By Aaron Lazare
M.D., professor, author
Whether an apology is judged to be effective or not is a subjective decision based on a variety of factors. Using Tiger Woods’s recent apology for his sexual activities, I will discuss those factors that lead me to conclude his apology was insincere and even fraudulent and I will offer an idea for reparation, an important component of an effective apology.
An apology is an interchange between two parties or groups. A successful apology allows for an exchange that gives the offended party an opportunity to interact with and confront the offender to resolve the hurts, humiliations, and damages that were inflicted. Woods controlled who would be present in the room – his relatives, friends and associates. These are people to whom he should have apologized privately, especially his mother, who sat anguished before a national television audience and finally hugged him in what I suspect was a prepared scenario. He exploited his mother, friends and associates as props for his public apology. In effect, the apology was staged and controlled. No one in the room was there to ask any difficult questions.
A related and significant point of control was Woods’s timing and location of the apology which took place at the PGA Tour Headquarters on the grounds where the WGC tournament was being played. Woods’s apology was a distraction to an event involving the top golfers in the world and sponsored by the first company to discontinue Woods’ role as an endorser of their product. Their director of corporate communications said the company was not consulted as to the date of the apology. So far, I see Woods as a controlling figure who lacks sensitivity and generosity to others, insists on remaining in the limelight, and is perhaps seeking revenge on those who he perceives to have punished him.
In offering an apology the offender must share with the offended the values that he violated. Common examples of such values in everyday life include honesty and loyalty. In his apology the offender must acknowledge in some way that his behavior was morally wrong. Elin Woods presumably believes that loyalty is part of the marriage vow. Tiger Woods sees loyalty in marriage as a “boundary,” a constraint he was entitled to violate and he refers to behaviors he must “overcome.” I do not see an expression of guilt for his mistakes but shame for being exposed.
Woods claims that he is now in therapy where he is learning to balance his spiritual and professional life; that his craving for things outside himself is a pointless search for security. (How does one gain security through multiple sexual relationships with strangers?) He asserts that he wants to keep his spiritual and professional lives balanced. I do not understand what he means by spiritual but I believe ones moral and professional lives can and should be integrated. Woods’s comments seem like psychobabble.
I support and encourage the value of psychological and biological treatments for certain behaviorial/mental health problems. When Woods refers to his course of treatment and therapy, I hear it as “medicalizing” his problem, conceiving it as an infection or organ failure, in order to diminish his responsibility for his behavior.
One of the most important aspects of a successful apology is an offer of reparation to the offended party. Woods cannot undo the behaviors that have brought him to his current state. His confession and promise for the future will not satisfy the offended party which he implicitly believes is the entire nation or, at least, all golf fans. As with many other offenses that people commit, financial compensation is an effective method of repair. A significant financial contribution, based on future earnings, to a worthy charity other than his own foundation, would make a deserved impact on his numerous audiences. It would be an acknowledgment of a debt. He would regain respect, admiration, and business opportunities by making a gift to the nation and he would be recognized for it.
Offering reparation would show the offended parties and the nation that Woods takes their grievances seriously and is willing to repair the harm he has done.
Aaron Lazare, M.D. is Chancellor/Dean Emeritus and Professor of Psychiatry, University of Massachusetts Medical School. He is the author of “On Apology,” Oxford University Press (2004). Dr. Lazare is writing “Doctors’ Unspoken Emotions: Shame and Humiliation.”