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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Sorry or Not

Am I the only person in the world who thinks saying ‘sorry’ is over-rated?  Don’t get me wrong — if indigenous communities want and need an apology for the vile things done to them by colonial governments, they are entitled to it and should have it. Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Australians was one of the most moving and powerful things I’ve ever witnessed! And it was absolutely necessary, because the people had been asking for it for decades, and because it was a public acknowledgment of the terrible wrong done to them. That I can understand. Further, his speech was comprehensive and detailed. He made it clear exactly what white Australia was apologising for, and why.

In my personal life, though, I notice that there are people who say ‘sorry’ without really meaning it. It’s almost like giving themselves a licence to do whatever-it-was again. A quick, slick ‘sorry’ means they never have to think about what they did. It is an acknowledgment that I have been offended, but not of why. I sometimes get the idea that they actually don’t understand why — or simply don’t care.

I myself don’t actually care if they feel sorry or not. Other people’s feelings are their own concern. I don’t want to guilt-trip anyone. If they’ve upset me, I would quite like them to understand why I am upset, and not to belittle or trivialise that — but even this is a secondary consideration.

What I want is the assurance that they won’t do whatever-it-was again.


  1. I must admit, I'm an over-sorryer... but then, that's mostly because I'm also an over-guilter. For me, it comes down to a failure to find another word that expresses the fact that I didn't mean to upset someone and that I don't intend to do so again.

    Conversely, it's the other kind of sorry that sits uncomfortably with me: the kind where one country might apologise to another for a wrong doing that could be many years old. Of course it should be acknowledged that wrong was done, but I find it hard to see it as a genuine apology when it is said by people who weren't in power - or even alive! - when the mistakes happened. That said, I understand why it's important that it happens.

    Interesting post!

  2. You're obviously sincere in your apologies, even when you feel they may be excessive — so I didn't mean you. :)

    Yes, I think sometimes apologies between countries seem a bit fake too. In principle, though, I don't object to governments apologising for wrongs done long ago. Governments represent nations; they don't speak (formally) as individuals. Most nations are happy to take credit for past glories, so I think it's only fair to acknowledge past faults also.

    Interesting reply!