“There is no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.” ~ Anonymous
Unlike Brock Turner, I ascribe to the old school wisdom that says we should take responsibility for our actions, make sincere apologies for our wrongdoings and make amends to those we have harmed.
Perhaps I should put that more clearly.
I myself have never committed a criminal act, but I have certainly made lots of mistakes in my life that hurt lots of people. While I never felt okay about them, I also never learned from them until I owned up to them and apologized for them.
In doing so, I learned that when making a sincere, heartfelt, apology to those I offended, I had restored myself in not only my own eyes, but also in the eyes of those I had offended. I also gained a certain amount of acceptance by them in the short run and paved the way for restoring my personal relationships with them in the long run.
I further reduced my own sense of guilt and cleared my conscience of its burden.
As far as I was concerned, while it took me a while to get over myself, apologizing for the selfish, thoughtless acts I had committed against others restored my equilibrium in a deeply spiritual way.
As my meditation teacher would have put it, “It slays the ego to say I’m sorry, forgive me.”
Apparently however, if Brock Turner is an example—and he is—taking responsibility for our actions and apologizing for them is not the thing to do these days.
In fact, just the opposite.
What we hear is, “It wasn’t my fault.” “I was drunk.” “Here are all my justifications for why I should be let off the hook.” More sickeningly, in Turner’s case we are even subjected to all the reasons why his Mommy and Daddy think he should be let off the hook.
Turner is not alone however, in feeling that there are in fact, benefits to not apologizing.
Beyond avoiding the embarrassment and potential penalty associated with admitting a wrongdoing, new research suggests that “there are perceived benefits to not expressing remorse,” and not apologizing can have its rewards.
1) It maintains a sense of control;
2) It feeds one’s need for power;
3) It eliminates the possibility of an apology restoring power to the victim while simultaneously diminishing the power of the transgressor;
4) It allows the offender to retain an upper hand
5) Denying any error entirely or minimizing it may be the next best thing;
6) It saves face;
7) It eliminates the admission that one’s behavior failed to align with personal values and morals; and
8) By refusing to apologize, we deny any incongruity between belief and action, thus preserving a sense of authenticity and self-worth.
It seems to me that to a person like Turner, whose own parents have gone so far as to start a FB fundraising campaign to help him pay for the “trauma that this unfortunate incident caused in his life” (or words to that effect), all of the above reasons for not apologizing fit his modus operandi perfectly.
He does not strike me as a man who is interested in slaying his ego.
Quite the opposite.
Tragically for him though, the researchers who discovered the perceived benefits of not apologizing also discovered the costs, which I am not so sure either Turner himself nor his parents have considered:
“…refusing to admit one’s mistakes and take responsibility may render a person less open to constructive feedback, thus limiting growth and innovation. Individuals who feel threatened or who must avoid failure to maintain status may be less inclined to admit error, and in turn may forego opportunities to learn and develop. Ultimately the need to feel powerful, if satisfied by a consistent refusal to admit mistakes, could make one weak.”
As the saying goes, “To err is human.”
Unfortunately, in the case of Turner unless and until he accepts responsibility for his heinous actions, apologizes for them and attempts to make amends, he will not come even close to being fully human.
As the researchers said, his need to feel powerful, will prevent him from reaching that goal, and he will remain, consistently weak.
My personal guess is that, outside the court of law that he was tried in, he will be sentenced for the rest of his life to never having so soft a pillow as a clear conscience to lay his head upon.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Renée Picard