Anyone who has been involved in rearing human infants will understand that the word “sorry” is the coda to the process of reconciling a malevolent or negligent act, not the start.
It’s also totally meaningless for the word to be said by anyone other than the person who committed the act, unless it’s used in the context of sympathy (“I’m sorry that happened to you”) instead.
Australian politicians don’t seem to have learned this important life lesson, however.
A decade ago the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, apologised for previous Australian governments’ treatment of the Aboriginal people of Australia.
This year, the current Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, will apologise for child abuse committed in various institutions.
In addition to the word “sorry”, these apologies have a significant commonality; they are both meaningless because the speaker was not responsible for the crime. In most cases, the speaker was not even born at the time of the crime.
This new apology will receive much gushing news coverage and several soundbites will be carefully crafted to ensure their future use in television documentaries.
But let’s be clear; it will change nothing.
Fortunately, I’m not a victim of institutional child abuse (or any other kind of child abuse for that matter) but I am able to empathise with those who are. I assume that, if an apology were to be offered to the survivors, it would be far more likely to give them “closure” if the apology was delivered by the perpetrator.
If the perpetrator refused to give the apology or was unable to (most are dead now), perhaps it might give some satisfaction if their direct manager apologised for their part in the problem.
But there seems to be a rapidly diminishing law of returns in play as the apology moves further and further away from anyone actually involved at the time to the point that, when we reach the Prime Minister (in just his 3rd year in the job), it may as well be delivered by an out of work actor. At least the dramatic delivery would have a good chance of seeming genuine.
Apologising for history is virtue signalling nonsense.
We can understand why it is attractive to politicians however; it’s far simpler to say sorry for something you weren’t responsible for than to competently oversee the investigation and prosecution of criminals and assisting any living victims.
In other news, on behalf of the whole of western Christendom, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for the sacking of Constantinople in 1215. Hopefully we can all move on from here and find common ground.