A SORRY STATE OF AFFAIRS
What ever happened to good, old fashion contrition and remorse, asks BARRY RONGE
Don't you love the way the phrase "I'm sorry" has become like some super-effective pimple cream for public figures suffering an outbreak of ugly spots. When they get caught redhanded in a situation which could compromise their future they head for the nearest gathering of TV cameras and say "I'm sorry".
They seem to believe that merely by saying it they have exonerated themselves. "I'm sorry" has become like a moral squeegee that wipes the slate clean. Words like "contrition" and "remorse" do not come into it. As for "retribution" or "punishment", get real, buddy, this the guilt-free '90s.
Two generations of haute couture psychology, touchy-feely therapy and personal enhancement courses have taught us that guilt is as toxic and icky as nuclear waste. Guilt is bad. It prevents us from feeling good about ourselves.
Guilt stops us from "being all we can be", so we must learn to forgive ourselves and move on. Just embrace your little weakness, sorry, your challenge, know it for what it is, forgive yourself and walk on by.
Go do some course in which you discover the warrior or the goddess in yourself, or learn to walk on hot coals or to juggle to show that you have banished guilt and fear from your life.
Just don't actually repent or, God forbid, try to make good. That's so common, such an admission that you have not yet banished guilt because guilty people are such a drag. You could write off your entire social life.
Well, forgive me for sounding somewhat Old Testament about all this, but I kind of miss the old idea of contrition. Remember it? I am not looking for public beheadings, amputations and floggings, or at least, not yet.
I am not even looking for jail sentences. I am just looking for a gesture that will say "I am doing this to make up for the damage I have done". The payment of some fine, the imposition of some community service, even a temporary loss of status would be something to indicate regret for doing damage.
Saying "I'm sorry" just doesn't cut it for me because the phrase has become meaningless.
Here is a rough translation of what "I'm sorry" means today: "Now that I have been caught out I'd better apologise. I probably won't do that specific thing again but I'll tell you this much, I am not prepared to accept any punishment or rebuke for what I have done. I will not compromise my status or relinquish my power. I will publicly acknowledge my wrongdoing and then I will return to my life and live it exactly as I have been doing up to now and that's that. I have said I'm sorry. Now get out of my face and leave me alone."
I think it is a mistake to see confession of this kind as the end of a process instead of the beginning, or at least the midpoint of some corrective or, if you prefer psychobabble, "healing" process.
That's why everyone got on Bill Clinton's case. I do not believe it is his sexual activity that got to people. It was the sullen, arrogant nature of his defiant apology that got them going.
If he had said, right at the start, "I did it" and had submitted himself to the censure of Congress he would have taken the wind out of the sails of his foes.
Instead he has been through a visible hell, and he has made that slut Monica rich. Did you see that she is being paid an astronomical sum of money, rumoured to be something like $470 000 (about R2,8-million) for modelling a dark blue dress in an Italian fashion show. Is that her way of saying sorry?
But that principle is also what has made South Africans so angry about the tuck shop theft scandal involving Sydney Mufamadi's daughter and other classmates. R48 000 is not small change. There are people in South African prisons for stealing less than that.
So she wrote a full confession in which she admitted everything and now what? Is that it? No suspension, no community service, no conciliatory action of any kind? It is one thing to confess before you get caught. But to apologise after you get caught and walk away covered with praise because you were brave enough to say "I'm sorry" sends a message that unnerves me.
But, hey, if that's the South African way, you will excuse me because I have a letter to write. It goes "Dear Receiver of Revenue, I am really, really sorry about not having paid my taxes for the last 15 years. Just send me my new assessment and I'll see what I can do from the year 2000 onwards". I suspect that writing such a letter would leave me feeling very sorry indeed.