Apology of the Week: San Diego Mayor and the “Devil-Made-Me-Do-It” Apology

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Maureen O'Conner splits herself into two personalities to evade responsibility for gambling spree.

Maureen O’Conner splits herself into two personalities to evade responsibility for gambling spree.

Maureen O’Connor, San Diego’s first female mayor, recently acknowledged in federal court that she stole $2.1 million from her late husband’s charitable foundation during a decade-long gambling spree.

At a news conference, she said blamed her behavior on a brain tumor that was diagnosed in 2011.

“There are two Maureens — Maureen Number 1 and Maureen Number 2,” said O’Connor. “Maureen Number 2 is the Maureen who did not know she had a tumor growing in her brain.”

Fractured Apology

O’Connor was appealing to what I call the Devil-Made-Me-Do-It Apology. There are many variations of this defense:

 Attempt at Apology: I’m sorry. I say stupid things when I’m drunk, but I don’t mean any of it. It was the beer talking. I don’t know what got into me.

Translation: It wasn’t really me that insulted your mother. It was someone I barely recognize who deserves the blame.

To recognize this kind of apology, look for mention of an addictive substance, medical condition, or supernatural force. On the most superficial level it’s an attempt to blame the offense on the addiction. The booze . . . it was the booze talking, as if the responsibility lies with the substance.

Evade Responsibility

On a deeper level, this attempt to evade responsibility represents nothing less than an attempt to split the offender into two parts.

First there is a blameworthy part that gets to absorb all of the responsibility. Then there’s a blameless part that disassociates itself from the derelict behavior. It is with this blameless part that the apologizer identifies.

The goal in this fractured agency apology is to suggest that the apologizer, speaking on behalf of the “good” self, did not actually commit the harm. The new honorable self has left the old rebellious self behind to take the blame.

These types of apologies are never satisfactory to the victim because the offender is seen to be deflecting responsibility unto a party that is not able to take part in the conversation.

 

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