Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The devaluation of the currency of apology

Apologies are not what they used to be.


BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner recently apologised for doing what he's paid to do, i.e. report the news. This arose in a discussion on Radio 4's Today programme about the impending deportation to the USA of Abu Hamza where Gardner revealed that the Queen had expressed surprise and disappointment that the hook-handed loon could not have been arrested earlier. Anything the royal family have to do with politics should be reported - the forthcoming release of memos from Prince Charles to various government departments is part of this too. Someone whose job is to report the news should not apologise for doing exactly that.

Andrew Mitchell further served to devalue the currency of apologies by saying sorry for losing his rag, but not for calling public servants "fucking plebs" and the general air of entitlement that a lot of the current government give off whenever they're faced by someone without the same privileged upbringing as they enjoyed. Likewise Nick Clegg, whose apology for making a pledge rather than the subsequent breaking of it, was as wide of the mark as it's possible to get. It was one of those very modern apologies which uses words like 'sorry' and 'contrite' but doesn't address the actual thing that's got people's backs up.

The more common one is for apologising if people have taken offence to something rather than for causing the offence in the first place, thereby shifting the blame away from oneself and onto the subjects of your abhorrent comments or actions. In the world of the modern, media-trained career politician, the saying sorry is seen as being a person of the people, but heaven forfend that the apology is actually related to the thing that the clamour for apology is actually about. That would be admitting a wrong, and that would never do.

We're a nation of bad apologisers. Routinely, we apologise when someone else stands on our foot in a crowded bar. But the real tipping point that has irrevocably devalued the currency of the apology came in the world of public transport. There is no apology worth less than a pre-recorded one informing you of the late running of trains. But the worst, the absolute most heinous of all the guilty parties is the otherwise humble bus.

If a bus is not in service, all that needs to be done is display the legend 'not in service'. But no. Instead, the bus companies determined at some point that the bus should also apologise for it's out-of-serviceness by adding 'sorry, I'm' to the front of 'not in service'. In the most egregious of circumstances, this is followed up with a sad face. By adding the 'I'm', they infantilise the whole of society as well as devalue the apology.

The endangered and devalued apology must be saved. So I urge you to stop apologising for things other people have done, don't apologise for the sake of it, ensure you are apologising for the thing you're actually sorry about and if you're not sorry, don't do it.

I'm sorry if this is controversial, but it's just the way I feel.

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