OFF CENTRE: It’s not only about you, doc
THERE ARE THOSE who say, “Duguid apologize. Let’s move on.”
(For newly arriving Martians, Dr William Duguid, representative for Christ Church West, cussed during a sitting of the House of Assembly.)
But we really should be wary of thinking that all we need to do when we wrong others is apologize.
Yes, it’s about apology – properly understood. But it is also about more.
In my view, parents and teachers have, in a way, miseducated the young about taking responsibility for wrongdoing. They frequently force children to apologize. Very often the little offenders have no sense of their misdeed and are in no frame of mind to take responsibility for it.
But some hasty parent or teacher pushes: “Go and apologize. Say you are sorry.”
A thing of spirit
So, from early, people get to feel it’s about saying words, and apology is thus not understood for what it is: a thing of the spirit. If genuine, it would seem to require contrition, repentance, pangs of conscience – that sort of thing.
After all, an apology is regretful admission of an offence or a failure. So, we are taking responsibility for doing wrong.
But this responsibility thing gives people a fit. Along with many a supposed apology comes an explanation, which, unfortunately, has tremendous difficulty not reeking of the smell of excuse.
Something like, “I admit I was wrong, but he made me do it.” (Translated: he provided sufficient provocation). But if he made me do it, why am I admitting wrong?
When the instigation is mentioned, it jostles for pride of place with the taking of responsibility, thereby sending mixed signals and often making the apology seem like a platform for something else, like pointing out somebody else’s fault.
But if we owning up, we owning up.
Now, this is different from an expression of regret where we are not (and should not be) taking responsibility. But there may be sadness, sorrow, disappointment, grief.
For instance, let’s say I am working late in my study around two in the morning and I hear a noise outside my window (inside my fenced-in property). I quickly reach for a rusty sword and make a stab through the window into the dark.
And into a man. Man dies.
At some point I express regret because I am sorry that a life has been lost; perhaps at the appropriate time I commiserate with his family. But an apology?
Regretful acknowledgement of an offence? What was that man doing jumping over my fence and sneaking around my property at 2 a.m.?
(The foregoing are the basic facts of an actual incident in England many years ago involving a man, who, believe it or not, was charged and convicted and had to wait until the highest court in the land eventually dismissed the case. I am unable to say whether some prosecutor(s) apologized.)
But back to what is not only about Duguid. The doc expressed the hope that the incident would not tarnish his reputation or legacy.
The real damage is (potentially) elsewhere. I have said it before: when we do wrong, we don’t just violate standards, customs, mores – we create victims.
So, who are the victims of Dr Duguid? Beside the actual “target” (more on that later), I say there are two sets of people (they may overlap): (1) those who will hold the House of Assembly (and politicians) in lower esteem; (2) those whom, by his bad example, he has potentially led down the path of incivility and lack of restraint.
This brings us to another aspect of “making wrong things right”. Restitution – making amends, paying a price.
Whereas an apology is a spiritual thing, making amends is a kind of judicial transaction. You stole the mangoes. It would be nice if you said sorry, but you should also give them back or pay for them and put in a little extra money for the anguish, discomfiture, whatever you caused by doing the stealing.
So, doc, how, if you are really taking responsibility, are you seeking to make amends to the victims?
How do you make restitution to them?
In an effort to restore something to them, what price are you going to pay for your profane rashness?
What about suggesting that you should be penalized by the House of Assembly, holding yourself available for such penalty or, if no such framework exists, imposing it on yourself?
By the way (not really), did the doc apologize to the target of his outburst?
And, meanwhile, what about the supposed instigator? No apology? No taking of responsibility? No restitution?
And the rest of us who may or may not be baying for their blood? We should hold ourselves ready to make our own proper admissions and restitutions.
Our turn will come – no doubt about it!
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor.