As I listened and tried to process my own hurt and anger that grew from the speech, I remembered a story that I had heard on NPR about sociological research into why people don’t apologise. The researchers found that while the refusal to apologise does carry certain relational losses, there is also an aspect that provides psychological benefits. According to the story, “Our conventional approach, especially with kids, is to force people to apologise. But, if people are reluctant to apologise because apologies make them feel threatened, coercion is unlike to help – that is if a sincere apology is hoped for.
“Support and love, by contrast, may be a more effective way to counter the feelings of threat involved in an apology.”
Of course, that last line about support and love made me think about restorative justice interventions and how powerful they can be. As a facilitator, I’ve seen offenders who had previously refused to apologise offer a sincere apology after listening to the victim. But, for the victim’s story to have that impact it has to be told in an environment that cultivates a sense of security and support. Respectful communication and acknowledgement of the other’s humanity goes a long way to facilitating such a safe place for confession and apology to happen.
Going back to the situation with the leader, our team had tried to create this environment by being encouraging and emphasizing our desire for restoration. Obviously, we didn’t do that great of a job. But, given the importance of relationships we will keep trying while remembering how important the respectful interaction is for creating a sense of safety and care to help facilitate responsibility and behaviour change. After all, the point behind any process of confession and apology should be to build stronger relationships and group cohesion instead of punishment.