Admissions and Apologies

Apologies are commonly sought and commonly given. I have always thought that an apology given in response to an apology demanded is not an apology worth having.  Apologies fall into that odd legal status, where some regard an apology as an admission of liability, while others regard an apology obtained as the mere start of a process to demand something more tangible.

The police are expert apologisers, so are churches and religious institutions. Governments are bad apologisers, mainly because politicians usually refuse to admit that they or their party have ever been wrong, not because they wish us to believe that they are infallible, but because an admission that they have got something wrong will be seized upon by their opponents as an admission of incompetence. We are all too immature to always understand that being wrong is not incompetence, but a normal and helpful part of life.

Recently the Metropolitan Police have apologised for using excessive force against Ian Tomlinson, a middle aged gentleman who collapsed and died after being struck by a baton while to police were attempting to keep the peace at a demonstration when Mr Tomlinson was an innocent by passer.

Mental distress’

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Maxine de Brunner said in a statement: “I apologise unreservedly for Simon Harwood’s use of excessive and unlawful force which caused Mr Tomlinson’s death, and for the suffering and distress caused to his family as a result.”

Of course this apology came after a settlement of legal claims, and was made in August 2013 in respect of an event that happened in 2009. With apologies it is not a case of better late than never; late is virtually meaningless.

Over 150 years ago the British government behaved callously and disgracefully when a potato famine struck Ireland. Not only did it do nothing to alleviate the famine in Ireland but it positively made the effects of the famine worse, by refusing to prevent the export of food from Ireland. Profit came before the feeding of people starving to death.

In 1997 Tony Blair issued a sort of apology for the role of the then British government at the time.

It is sensible to understand the errors and crimes of the past, but I cannot see that apologising for them does anything, except perhaps attempting to close a book which should remain open.

“A stiff apology is a second insult. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”

Some hurts are beyond apologies; the genocide of the Jews, the genocide of the native Americans, the aboriginal Australians and those other indigenous people who had nothing but their land which was taken by those more powerful. These hurts are beyond apologies because they are beyond healing.

We can all attend events and make apologies for things we did not do or issue press statements of regret about things long past. The energy would be better spent in admissions, not apologies.

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