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Author Topic: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"  (Read 1424 times)

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Twik

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Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« on: December 08, 2017, 08:40:13 AM »
We've done a lot of talking on this site about how infuriating apologies are when they start off "IF I've hurt anyone, I'm sorry."

Dustin Hoffman, in his recent dust-up with John Oliver, perhaps unintentionally made the ploy clear. In trying to defend himself against charges of harassment, for which he ostensibly apologized, he gave this admission:

Quote
“I’m asking my agent, my publicist, what do I do now?’” said Hoffman of his apology, at the very beginning of a video obtained by the Washington Post. Not five seconds into his response, and Hoffman has already conceded that his initial statement wasn’t the work of a man deeply ashamed and remorseful of his mistreatment of women, but of a team of Hollywood executives advising their client on how best to mitigate a PR problem. Incredibly, Hoffman kept digging.

“There’s a key word that’s left out in the quote as it goes around the world,” he continued. “And that is: ‘if’ I did anything that was out of sorts, or I embarrassed her, I apologize. And the word ‘if’ was important.”

So, his "apology" was couched in such a way that, at least to Hoffman's mind, he's not admitted any wrongdoing. If he hurt anyone, he's sorry - but he didn't hurt anyone. I think this is a perfect example of why "I'm sorry IF I did something wrong" is not a real apology.
My cousin's memoir of love and loneliness while raising a child with multiple disabilities will be out on Amazon soon! Know the Night, by Maria Mutch, has been called "full of hope, light, and companionship for surviving the small hours of the night."

TurtleDove

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #1 on: December 08, 2017, 09:16:43 AM »
I don't know the specifics of the Dustin Hoffman situation, but in a general sense.....

I think a person can absolutely apologize "if someone was hurt" or "if I offended someone" without "admitting" to any wrongdoing. I personally would probably used the phrase, "to the extent something I did or said hurt someone, I apologize," and I would not also feel compelled to say, "what I did or said was wrong" if I did not feel I was wrong. I don't want to go around hurting people, but there are some people who find offense where none was intended and just because a person is offended or hurt does not necessarily mean another person was wrong in what they did or said.

Hmmmmm

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #2 on: December 08, 2017, 10:17:56 AM »
I agree with TurtleDove. I do think "if" can be in an apology. For instance:
"I did not know you were sensitive to smells. If my use of perfume offended you, I am sorry."
"If I came across as aggressive to you, I am sorry. I am very passionate about this subject."

However, if you know your actions would be offensive to a good part of the population, then no, you shouldn't use it.
"If my racist joke offended you, I am sorry."

Onyx_TKD

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #3 on: December 08, 2017, 10:37:17 AM »
I don't know the specifics of the Dustin Hoffman situation, but in a general sense.....

I think a person can absolutely apologize "if someone was hurt" or "if I offended someone" without "admitting" to any wrongdoing. I personally would probably used the phrase, "to the extent something I did or said hurt someone, I apologize," and I would not also feel compelled to say, "what I did or said was wrong" if I did not feel I was wrong. I don't want to go around hurting people, but there are some people who find offense where none was intended and just because a person is offended or hurt does not necessarily mean another person was wrong in what they did or said.

In general, as well:
Why would you (general) be apologizing for something you don't think was wrong...unless someone has told you it hurt/offended them? If someone tells you "That hurt me," and you believe them, then there's no reason for the "if"--you know someone was hurt. If you don't believe them (a likely reason for the conditional), then you are explicitly not apologizing, because you only apologized "if" someone was hurt. You're either sorry or not depending on your perception; knowing that you would become sorry if you ever became actually convinced you hurt them isn't an apology for an existing hurt. That's why a conditional apology sounds like no apology at all.

I think it can be reasonable to clarify that a statement or action was not meant to be hurtful/offensive and possibly to explain what you intended to do/convey, in addition to the apology for the hurt/offense. Or instead of an apology if you are owning the fact that the "hurt" party is being unreasonable and you don't believe an apology was warranted. But implying that a person's stated "hurt" may or may not exist isn't really compatible with a genuine apology.

E.g., "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to step on your foot--I thought you were over there" may be reasonable after someone yelps "Ow! You stepped on my foot!" Saying "I'm sorry if I stepped on your foot" after they've clearly said you did just implies you think they're a liar and aren't actually apologizing. And obviously the former would only be reasonable if it's plausible you didn't know their foot was there--if you were face-to-face with the person when you stepped forward onto their foot, it would seem just as disingenuous as the "if" apology.

maksi

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #4 on: December 08, 2017, 10:46:44 AM »
Non-apologies are great if you don't really want to apologize for what you've done - either because you don't think it needs apologizing or you don't think/want to admit you did it. As long as you don't try to present a non-apology as an apology, it's all fine.

