Sorry

I went on a course last week.  It was good. I don’t say that lightly, because in my experience most courses are a either a complete waste of time, or could be summarised on a post-it note.  It was a course about restorative practices in schools, and one of the things that was covered on this course was how important a good apology is.  It’s not something I ‘ve thought about before, but of course we all know what makes an apology count, and when an apology doesn’t stack up.  I know that a lot of people are very sceptical about restorative justice, but I have to say that I think it is the only thing that really works, and that it works because it is based on humane relationships, and reflecting on your own character.

So, what makes a good apology?  Our presenter directed us to a website called perfect apology.  She told us to look at it even if we thought it sounded stupid, and because I found her to be so good I did.  It is a very good, straightforward website.  The funny thing is that when it gets to the so called science of the apology it essentially describes restorative practice.  Here’s what the website says is needed for a perfect apology:

Apology Bullet   a detailed account of the situation
Apology Bullet   acknowledgement of the hurt or damage done
Apology Bullet   taking responsibility for the situation
Apology Bullet   recognition of your role in the event
Apology Bullet   a statement of regret
Apology Bullet   asking for forgiveness
Apology Bullet   a promise that it won’t happen again
Apology Bullet   a form of restitution whenever possible

The presenter drew our attention to a distinction drawn on the website between regret and remorse.  Essentially I believe she was saying that regret is more external, and remorse is more internal.  That remorse is likely to change your character, and regret probably won’t.  I think that this is probably true.  It is possible to regret doing something for fairly selfish reasons, and you can regret the consequences of things that are really not your fault, but being remorseful for your actions implies an understanding that you have judged yourself, and you have found yourself guilty.  An apology out of remorse is likely to be very powerful.

It is also more likely to be accepted, and allow forgiveness.  This is the magic place where everyone is able to move on.  And it is magical.  Having some wrong weigh on you, and being able to lift it feels tremendous.  But there are no guarantees.  Even a perfect apology may not earn the wrong-doer the forgiveness of the victim.  So be it.  That’s just how life works.  I have a tendency to hold a grudge, and bitterly review the hurts of the past.

Here is Hone Harawira’s second apology for his email:

Last night I met with my caucus colleagues, and I heard first hand the pain and the suffering that they have had to go through because of the senseless comments I made in an email a few weeks back, and for that I apologise.

The Maori Party has built up a good deal of credibility and goodwill during our first four years in the house, and has a vital role to play in building new pathways for our nation. My comments have derailed much of that credibility and set back our efforts to build bridges for our people into the future, and for that I apologise.

I also recognise the responsibility that I carry as a leader within Maoridom and I apologise most sincerely to all young Maori, and especially to our mokopuna, for the bad example that I have set by my comments.

I apologise also to those New Zealanders, both Maori and Pakeha, and particularly women, who have been offended by my comments. They were insensitive, they were hurtful, they were unnecessary, and I apologise for the grief and anguish that they have caused.

Which is much better than apology one:

In his apology on Auckland’s Waatea Radio today, Harawira said: “Firstly I readily apologise for the poor choice of words in that email.”

He said if he had simply said that Pakeha had stolen Maori land the email would not have rated a mention.

“My choice of words has led to a flood of emails and accusations and for that I do apologise,” he said.

He apologised to the Maori Party saying his words had caused “considerable damage and unnecessary harm to friends”

His use of the abusive term about mothers was demeaning.

“I apologise unconditionally for using that word.”

The second crack at the apology definitely sounded like he had sat down and talked with some people who counted for him, and they had talked about how what he had done had hurt them.  They also probably talked about how it had hurt the party they had built up, and the people who supported them.  In short Hone probably heard about all kinds of hurt he hadn’t been aware of.  Because he seems an intelligent, passionate man this probably caused him a lot of discomfort.  In the first apology he gives a nod to this (“I caused considerable damage and unnecessary harm to friends”), but it sounds like just a nod.  The second apology is mainly about the harm he has done his colleagues, his party, and his reputation as a leader in his community.

He also recognises that the language he used was hurtful.  Look at the shift here between apology one and two:

One: “Firstly I readily apologise for the poor choice of words in that email.” He said if he had simply said that Pakeha had stolen Maori land the email would not have rated a mention.

Two: I apologise also to those New Zealanders, both Maori and Pakeha, and particularly women, who have been offended by my comments. They were insensitive, they were hurtful, they were unnecessary, and I apologise for the grief and anguish that they have caused.

A big shift towards acknowledgement of the hurt done.  Even though he’s right in the first apology – if he had said that Pakeha had stolen land nobody would have batted an eye – he’s completely missing the point.  In the second round he acknowledges that he gets the point, and he says sorry.

There are some things from the list at the top that Harawira didn’t do in his public apology, but I’m pretty sure he probably did them in the private hui beforehand.  Hone has been given forgiveness by the Maori Party, he has probably promised them things and helped to draft the new protocol rules they came up with as a result of this hui, and his public apology and withdrawal to Nga Puhi are probably part of the restitution.

I think that Hone is probably fully restored in the eyes of his party, and his people.  In the eyes of the public though he is probably only partly restored, because we only witnessed the public part of the process.  Then there was the messy business at the end of the apology where he tried to claim that powerless people can’t be racist.  This can’t be true unless, well, unless we believe racist things, which I don’t think he really does.

If we return to the distinction between regret and remorse, Hone seems to have reached remorse with his second apology.  But we have to keep in mind that you can only be remorseful about relationships that count for you.  I don’t think that Hone is remorseful for annoying Pakeha in general, but I think he is for what he did to his colleagues.  Pakeha might want more but they won’t get it.  For Hone the relationship that counted was between him and his people.

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