Thursday, 10 July 2014

The power of an apology

It would seem that apologies and violence against women are in the news.

1. David Cunliffe apologises for being a man, when speaking to a Women's Refuge Symposium, saying,
"I'm sorry. I don't often say it, but I'm sorry for being a man, right now. Because family and sexual violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men, against women and children."
After my initial cringe, the better side of me wants to believe his heart was in the right place, it just came out wrong. Unfortunately, in all the news and blog posts I've read, I haven't seen any comment from those who actually attended.

2. Regarding the Malaysian diplomat facing sex charges, Hone Harawira says on TV show Back Benches,
"I think all of the media, their heads should roll for making a big fuss about bugger all. There's kids starving in this country...."
followed up with an apology on his Facebook page...
Sometimes I make little mistakes and sometimes I make big mistakes. The thing is, when you’re wrong, front up and deal with it. I made a BIG mistake last week, and here’s what I have to say about it …

I want to sincerely apologise if my comments on Backbenches may seem to have minimised the gravity of the situation regarding the young woman who asked police to investigate the complaint of sexual assault against the Malaysian diplomat.

I have reviewed the tape and I accept that my comments were not helpful at all. Sexual assault IS a big deal, and I applaud Tania Rose Billingsley for her brave and courageous appearance on television last night
Apart from the qualifiers i.e. "if my comments..." and "may seem to have minimized..." (which can only lessen the impact of the apology) he makes a pretty good fist of it.

In both these cases, the forum and the intent is key to the success or failure of the apology.

Some years ago, I was involved in a weekend forum where people, both men and women, came to deal with past hurts and offences done against them. 

The emotional and spiritual pain that people carry can often be overwhelming. Some deal with it by denying it, some by burying it, and some by lashing out at others, invariably against those closest. Hence any abuse is multi-leveled and can be difficult to successfully target.

We were also encouraged to address past failures of our own. There are two issues that are crucial: we need to face and acknowledge what has been done to us, and we must own up to what we have done, out of our own pain, to others.

It goes without saying then, that in the same way we need to apologise and be forgiven, we must also forgive.

But how can you deal with an offense or abuse, if the offender or the offended has since died, left the country or refuses to speak to you. Maybe approaching them would open yourself up to even more abuse, a very real scenario for many. Or if the offence happened so long ago it would just be wrong to hunt the person down and reopen the wound.

In one of the last sessions of the weekend, I was privileged to stand before a group of women, and stand in the gap, for men per se.

No, I didn't say I was sorry to be a man. What I did say was, "On behalf of the men who have hurt you, I apologise and I ask you to forgive me" - and it only took a little imagination and some recollection on my part to be specific about what I was apologising for.

And this was the effect:

It empowered them as women to be able to say, "I forgive you," and truly start their own journey of reconciliation and healing.

It empowered me as a man to not only feel some of the pain that men have caused, but to be a part of that healing process.

The power of an apology - and genuine forgiveness - should never ever be underestimated.


  1. Anonymous11 July, 2014

    Well said Duncan.

    1. Thanks for the feedback, it's something I feel pretty strongly about :-)