Hearit’s Three-Act Play and Ideal Apologia

In Apologetic rhetoric, Rhetorical analysis on May 31, 2007 at 12:04 pm

In “Crisis Management by Apology,” Keith Michael Hearit argues that an apologetic exchange can be viewed as a three-act play or ritual consisting of: an act, a charge of wrongdoing, and a defense. A critical element of this three-act play is the idea of guilt. In essence, the charge of wrongdoing is an assertion that an individual or organization has violated “some cherished social value” and, therefore, must purge the guilt of this violation and seek restoration into the community in the final act: the apologia.

Hearit also lays out a method for ethically judging the apologetic decisions of individuals and organizations. This method is based on two aspects of apologetic discourse: (1) the manner and (2) the content. In terms of the manner, Hearit asserts that, ideally, an ethical apologia is truthful, sincere, timely, and voluntary. It also addresses all stakeholders and is performed in an appropriate context (p. 64). However, in terms of the content, an ethical apologia should acknowledge wrongdoing, accept responsibility, express regret, identify with the victims, ask for forgiveness, seek reconciliation, disclose relevant information, provide an explanation that addresses the victims’ questions and concerns, and offer corrective actions and compensation.

It is worth noting that these characteristics describe the ideal or paradigm case of an ethical apologia. Therefore, an apologia that fails to meet one or several aspects is not necessarily unethical. Rather, it may be less ethical than the ideal, but still judged “ethically acceptable.” Moreover, there are at least five circumstances “that could justify departures from the paradigm case while still retaining the essential ethical character of an apologia.” These circumstances include: catastrophic financial losses, grave liability issues, a “moral learning curve,” questions over full-disclosure, and even situations where confidentiality or discretion are expected.

  1. It might be interesting to look at apologia in the aftermath of widespread trauma such as the Rwandan genocide. Formal aplogia has been a key part in the work of Quaker organizations such as the African Great Lakes Initiative, which works with perpetrators and their victims in Rwanda and neighboring countries.

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