A real apology owns up to what you did and says you're sorry for what you did, not for others feeling hurt because of it.

TurtleDove

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #5 on: December 08, 2017, 10:50:39 AM »
I think semantics might be at play here. I think some people view an "apology" as an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. I don't think that's always the case. If I say, "I'm sorry to hear your father died," I am not apologizing for killing someone's father. If I say, "I'm sorry what I said hurt your feelings," I am not (necessarily) apologizing for what I said. Same with the word "if," in my view. Maybe it's "sloppy" in some ways, but I think use of the word "if" implies that the person is sorry that another person was hurt without necessarily being sorry for what the person did or said. "I'm sorry if you are hurt by my views on penguin migration, but that is what I believe." It's not really saying I don't "believe" the person is hurt, but more a way of conveying that the hurt might not be rational or might not be something I am willing to change to prevent.

Oh Joy

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #6 on: December 08, 2017, 11:25:39 AM »
I fully respect that many people are bothered by non-apologies, conditional apologies, and the like.  But I personally have no patience (for lack of a better term) for complaints about how people apologize.  Either someone is sorry or they're not, and dissecting specific words or wanting them to say something they don't mean doesn't change that.

I know this is an unpopular opinion, and again I respect that this is important to many people.  Thanks for listening.  :)

Winterlight

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #7 on: December 08, 2017, 11:40:11 AM »
We've done a lot of talking on this site about how infuriating apologies are when they start off "IF I've hurt anyone, I'm sorry."

Dustin Hoffman, in his recent dust-up with John Oliver, perhaps unintentionally made the ploy clear. In trying to defend himself against charges of harassment, for which he ostensibly apologized, he gave this admission:

Quote
“I’m asking my agent, my publicist, what do I do now?’” said Hoffman of his apology, at the very beginning of a video obtained by the Washington Post. Not five seconds into his response, and Hoffman has already conceded that his initial statement wasn’t the work of a man deeply ashamed and remorseful of his mistreatment of women, but of a team of Hollywood executives advising their client on how best to mitigate a PR problem. Incredibly, Hoffman kept digging.

“There’s a key word that’s left out in the quote as it goes around the world,” he continued. “And that is: ‘if’ I did anything that was out of sorts, or I embarrassed her, I apologize. And the word ‘if’ was important.”

So, his "apology" was couched in such a way that, at least to Hoffman's mind, he's not admitted any wrongdoing. If he hurt anyone, he's sorry - but he didn't hurt anyone. I think this is a perfect example of why "I'm sorry IF I did something wrong" is not a real apology.

In his case, I'm guessing the weasel words are partly because he doesn't want to get sued out of his socks by admitting guilt in a public fashion.
If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.
Caroline Lake Ingalls

lakey

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #8 on: December 08, 2017, 12:24:14 PM »
My problem with this thread is that we are generalizing about a "non-apology" using the 17 year old girl's accusation against Hoffman as an example.
Hoffman's alleged behavior included groping and very crude sexual comments directed at a 17 year old intern.
 In 1985 Hoffman was old enough and experienced enough to understand exactly what he was doing. This kind of treatment of a 17 year old girl is not acceptable, and is intentional, and no, an " if I embarrassed you, I'm sorry," is not an acceptable apology. It is phony, self serving, and cowardly. If he didn't do what she accused him of, he's off the hook. If he did what she said, then he is just one more self-centered, self-important entertainment industry brat who thinks he doesn't have to follow society's rules because he's just that special.

I agree with previous commenters regarding less serious accusations, but when the apologized for behavior involves serious matters, such as groping or sexual harassment, or is intentional, nope, "sorry if you're offended" isn't good enough.

Twik

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #9 on: December 08, 2017, 12:45:11 PM »
I think semantics might be at play here. I think some people view an "apology" as an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. I don't think that's always the case. If I say, "I'm sorry to hear your father died," I am not apologizing for killing someone's father. If I say, "I'm sorry what I said hurt your feelings," I am not (necessarily) apologizing for what I said. Same with the word "if," in my view. Maybe it's "sloppy" in some ways, but I think use of the word "if" implies that the person is sorry that another person was hurt without necessarily being sorry for what the person did or said. "I'm sorry if you are hurt by my views on penguin migration, but that is what I believe." It's not really saying I don't "believe" the person is hurt, but more a way of conveying that the hurt might not be rational or might not be something I am willing to change to prevent.

