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All apologies


A couple of years ago, my 17-year-old son was invited to participate in an event at the Melbourne Recital Centre. He got there because of a high mark in a performance subject at a Victorian high school. At the first rehearsal, someone, an adult, made a slighting remark about his reading ability. My son is severely dyslexic and suffered through 12 years in a system that had very little to offer him. He is a good at what he does and is now working in that field professionally. He wasn’t that worried about the comment.

But I’d had it. I’d been battling this sort of thing for his entire school career.

I discovered, not to my surprise, that the event was outsourced, and casual staff were hired to help put the show together. Eventually I got onto someone who bore some responsibility for it. I told my story and asked for an explanation. She agreed to investigate. Eventually, she got back to me to say that the person who had made the comment thought my son was very talented and would like to provide him with some contacts. I wrote back and said that I appreciated the offer, but I was still wondering why the comment was made. She didn’t respond and I let the matter drop.

A few weeks later I applied for a job at the university where I had just completed a doctorate. I received an email to say that my application wasn’t successful because I did not have a doctorate. I phoned up and was told that someone would be in touch. When I was contacted, I was told that I had been misinformed. My application was not successful for a whole range of reasons, none of which sounded like anything that would disqualify me from an interview at least. I said thanks and hung up.

Slings and arrows and all that. I’m healthy and have lots of good things in my life to offset the occasional setback. Later, it occurred to me that in both cases, I would have been satisfied with a simple apology.

Have I missed something? Is this not what the cool kids do now? When did people stop saying sorry and, more importantly, why?


'I didn’t want anyone fired or humiliated. I just wanted to hear three words. I am sorry.'


What’s happened to the word? We live in what must be the final stages of capitalism where everything is about competition and games, usually the zero sum ones. Perhaps sorry is an admission of defeat? There are only winners and those losers who say sorry in the neoliberal cage match. Politicians have followed suit. The most boring drinking game of all is the one where you watch Parliament and take a sip when someone accepts responsibility for something. Donald Trump is never contrite. He is facing 700 years in prison but apparently would rather serve every second than utter that one horrible word.

Maybe no one says sorry because no one is ever forgiven for anything. A public figure who makes a gaffe is ridiculed if they apologise. So why bother? The social media court room treats apologies as admissions of guilt. It is always better to deny and keep denying.

A few weeks ago, a Norwegian mountain climber called Kristin Harila was in the news. She climbed the fourteen highest mountains in 92 days but that’s not what got her on the front page. On the final peak, the terrifying K2, a tragedy occurred when Mohammed Hassan, a porter, died on the trail near the top while fixing ropes for the summit attempt. I noticed that she posted an ‘explanation’ on Instagram. It suggested, among other things, that Hassan was not properly equipped, and that people should be kind to her. What she didn’t do was apologise. Well, you say, maybe it wasn’t her fault. Why should she be sorry? There’s the rub. A young man with three children died in the service of helping her to achieve her goal. He was there to support his family in Pakistan. Harila has challenged the highest mountains in the world, but apologising was far too dangerous. 

I have no idea if there is a solution to this worrying development. I don’t know what to think of a world where ‘accountability’ is part of ‘good practice’ while most people duck it at all costs. It’s frightening that saying sorry is now ridiculed and regarded as weakness. No one likes blundering. The person who made the comment about my son’s reading isn’t evil, they are human. They got it wrong that day. I didn’t want anyone fired or humiliated. I just wanted to hear three words. I am sorry.




Tony Thompson is a Sydney based writer and speaker. He has written books about Shakespeare, vampires, Mary Shelley, and Jim Morrison. His articles on education, music, and travel have appeared in The Age, The Australian, and Eureka Street.

Main image: (Getty images)

Topic tags: Tony Thompson, Sorry, Apologies, Forgiveness



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