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Book Reviews   |    
On Apology
Reviewed by Donald G. Langsley, M.D.
Psychiatric Services 2005; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.56.6.762
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by Aaron Lazare; New York, Oxford University Press, 2004, 306 pages, $24

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Aaron Lazare, dean and chancellor of the Medical School at the University of Massachusetts, has written a detailed review of the psychology and process of apology. Basing his study on hundreds of examples of apologies by individuals, groups, and nations, he posits that giving or receiving apologies minimizes the harm of humiliation, "frees one from guilt, removes the desire for vengeance, and restores broken relationships."

In chapters that include "How Apologies Heal," "Acknowledgement of the Offense," "Remorse, Explanations, and Reparations," "Why People Apologize (Or Do Not Apologize)," "Delayed Apologies," "Negotiating Apologies," and "Apologies and Forgiveness," Lazare reviews these topics by using the naturalistic evidence of multiple examples, including those from his own family and historical apologies such as the Lincoln apology for slavery, President Clinton's apology to the subjects of the syphilis studies at Tuskegee, and the German government's apology to the victims of World War II.

The genuine apology must acknowledge the offense adequately and express genuine remorse as well as a commitment to make changes in the future. Beginning with the needs of those who have been offended, Lazare explores the motivation of the one offering the apology as a response to guilt and shame and an effort to restore the relationship.

Apologies must be appropriately timed, because apologies for serious offenses take time. Cooling off is necessary. Lazare also recognizes the fact that apologies may be used as a way of manipulating the situation. To Lazare, the apology process is like the medical encounter in that it involves a give-and-take process. He believes that apology and forgiveness are bound together, and he views sincere apologies as steps toward repentance.

Lazare's contribution touches on basic human emotion and interaction and will be of interest to a wide general audience as well as to those in the healing professions.

Dr. Langsley (deceased) is a past-president of the American Psychiatric Association.

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