…. seems to be the hardest word? Well, that’s what people say when you mention the dreaded S-word, though it’s not the only song dealing with the nature of sorriness and apologies by a long chalk – and to prove the point, here is another one, though somewhat the more obscure of the two. This is a blog deconstructing the apology through these two songs – Elton John finding it the hardest word to say and Karine Polwart’s proclamation that saying sorry is not enough these days.
But first, what does it actually mean to say sorry?
|sor·ry (sr, sôr)
adj. sor·ri·er, sor·ri·est
1. Feeling or expressing sympathy, pity, or regret: I’m sorry I’m late.
2. Worthless or inferior; paltry: a sorry excuse.
3. Causing sorrow, grief, or misfortune; grievous: a sorry development.
In other words, you don’t necessarily have to be guilty of any misdemeanour to feel sorry, though clearly it helps. Is that synonymous with an apology?
n. pl. a·pol·o·gies
1. An acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense.
a. A formal justification or defense.
b. An explanation or excuse: “The consequence of those measures will be the best apology for my conduct” (Daniel Defoe).
3. An inferior substitute: The sagging cot was a poor apology for a bed.
That sounds rather more defensive and self-justifying than the rather more pathetic state of being sorry, though clearly there is a wide overlap between the two.
Think in the past I typically erred on the side of over-apology, the irritating school of people who insist on saying sorry for everything, even when whatever has happened was not and could never be their fault in any way. But better that than never apologising? A friend said to me quite recently that you should never apologise: true friends don’t expect it, untrue friends don’t deserve it. However, an apology is only ever any use if it is meant with true sincerity, though “sincerely” seems a much overused and under intended word in conjunction with “sorry”. Consider two such apologies, both in football as it happens.
- Carlos Tevez apologised to Manchester City, using these words: “I wish to apologise sincerely and unreservedly to everybody I have let down and to whom my actions have caused offence”
- Luis Suarez issues apologies, firstly for the issue of his racist remark to Patrice Evra, and secondly for failing to shake Evra’s hand in accordance with protocol at a subsequent match between Liverpool and Manchester United.
In both cases, the apology seems to have been dragged, kicking and screaming, from the respective players, and in both cases it seems the bulk of the drafting of the remarks was done by others. The apologies were given only because it was in their best interests and because the consequences of not doing so were infinitely worse. Yet both were accepted at face value, because it was expedient so to do.
All well and good, but sometimes sorry truly is the hardest word. It’s not physically hard to say sorry, but it really does seem to take an inordinate effort to admit you did something wrong in the public domain at times.
Try getting private companies, public bodies or even countries to apologise for misdemeanours. They simply won’t, or will only do so in a mealy-mouthed form of words that rarely if ever expresses true regret.
Why? Because to do so would be regarded as a form of legal admission of liability, and therefore acceptance that payment of compensation and/or damages are due. In the case of innocent accident victims, the fact that organisations choose to play out these games over very many years, often make financial payments on condition of non-disclosure without acceptance of liability, and do so very grudgingly at that simply rubs salt into the wound. In some cases, an apology is worth far more than any financial compensation, since no amount of money can ever bring back loved ones from the dead.
Here is where we move on to the other song. Sorry sometimes is not enough:
You may lay down your guilt on the altar
Nail your remorse to the cross
But it’s not enough these days to say sorry
Sorry won’t pay for this loss
And if the blood on your hands turns to water
And the night in your soul turns to day
It won’t be enough this time to say sorry
Sorry won’t wash it all away
Let’s suppose an apology is well-intended and deserved, it should for polite society be accepted graciously – on the assumption that the perceived sin will not be repeated? On occasions apologies are refused with alacrity for whatever motives, though surely life is way too short for squabbles and enmities, if a suitable compromise can be found for both sides to retain some dignity and draw a line, then that is what should happen.
Sometimes it seems pride takes over and sometimes accepting an apology is just one step beyond the pail. Actions famously speak louder than words, though there have been occasions for everyone where no matter how hard you try to be contrite, somehow it’s never quite enough and some form of physical penalty or humiliation is the only solution to allow the blood to be washed from the guilty hands. Eye for an eye? Surely we should have moved beyond Old Testament forms of justice?
Someday you hope society will be much more self-depreciating, such that an apology can be given and accepted in the right spirit. But I am not expecting that day to come any time soon.