"I'm Sorry" Does Cut It
"'I'm sorry' doesn't cut it" is what they say.
But this is just another example of our society being fed dead wrong information through the media ... although I will say I heard a variation on that expression when I was growing up and that was before TV even: "I'm tired of hearing you say you're sorry!"
This is the point: It isn't about how the injured person feels about you saying you are sorry (or even about their opinion as to your chances for reform). The idea of making an apology is for the raising of the consciousness, the making conscious of poor behavior, the establishing of a boundry (even if it is broken again, or again and again) as to what it is the apologizer considers right and wrong behavior, it is about working off that boundry towards improvement, no matter how many times one falls back.
So "I'm sorry" does cut it," but even better would be: "I am sorry for such and such a behavior, which I have thought about and can clearly see is injurious to both myself and others, and which causes regret in the future. Please accept my apologies with the idea that I hope to improve my conduct in the future."
If the other person doesn't accept the apology, that is a defect in their personality and is no concern of the one apologizing.
"This is progress, Beggars, in the system of the Ayya:
That is to say: Opening up, revealing, admitting, confessing, apologizing for offenses committed."
A dialog reprinted from Daily Speculations The Web Site of Victor Niederhoffer and Laurel Kenner:
The dialog below clearly illustrates the uphill battle the individual raised in the west faces in adopting the system taught by the Buddha.
The illustration here is in the contrast between the two systems manners of dealing with an ethical error.
The implications of the differences are staggering, yet are almost completely unremarked on ... and this by both teachers and practitioners of the Dhamma - to say nothing of those of other systems as in the case of this dialog. Victor Neiderhoffer, who is much practiced in individualistic thinking, is to be praised for simply recognizing and publishing a contrasting point of view.
Upstaging Tom Cruise
from Dr. Mark Goulston
A super star does not a super apology make, but you don't have to be a superstar to make one.
Tom Cruise recently went over to Brooke Shields' home and apologized face-to-face for putting her down about taking meds for her post-partum depression. She not only accepted his apology, she had him join she [sic] and her family for breakfast. You don't have to be a "superstar" to give an apology and you can do something that even they don't do. You can give a "super apology."
Here are the five steps to making one, all done while looking the other person in the eye (to demonstrate sincere remorse which is the cornerstone of the process):
Say what you did wrong
Acknowledge how it hurt, disappointed, frightened or upset the other person
Admit you were wrong to do it and then apologize
Say what you are going to do to correct it and make sure it doesn't happen again
Ask those people you upset how you can make it up to them and then do it.
Michael Olds comments:
Dr. Goulston's response is well said from his point of view.
In the system of ethics taught by Gotama Saccyamuni the manner of handling the situation where one has perceived that one has made an error in ethics is different than this. Gotama's manner of handling error might be found to be instructive here in your forum where there is clearly an effort being made to see things as they really are. In Gotama's system the process would better be called 'making conscious', and goes as follows:
Approach the individual transgressed against stating words similar to these: "Friend, I have committed a blameworthy, unsuitable act that ought to be admitted. I admit it."
Say what you did that you perceive needs to be admitted by describing your understanding of how what you did is wrong according to your system of ethics. Here, in Gotama's system, in highly simplified form:
A) What was said was said knowing it was an untruth,
B) What was done was done with intent to injure either mentally or physically,
C) What was done was done with intent to take the un-given possession of another.
Ask that your admission be acknowledged as heard by the injured party with the intent that by having admitted it, brought it to consciousness face-to-face with the injured party where it cannot be easily forgotten, and where it will be easily remembered, future restraint will have been facilitated.
It will be seen that in this system there is no assumption that one understands what was experienced by the other person as a consequence of one's actions or to correct the situation.
This is because in this system there is the understanding that however much one may practice empathy there is known to be variation in beings which is largely beyond the scope of understanding of the ordinary person and which results in individuals being altered by events in various ways. We do not assume to know all.
With regard to correcting the situation it is understood that what is done is done and cannot be corrected.
On the other hand there is no problem with expressing empathy ["I can imagine how I would feel..."] and doing a good turn for someone one has injured [compensating a person for losses incurred as a consequence of trusting in one's word, returning something stolen...perhaps manyfold, paying for medical care, and so forth].
In the case where one is unable to find and face the injured person this making conscious can be done face-to-face with some highly respected individual.
There is no expectation of 'forgiveness'; that is a thing that the injured party does for their own good. Should the injured person refuse to acknowledge having heard one's admission, that is considered their problem.
 There are these two fools, Beggars: One who does not see his own faults; and one who does not acknowledge the fault confessed by another. Acknowledging stands in in the Buddha's system for the Christian "Forgiveness." The idea is the acceptance of the idea that the other has understood his wrong-doing, and that that is the end of the matter; for an injured party, this is the mechanism of action of forgiveness without the assumption of power implied by the western concept.