Public life, and the media in general, has been inundated in recent years by demands for apologies from people in prominent positions, once their various misdemeanours or wrong-doings have come to light, and therein lies the problem.
As a child I was led to understand that apologies needed to be timely and believable. Heartfelt optional. Apologies generally came once my misdemeanour had been caught, but their purpose was to teach me, a child, that certain behaviour was unacceptable to my parents - that certain behaviour needed to be addressed.
So I find myself asking - what purpose do these laggardly, often miserly, apologies serve..? For those sinning, do they demonstrate remorse?
If so, I find it suspicious that they come only *after* the light has been cast upon their actions.. Is it recognition of the harm that they have done to others..? Again, I find it suspicious that these apologies are often all but coerced, and only once others have discovered their wrongdoings.
Now, I do not necessarily believe in apologies that do nothing but salve the conscience of the guilty-party - I believe that actions, carried out with commitment, must be the coin that purchases forgiveness - of oneself, if not of the offended - but by this same token the act of apology in and of itself signifies nothing...
So, for those offended or harmed - do they benefit from the apology? A genuine acknowledgement of their pain or grievance can absolutely give some form of comfort, or relief, but I question how genuine a coerced (or be-lawyered) apology can ever be. If there are positive actions that follow the apology, those too are to be welcomed (even if they look to prevent future issues, rather than directly redressing those originally impacted). But such actions, unless instigated by the responsible party, must be recognised as stemming from those who brought the wrongdoing to light, not to those who, brought to the brink, consent to apologise.
I accept that this doesn’t address the minority of people who simply didn’t realise that they’d caused harm, and who didn’t conspire to hide their mis-doings. They, once confronted by the inadvertent impacts of their actions are frequently genuine in their apologies, and their subsequent actions.
So, my conclusions:
- If someone forces you to apologise, there is little value, except as a learning experience (and, unless you’re a child, you should be fairly embarrassed to require such a lesson...)
- If the apology lags the mis-doing by a prolonged period - weeks, months, years - it appears that (in most cases) it is a false apology - with little real remorse (other than for having one’s misdemeanours brought to life)
- Actions speak louder than words. Words by themselves are hot air and signify nothing. Only actions that demonstrate remorse, learning and the desire to address the failures are of value.
I consider these to be useful benchmarks against which to weigh the value of public apologies.
I think of examples such as Gruenenthal's (very) belated apology for the Thalidomide issues in the 1950s, the results of the recent independent report into the Hillsborough incident in 1989, a number of recent issues in the finance industry, and I suspect they do not meet my standards for a reasonable apology.
I wonder if they meet yours..?