Well, that's the thing. In the quote, Hoffman is claiming he didn't actually do anything to apologize for. When accused, he just said "IF I did anything wrong, I'm sorry." He wants to have it both ways. The media want to discuss this? Hey, he's apologized. Let's move on. But *really* want to talk about why he did what he did? Well, he didn't do anything, and all the women who say he did are liars. It's a Schrodinger's Apology, where the result is either way, he walks away without having to actually be sorry for anything.
My cousin's memoir of love and loneliness while raising a child with multiple disabilities will be out on Amazon soon! Know the Night, by Maria Mutch, has been called "full of hope, light, and companionship for surviving the small hours of the night."

TurtleDove

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2017, 01:38:24 PM »
I think semantics might be at play here. I think some people view an "apology" as an acknowledgment of wrongdoing. I don't think that's always the case. If I say, "I'm sorry to hear your father died," I am not apologizing for killing someone's father. If I say, "I'm sorry what I said hurt your feelings," I am not (necessarily) apologizing for what I said. Same with the word "if," in my view. Maybe it's "sloppy" in some ways, but I think use of the word "if" implies that the person is sorry that another person was hurt without necessarily being sorry for what the person did or said. "I'm sorry if you are hurt by my views on penguin migration, but that is what I believe." It's not really saying I don't "believe" the person is hurt, but more a way of conveying that the hurt might not be rational or might not be something I am willing to change to prevent.

Well, that's the thing. In the quote, Hoffman is claiming he didn't actually do anything to apologize for. When accused, he just said "IF I did anything wrong, I'm sorry." He wants to have it both ways. The media want to discuss this? Hey, he's apologized. Let's move on. But *really* want to talk about why he did what he did? Well, he didn't do anything, and all the women who say he did are liars. It's a Schrodinger's Apology, where the result is either way, he walks away without having to actually be sorry for anything.

I don't know much about the Dustin Hoffman situation, but from what you posted, I don't agree with your characterization. I am not sure how he would be expected to "talk about why he did what he did" when he said he didn't do anything. What is he expected to say other than "I'm sorry if I offended anyone - it wasn't my intention." From what I understand, the allegation involves something alleged to have happened 32 years ago. I do not doubt for one second that he has no specific recollection of anything from that time frame, certainly not something that was not called to his attention at the time.

Again, I don't know the specifics of anything relating to Dustin Hoffman. I am just saying that (in general) a statement of "I am sorry if you were offended" is not trying "to have it both ways." I view it as an honest statement of "I don't think I did anything wrong, but if something I did hurt you, I am sorry you were hurt." In my view it is better than a statement of "you are a liar and I am glad you are hurt."

Winterlight

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #11 on: December 08, 2017, 09:11:13 PM »
My problem with this thread is that we are generalizing about a "non-apology" using the 17 year old girl's accusation against Hoffman as an example.
Hoffman's alleged behavior included groping and very crude sexual comments directed at a 17 year old intern.
 In 1985 Hoffman was old enough and experienced enough to understand exactly what he was doing. This kind of treatment of a 17 year old girl is not acceptable, and is intentional, and no, an " if I embarrassed you, I'm sorry," is not an acceptable apology. It is phony, self serving, and cowardly. If he didn't do what she accused him of, he's off the hook. If he did what she said, then he is just one more self-centered, self-important entertainment industry brat who thinks he doesn't have to follow society's rules because he's just that special.

I agree with previous commenters regarding less serious accusations, but when the apologized for behavior involves serious matters, such as groping or sexual harassment, or is intentional, nope, "sorry if you're offended" isn't good enough.

Pod. "Sorry if I'm wearing too much perfume," is fairly minor. "Sorry if I embarrassed you by groping and harassing you when you were a seventeen year old intern," is a whole other ball of wax.
If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.
Caroline Lake Ingalls

Allyson

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Re: Dustin Hoffman's apology and the word "if"
« Reply #12 on: December 09, 2017, 11:42:22 PM »
I think that there's no really good way to apologise for something if you don't remember doing it, or don't remember it the way the person said.  And sometimes, I think that's true especially when it's so long ago.  You can either assume the other person is totally telling the truth and you just don't recall, which ... is hard to swallow if you really think you may not have done it.  You can say "I absolutely didn't do that", which would be the ideal, for someone to be certain they'd never have done it.  Or you can think "hmm gee I really don't remember it that way but maybe someone took a joke wrong . . " And non-apologize in some way. And of course a lot of people say "I don't recall" when they actually do remember it and just want to dodge blame. I think we try to parse apologies to figure out of the person is "really" sorry or if they did the thing, but without psychic powers I think that's basically impossible.