Just a few moments ago, Toronto’s mayor, Rob Ford said the words, “I’m sorry”. I’m seeing this more and more. The consequence for misbehaviour is simply to apologize. To wit, Canada’s federal government apologized to the aboriginal communities against whom our colonial forefathers committed terrible atrocities. I’ve seen students in schools made to apologize to for misbehaviour – often with the expectation that simply saying “I’m sorry” will wipe the slate clean.
This is a problem. The words “I’m sorry” are so often just words: hollow – meaningless utterances. So often they lack any true substance.
I guess it’s my Catholic upbringing speaking, but I don’t believe you’re sorry unless you explicate your sorrow. A true apology is accompanied by a clear admission of what one has done wrong, and a clear desire to embrace restitution. The words, “I’m sorry” are not the alpha and omega of the apology. Absolution depends on a sincere heart-felt acceptance of your true culpability. It means a desire to start anew. It means a clear sense of the wrong that you have done, and a deep sense of shame. It means more than regret of getting caught; it means true regret of the offending act, and a desire to make amends where possible. It means that you wish there were some way you could make amends.
A true apology means that you surrender everything you that you ever gained from your transgression. It means that you don’t expect forgiveness from those you have victimized, and that you gratefully throw yourself to their mercy. For most politicians, a true apology would likely have to be accompanied with the announcement of a leadership review that allows the party the opportunity to reject him if they so choose.
Someone who appeared in the much celebrated Rob Ford video is dead – his young life taken through violence. How can Ford even get on with his life knowing this? Where is the true sorrow? I want to see it.
Bernie Taupin’s line “Sorry seems to be the hardest word” should resonate with us. We should never cheapen the words “I’m sorry” by allowing them to be used expediently, as if the utterance of three syllables can make up for so much disgrace.