"Apology can be a lovely perfume; it can transform the clumsiest moment into a gracious gift."
Margaret Lee Runbeck.
Over recent times, and none more so than in the last couple of weeks and days, our TV screens and newspapers have been littered with a tidal way of apologies from politicians, the public services, organisations and celebrities who have failed to live up to what they’ve led us the public to believe they are.
An apology should be a simple act; it is the speaking of words and a demonstration of genuine regret to another for having harmed, abused or insulted them in some way. When done right, an apology has an almost magical power to repair a fractured relationship and to bring resolution and closure to the damage done. Any apology should cost us something, it is an admission that we were wrong, that we're imperfect, or that we need to improve in some way.
“So why is it that amidst all these public apologies instead of feeling restored and at ease, many of us are left with a bad sense....?” Asks Dorothy Jarvis-Lee our chief Executive and goes onto say:
“When someone violates your trust and then fails to apologise, you feel hurt and incompetent about the break down in trust and the lack of acknowledgement regarding the pain you feel.
Even worse, if an apology does come and we don’t believe it, we feel not only hurt by the initial action but also an attempted manipulation by the mere “act’ of the apology”.
Luc Bovens, a professor of philosophy at London School of Economics has produced a piece of work observing the social phenomena of apologies and forgiveness. He ventures that there are four components of a genuine apology being that you:
• recognise that what you did was wrong;
• feel bad about it;
• commit to not doing it again; and,
• that it should be delivered in a humble manner.
He says: 'We have a lot of saying sorry in the press, but what most of these people are saying is that they are sorry for the consequences of what they did and actually not for what they did. And we just don't buy this as a sincere apology.'
In the last three weeks alone we have seen unreserved public apologies from St Georges Hospital, Barclays Bank and now G4S have created ‘big news’.
22 year old Kane Gorny, died of dehydration whilst in the care of St Georges Hospital; the hospital issued a statement expressing its ‘profound regret and its unreserved apology’.
G4S failed significantly to thoroughly prepare and fulfill its public service contract to provide security guards for the Olympics. Nick Buckles, the G4S Chief Executive, has said he is very sorry.
Bob Diamond, the Chief Executive of Barclays Bank issued an apology statement in person at a House of Commons Select Committee Meeting on behalf of the ‘bad apples’ caught fixing Libor saying that “No one is more sorry, disappointed and angry about these events than I am”.
Can anyone be fairer than this?
It seems these apologies have all the right words but fall down in their sense of accountability. It is very sad that rather than being expressions of genuine regret with the power to initiate real change; that actually all these public bodies / organisations want to do is draw a line under their wrong doings and move on.
It appears, that for these public bodies that actually sorry has become the easiest word to say … far too easy by half.