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Religious Context Driven Differences
Apologies in most of the rest of the world do not require these words of confession and accountability. To an American, omitting these sentiments would not really be an apology. And yet reconciliation happens all the time around the world in families and between tribes without anyone ever admitting guilt or accepting responsibility.
In American culture, the main glue of relationships is trust, an important ideal in relationships is innocence, and a major destroyer of relationships is guilt. In most of the rest of the world's cultures, the main glue is respect, an important ideal is honor, and a major destroyer is shame. American apologies seek to restore trust. For Americans, humbly admitting guilt enhances trustworthiness. Apologies in most other cultures seek to restore respect. Respectability involves honor, status, and appearances. Admitting guilt takes humility and undermines honor.
In both Christianity and Islam, relationship with God begins with identity as God's people through profession of faith. In Muslim tradition, however, God forgives the sins of his people when they demonstrate that they are good Muslims by performing the ritual works of Islam (like the five pillars of Islam: fasting, praying, pilgrimage, alms giving, and reciting the creed). Confession is not necessary. Respectability is maintained. Humiliation is avoided. God forgives sins based upon good deeds outweighing bad ones.
The equivalent form in personal and corporate relationships is making restitution and asking for forgiveness. Restitution is like a good deed. It affirms the dignity of both parties. Just as a government or insurance company can restore what has been lost without being at fault for someone else's wrong-doing, a wrong-doer can restore what has been lost without ever admitting responsibility. Asking for forgiveness is different than saying "I am sorry." It surrenders control to the other party. It moves responsibility for restoring relationship from the guilty party to the offended party. It admits to imperfection, but it does not admit to all of the details of the offense. That kind of detail would be a confession.
Making restitution and asking for forgiveness, while blaming circumstances or others in order to avoid responsibility, is the principle apology form in cultures with Muslim majorities. In many years of living and working among Muslims, I have rarely heard a Muslim say "I am sorry," but I hear them asking for forgiveness all the time. In fact, requesting forgiveness from friends and relatives is an important feature in Muslim holiday celebrations. Humility in cultures with Muslim majorities isn't demonstrated in the ability to admit faults but in the ability to depend upon grace from others to forgive faults that remain unconfessed. From the perspective of the people in these cultures, it is the American form for apology that sabotages reconciliation by undermining the dignity of the parties who need to reconcile. It publicly humiliates one party, it embarrasses the other, and it gives relational control to the offender rather than to the offended.
Some Practical Implications
The consequences of failing to respond in a culturally-appropriate manner were demonstrated in Mosul, Iraq, in early 2009. A civilian sedan drove deliberately in front of aheavy American tracked vehicle as it was on patrol. The automobile driver and achild passenger were killed. The Americans made restitution to the family of the child
The American admission of responsibility actually played into the hands of insurgents who were waging an information campaign against the Americans and against the American-supported Iraqi government. On the very day that the American battalion commander of the unit that had been involved in the accident was on his way to meet with community leaders to underscore his apology and deliver compensation, a member of the dead child's family exacted revenge by driving into the commander's vehicle with an explosive-packed car that killed the commander.
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 April 2013 15:36|