The Apology Company

for the week of January 29, 2001
by Rubel Shelly

There are significant cultural differences between East and West, between Orient and Occident. Professor Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociology professor at People's University in Tianjin, China, was interviewed on the matter recently by The New York Times and focused on the issue of asking another's pardon.

According to Zhou, Japan, China, and other Asian cultures tend to be apologetically challenged. "Germany has been good at making apologies for what it did during World War II," he said. "But the Japanese are not good at this, nor are the Chinese. They are always looking for excuses and forgetting misdeeds."

One school visited by Professor Zhou had been particularly terrorized during the Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976. One adult was beaten to death, and the principal of the school was left handicapped. The students who did those horrible deeds are all grown up now, many of them parents and teachers themselves. "But up to now there is not a single person who has gone back and apologized for what they did," he said. "It is a problem with the whole society."

The power of an apology to reduce tensions and begin healing traces to the ethical teachings of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures about responsibility, moral accountability, and confession of sin. "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16).

Because of the reluctance in Chinese society to say "I'm sorry," an apology company has begun to thrive. The Tianjin Apology and Gift center has for its motto "We Say Sorry for You." Its founder believed the people of Tianjin needed help with making up and getting past grievances help with apologizing.

In spite of our cultural permissions and biblical knowledge, most of us still tend to have a problem with taking ownership of our mistakes. Ever have that problem with someone at work who wouldn't admit messing up? Or, worse still, who tried to shift the blame to someone else? Ever know of a church to go through a division because nobody would make a move to apologize? Ever have a tense time in your family because you er, somebody wouldn't admit fault?

I can't predict how successful an apology company in China will be. But I agree with Professor Zhou on one key point. "If you are sincere," he said, "you should go and apologize by yourself."

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