Thursday, February 25, 2010

The next best thing to being good

Apparently this week has been declared International Apologies Week. You heard it here first.

Yesterday I woke up to someone on CBC Morning talking about how ridiculous it is that our Canadian Olympic athletes feel compelled to apologize for "only" taking silver bronze medals, or for taking no medals at all.

Too true—if someone told me I was the fifth-richest person in the world, or the fifth-best knitter (as if, on both counts), do you think I'd be apologizing for not coming in first? Not on your nelly, I wouldn't. Personally, I blame that idiotic "Own the Podium" campaign. I'm open to being proven wrong, but...oh, wait, scratch that.

I'm not, really. That was just me, being Canadian again.

Anyway. Apologies.

Next in line to say mea culpa was mayor Peter Kelly of the City of Halifax, apologizing to African-Canadians in that community for having razed Africville so the city could put up a bridge, a road, and a container pier in its place. I moved to Halifax just before the final piece of that particular "urban renewal" scheme happened, and I remember the demolition of Africville's last homes and the church pretty well.

It wasn't much to look at, at least from the outside, but that community carried a long and dignified history, dating back to the escaped and freed slaves who came to Nova Scotia in the early 1800s. The community was tarred as a "slum," primarily because the city never bothered to offer it the basic services the rest of Halifax took for granted.

This week's apology will apparently come with some kind of compensation package, to which I can only say, "It's about time."

Then there was the apology from Akio Toyoda on behalf of the beleaguered Toyota Motor Company. Dude claims to "love cars as much as anyone," and says he is "deeply sorry" that his company kind of dropped the ball vis à vis the whole safety thing. My favourite line from this apology: "When the cars are damaged, it is as though I am as well." I feel the tears welling up as I type.

I was just absorbing Mr. Toyoda's confession, when I heard that Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown had issued a formal apology on his nation's behalf to the Home Children. These were poor kids who were gathered up from the slums, orphanages, and workhouses and sent off to places like Canada and Australia between the 1860s and 1939, when the program was officially ended.

Viewed as "fertilizer of the Empire," many of these kids were taken without their parents' knowledge or permission; their records were falsified to ensure the families could never reunite; and they were lied to, told their parents no longer wanted them, and that they'd be adopted by kind families and given fresh air, whole milk, and all the opportunities they could wish for. While some did find their way to families that treated them well, many were exploited, abused, and treated as little more than slaves.

It's taken a while, and most of the Home Children are long since dead, but I suppose Brown's apology comes under the heading of "better late than never."

I can't figure out, though, why all these apologies (and the Tiger Woods apology, though technically that took place last week) have been bombarding the airwaves lately. Maybe it's contagious: one person hears about another's apology and thinks, "Hmm. I've been feeling a bit burdened by conscience lately; maybe if I tell the entire world I'm really, really sorry, all this inconvenient guilt will disappear."

Or maybe it's the times in which we live. Apology makes great spectator sport, as we watch the formerly mighty humble themselves in front of the news cameras. And oddly, when a person confesses voluntarily to having done wrong (or, in the cases of Africville and the Home Children, to sitting in public office that formerly belonged to someone who did wrong) it tends to confer a certain moral high ground.

Apology: it's the next best thing to having done the right thing in the first place. Keep that in mind next February—if you've done anything wrong, and you want to cleanse yourself of the guilt, all you have to do is call a press conference.


Mitchell said...

I would just like to say...

Ah, no, never mind.


Patti (from Ottawa) said...

My birth father's mom and her brother were Home children. I found out when I met my father.