For a long time now I’ve had ‘sorry’ on my list of things to potentially blog about. Sorry and forgiveness.
I don’t like falling out with people. It doesn’t happen very often. Mostly, probably, because I have very few friends with whom to fall out. I struggle to become good friends with people. Possibly because my experience is that people whom I thought were my friends have invariably let me down or stabbed me in the back at some point. It’s not for nothing that this is one of my favourite songs.
Also I am very bad at maintaining friendships.
When I was a child – an only child – I very much enjoyed my own company. Although I did have a best friend. By secondary school my friendship circle had widened but with it the capacity for it to hurt me. In my late teens I was a hugely empathetic and caring friend who went to great lengths for my gang. But it was exhausting and rarely reciprocated. At uni I lived with my boyfriend rather than in halls so didn’t have the full on fresher experience that creates those tight drinking allegiances. At various workplaces I have picked up some very close friends, but the truth is I rarely see any of them. Work and kids and life and family obligations and laziness have collectively conspired to ensure I almost never go out and I hardly ever hook up with friends except online. I used to have a more active work-related social diary but it got scuppered.
Generally I don’t miss having friends. But sometimes I do. As a friend I am incredibly loyal. I will never betray you and I try very hard never to make a promise I can’t keep. I am not a good timekeeper but I do hate letting people down.
The problem with this is that I tend to hold equally high standards for my friends. Which is why I invariably end up disappointed. (I get that it’s my problem not theirs.) But although I am no fool and won’t tolerate excessive piss-taking, I am a forgiving soul. A simple heartfelt ‘sorry’ for an unintended transgression will invariably pacify me. I don’t bear grudges and I’m no stranger to classic cock-ups myself. My terminal foot-in-mouth tendencies have often found me causing inadvertent hurt or insult to the people I care about, and I am grateful to those who knew my heart well enough to recognise that my intent was the opposite, and who have seen beyond the idiocy to forgive my blunder.
So I am puzzled by those who choose not to apologise, and I am perplexed by those who prefer to bear a grudge than accept an apology.
Despite six good years with our neighbours with whom we exchanged gifts and mended their electricals and mowed their lawn, one ill-judged conversation held on an evening of extreme stress blew it all despite attempts to make amends with the humblest letter of apology you’re ever likely to receive. For some reason they prefer to expend energy not only harbouring resentment, but refusing to acknowledge our existence. I find it nonsensical.
And yet I also understand why the power of ‘sorry’ has been diminished. On a daily basis you will read how someone was ‘forced to apologise’ for some perceived gaffe. The nature of today’s ultra-PC, super-sensitive world of words spoken in haste or Tweets sent in frustration apparently means that for every misstep or thoughtless comment an apology must be demanded.
A news search today reports:
Liverpool forced to apologise for a Director’s threats against a fan
Phil Neville forced to apologise for diving
A magazine forced to apologise for Photoshopping Britney Spears
Lewis Hamilton forced to apologise to Button on Twitter
Gary Lineker forced to apologise for a Muslim gaffe
The Environment Agency forced to apologise for a late flood alert
Transport Secretary McLoughlin forced to apologise to Richard Branson
ScotRail bosses forced to apologise for a poster typo
and so on and so on and so on.
But what does an apology actually represent when someone has been forced to make it? Is Britney Spears so naive that she doesn’t know a cover photo of her is going to be air brushed and that she doesn’t really own her own image when she’s agreed to pose in order to sell her latest endeavour? Is Richard Branson so fragile that he needs someone to publicly humiliate themselves even more than they already have been? Is the Muslim faith so delicate that it can’t take an ill-judged ignorant comment from a football pundit? And are Scots so dour that they can’t see the joke when Airdrie is mistyped Airdire?
I can’t honestly believe that all these endless apologies are necessary, heartfelt or meaningful. And so it devalues the apology for everyone. Who would believe you are truly sorry when you absentmindedly cut in front of someone at the supermarket, or that you’re genuinely regretful for accidentally leaving someone off your party invite list?
And yet perversely those who do actually owe us an apology of the most grovelling proportions are remarkably reticent.
I am so sick of the endless news reports about all the lying, cheating bastards. Whether it’s bankers, Lance Armstrong, teachers cheating on exam results, irregular payments at the Fraud Office (how ironic), MP Denis MacShane’s false invoices or scientists making up data, apparently the new way of the world is to greedily scrabble to put one over on everyone else and damn the cost to society – financially or otherwise.
What is wrong with people that they can think this is acceptable behaviour? What shoddy kind of example does it set to others, especially the younger generation? What message does it send?
People talk about a broken society and think of so-called benefits cheats or petty thieves and drug dealers, but whilst these people hurt their own immediate society, those who are held in a position of power or regard and then cheat and lie and attempt to defraud their peers or the wider public are truly contemptible and largely to blame for what would seem to be the continuing collapse of a civil society. And for them sorry really does seem to be the hardest word.
It’s vile and deeply depressing and I don’t know what the answer is. But at the very least a sorry and an attempt to show regret and make amends would be a start.