COLUMN: When saying sorry goes south

Perhaps we can be forgiven for unleashing our inner child at self-serving public apologies, writes Peace Arch News editor Lance Peverley.

Have you noticed how a defiant child apologizes?

Watch. Listen. It can be almost amusing, as the reluctant offender twists body language and words when prodded to say ‘I’m sorry.’

Adults, with years of experience, are more skilled at contrition; the physical and verbal reaches undetectable, the offended party placated.

That is why it can be so compelling when an apology goes south.

Last week, foodies and fans watched as one of their own, Paula Deen, defended herself against accusations of allowing shockingly unsavoury conditions for employees at her family’s restaurant in Savannah, Ga.

Testifying in court, the TV chef was asked if she’d ever used a particular racial epithet – a heinous word once widespread well beyond her neck of the woods, but viewed today as inexcusable for all but hipster filmmakers and hip-hoppers who’ve misguidedly reclaimed it as their own.

Deen, 66, testified she had indeed used the racist word, citing a specific example 30 years ago when she was robbed at gunpoint by a black man.

It’s likely she assumed this would gain sympathy as a crime victim. For many, it was viewed as selective memory, cited to avoid perjuring herself.

Her tearful explanations since have added division to an already-segregated country, with retailers dropping the Deen name, her online sales skyrocketing, and detractors and defenders – both – using colourful language of their own.

Other apologies closer to home in recent weeks might not have been as ridiculously insensitive, but they’ve been no less galling.

In a debate prior to B.C.’s May 14 election, the NDP’s man-who-woulda-coulda-been-premier reemphasized he embraced ownership of a past shame, in which he, as a previous premier’s chief of staff, inexcusably back-dated a memo to protect his then-leader from conflict-of-interest charges.

If only Adrian Dix’s regret stopped there.

Instead, he noted, he was a mere 35 at the time.

Thirty-five? Are 35-year-olds under-developed, or just untrustworthy? And does this mean we can take Dix at his word now, at the tender age of 49?

Not to be outdone, Premier Christy Clark stopped lampooning Dix’s age-inappropriate explanation just long enough to defend her own chief of staff, who took the fall over a leaked BC Liberal plan to spend our money to woo the ethnic vote.

Kim Haakstad was “about 35” when she erred, explained away our premier.

Again with that number. Is 35 the new 14?

Surely 35 isn’t too young to take on some responsibility. Napoleon was proclaimed emperor at that age. The Queen had reigned 10 years; the Dalai Lama, 20. Should North Korea’s Kim Jong Un be granted wriggle room, as he’s a still-formative 29½?

Of course, this wasn’t the premier’s only apology. In the days since Clark won the legislature but lost her seat – before her MLAs were even sworn in she quietly gave raises to political staff. Then recanted… a bit… after this was made public.

“Although the original change would have meant we were underspending the budget by $100,000, I’ve heard loud and clear that people didn’t like it,” the premier tutted.

Yes. Because coming in under budget is the goal – not spending wisely.

Naturally, the premier allowed her new deputy chief of staff – by coincidence, her party’s deputy campaign manager – to keep the higher $195,148 salary, because operations and policy roles were formerly done by two people.

Sure. Just like the real world. Where corporate downsizing means massive raises for those left behind to pick up the slack.

Considering all these youthful indiscretions, obstinate justifications and regretful pleas for clemency that you and I have had to endure from public figures in recent times – from sorrowful politicians, to desperate CEOs, to devil-made-me-do-it evangelists – perhaps we can be forgiven for thumbing our noses.

Or would that be childish?

Lance Peverley is editor of the Peace Arch News.

 

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