you’ll have plenty of conversation for the next month or two, depending on how you divide up his book.
    To fuel interest in apologies, we’re giving you today’s Apology Crash Quiz. It may not be all that enlightening, in itself, but it’s a great starting point for a discussion — so feel free to share this with friends, reprint it for your class, publish it in your newsletter. Spread it around! All we ask is that you credit David Crumm and readthespirit.com for the quiz.


1.) I sincerely regret that my words were misinterpreted to wrongly imply anything negative about those in uniform, and I personally apologize to any service member, family member or American who was offended.

2.) I will bigly, hugely admit that I was wrong, and I will apologize to Michael J. Fox if I am wrong in characterizing his behavior on this commercial as an act.

3.) I’m having to become quite an expert in
this business of asking for forgiveness.

4.) Never complain; never explain.

5.) If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologize.

6.) If the Americans go in and overthrow Saddam Hussein and it’s clean, he has nothing, I will apologize to the nation, and I will not trust the Bush administration again.

7.) I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge.

8.) Love means never having to say you’re sorry.

9.) I was a bit irresponsible. I didn’t think about the consequences, but I was also going through something in my life.

10.) A strange and truly unfortunate occurrence happened when arriving in your country. I made a terrible mistake, not because I was attempting to deceive anyone but I was simply ignorant to your official rules.


Sylvester Stallone

Lindsay Lohan

Bill O’Reilly

Henry Ford II

Mel Gibson

Rush Limbaugh

Oliver Barrett III

John Kerry

Bill Clinton

Muhammad Ali

When you think you’ve got all the answers, CLICK on the link below in the online version of this
quiz, and the ANSWERS will pop up!

    Ready? CLICK for the ANSWERS below …


1.) John Kerry, a war hero himself, issued this famous apology after fumbling what was intended as a bitter verbal dig at President Bush. He was talking to students and said that they should “study hard and do your homework.” In what was supposed to have been the anti-Bush punchline, he actually said: “You make an effort to be smart, uh, you, you can do well. If you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

    2.) Dr. Nick Smith and other experts on apology use this pronouncement by radio host Rush Limbaugh as a classic example of the non-apology. Initially, Limbaugh sneered at actor Michael J. Fox, accusing him of exaggerating his Parkinson’s Disease on television. Later, faced with an even greater tidal wave of public outrage than usual, Rush resulted to this strange repeated attack on Fox in the form of an apology.

    3.) That was none other than former President Clinton in late summer 1998.

    4.) This infamous Henry Ford II comment captured a lot of the arrogant swagger with which powerful people like Ford approached the rest of the world. In fact, over many years, Henry II’s family, company and foundations did make amends for many ills that stemmed from the original Henry Ford’s bigoted approach to life.

    5.) Muhammad Ali was full of boasts like this one — part of his famous persona in the boxing ring. He’s also credited with some advice that nearly everyone else on this list would have done well to heed. Ali said: “Silence is golden — when you can’t think of a good answer.” Another great word of wisdom from the boxer was: “The man who views the world at 50 the same as he did at 20 — has wasted 30 years of his life.”

    6.) Smith spends a couple of pages in his book on conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly’s infamous claim about Iraq — which helped to fuel the continuing war in Iraq. Later, O’Reilly was confronted on “Good Morning America” about this statement — and the fact that weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq. O’Reilly did utter the words of what Smith calls “a rather meaningful apology.” But O’Reilly couldn’t resist needling his interviewers and, when he did that, he negated any sense of a true apology. Then, he remained defiant, Smith wrote, “as soon as the word ‘sorry’ crossed his lips.”

    7.) Mel Gibson argues it was booze that fueled his anti-Semitic rage at a cop, who was only trying to keep the highways safe from drunk celebrities.

    8.) The famous line — which we can’t seem to purge from our American memory banks — was uttered by Oliver Barrett III, played by Ryan O’Neal in 1970’s “Love Story.” Of course, the guy we really should blame for this line that scarred Baby Boomers’ moral sensibilities is writer Erich Segal.

    9.) This was one of Lindsay Lohan’s many attempts at apology. All too often, the celebrity response to their own misbehavior amounts to: Hey! My life is tough. You expect me to think about consequences?

    10.) You think we were being hard on celebrities in the last answer? Well, quote No. 10 was Stallone’s “apology” after he was caught smuggling illegal growth-enhancing drugs into Australia while he was working on the latest “Rambo.” In addition to the words quoted above, he also explained that he really needed these drugs to bulk up properly — you know, for his fans. Like: Hey! My life is tough. You expect me to …

How’d you do?
    Remember — if
you enjoyed this week’s
quiz, you can print it or email the entire text it to a friend. We
only ask that you credit the quiz to “David Crumm” and
“readthespirit.com” (If you’re new to ReadTheSpirit, we often run
quizzes on Tuesdays and you can quickly find our past quizzes by
finding the “Categories” area on our Web site and clicking on the
“Tuesday Quiz” category!)

    Tell us what you think. Click Here to email me, David Crumm, or leave a Comment for other readers on our site.

    AND: COME BACK TOMORROW for our Conversation With the chief architect of a new kind of Bible — designed to help you get more enjoyment out of reading the Good Book!

    OR, click on the “Digg” link below and add a very brief “digg” comment — even a phrase — to this story’s listing on Digg-It, which will tell even more folks worldwide that it’s worth reading:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email