Friday, 14 June 2013

Sorry Not Enough

I'm sorry that this post is late, see the thing is that I posted on the weekend, but then it was the Queen's Birthday, and the long weekend had me confused. So when I posted on the Monday, I thought that . . . Wait, did I post on Monday? . . . one, two, three . . . Oh, today is the right day? I'm not posting late?
That's confusing. Sorry about that, I guess I . . .
Wait, no I'm not! I'm not sorry. Sure, I was wrong, but that's what I genuinely felt. Whether or not it's wrong, or people see it as as waste of time at best, and an injustice at worst, I don't think there's any more need to pervert the word sorry any more than it has already. I'm also not sorry that I lied to you about 'forgetting the date' when in fact this was all an orchestrated scheme to introduce the Word of the Day: 'SORRY'.

Sorry /'soree/ adj. 1. Feeling sadness at having done something wrong; regretful: I'm sorry I said that. 2. Causing pity; miserable; deplorable; wretched: To come to a sorry end; a sorry-looking horse. 3. Sorrowful or sad; grieved.

Do you know why I start every post with a dictionary definition? It's because I truly believe that if everyone understood words properly, and used them properly, then there would be less misunderstandings in the world. Less arguments. Because there are both fundamental meanings and secondary subtleties to words. For example, some people don't understand why anyone says:
  "I'm sorry for your loss."
They think: "Why? You didn't do anything wrong."
But if you'll peer just one little paragraph upwards, you'll see that sorry can also mean "Sorrowful or sad; grieved". It's a neat bit of poetry, that was developed through usage of the word, or through it's inherent meaning. These people don't know what sorry means. But I'm not too concerned with that, since it's nothing more than general ignorance.
  "Idiots will be idiots."
- The Absurd Word Nerd
But something that is starting to really piss me off lately, is people who say "sorry" when they've done something wrong, with no idea what they're actually saying, and how ignorant they sound.

A few examples come to mind, which occurred quite recently. Eddie Mcguire, an Australian radio host, apologized for a comment implying that Adam Goodes, an aboriginal football player, could endorse the King Kong musical, despite being fully aware of an incident where a 13 year old girl refered to Goodes as an 'Ape', which upset Goodes enough that he left the field midway through a football game.
Holger Osieck, an Australian soccer coach, apologized after saying to a crowd of journalists "women should shut up in public"; this was apparently a private joke he'd shared in Latin, which he chose to translate.

I believe that these two are sorry. But not because they regret their actions. No, I believe that they are sorry that they got caught. But I know they're not sorry for the harm they caused, because they recant their words. So often they say something along the lines of:
"I didn't mean what I said, I don't believe what I said and I don't approve of others that would say such things."
But that doesn't fly for me. That doesn't make sense, because they said it, then mere hours later, they apologize. You don't start or stop being a racist/sexist overnight. After all, they can't be that opposed to something that spilled out of their own mouth. Either they are racist/sexist and they didn't realize how unpopular their views were. Or (more likely) they knew that what they were saying was offensive, and said it anyway.

Sexist and Racist remarks, we all understand, are not very nice, but in BOTH of these examples, the remark in question was a joke. Offensive Jokes are funny, just look at Jimmy Carr, that's his whole set. Mcquire and Osieck's jokes were in poor taste and they failed miserably, yes; but they were none the less jokes and were told with the intention of getting people to laugh (or chuckle mildly).
So, I feel the same way about this as I do about Stephanie Rice. This is old hat by now, but in 2010, Stephanie Rice apologized for a so-called homophobic remark, after a backlash from a 'tweet' she posted that said:
  "suck on that, faggots - probs the best game I've ever seen - well done boys" in response to the results of a rugby game.
I don't like how people harassed this poor woman for an offhand comment, and I'm going to explain why, but first I think Louis CK says it in a funnier way, so you should check out his opinion on the matter, but my position is simply this:
I don't think that 'faggot' means homosexual. Dictionary agrees, saying that a faggot is a 'bundle of sticks used for fuel, etcetera'. This is going off topic slightly, but the point is that I don't believe that Rice is homophobic. Check out her apology, and you can see that she is sincerely horrified that she might have insulted somebody. So as far as I see it, the only problem with her remark is that everyone else has decided to get offended by it.

Yes, decided, because I wholeheartedly agree with that Jimmy Carr quote:
  "Offense is taken, not just given."
Offense was not meant, nor given in Rice's case, but people chose to be offended, so they strong-armed her into a position where, despite having no ill will towards the gay community, she had to apologize.
It's disgusting, and it misses the point entirely.

See, bringing it back now to the sexist and racist remarks, I see the same thing with Eddie and Holger. Not that people misinterpreted their words, they knew EXACTLY what they were saying, but what they didn't understand was that people would be so offended.
Eddie Mcguire was one of the people who consoled Goodes after that girl insulted him mid-game, so I don't believe that he is a white supremacist.
Holger Osieck apologized for his offense, and the way he talks about his wife shows a great respect to her, so I don't believe that he is a misogynist.

To me, watching these people apologize is the same as watching a small child apologize. I get this image in my head of a little kid, drawing on the walls with a crayon; then when his dad finds him, he jumps up and runs away chanting "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!", because he knows that he deserves a smack, and that he's going to get it eventually, but is trying to lessen the punishment.

So as I see it, for both this hypothetical naughty child, as well as Mcguire and Osieck, the apology is meaningless. It's just words, trying to appease a greater authority while in reality they don't think that what they did was wrong. All they see is that they are in trouble. It's only wrong because they were punished. Even if they never do it again, I don't think they've learned anything.
Which is why I believe that the whole "say something bad, then apologize" schtick is starting to wear thin.

Because how can we tell the difference? If the knee-jerk response to offense is to apologize, then it's going to get harder to tell whether or not people are sorry for their actions. The prime example that comes to mind here is Kevin Rudd.

On Wednesday, the 13th of February, 2008, Kevin Rudd, not long into his Prime Ministership, apologized to the Indigenous people of Australia. He apologized for the past policies, crimes & harm committed against them, by the government, for not being white. It was a great day in politics . . . but from where I'm sitting, it was a terrible day for the Aboriginal people.

Because 'Sorry' doesn't do anything. All it does is acknowledge that the offender feels guilty.
Some people don't understand why Rudd apologized, since he didn't do anything wrong and has nothing to feel guilty for, but this is not true. Rudd was the figurehead of the Government, an undying body of the Australian political system which, in it's past, has sinned against these people.
My issue is not that he did nothing wrong, but that he did nothing right.

Rudd said that he hopes it would help to "Heal the Nation" and be the first step towards bridging the gap between our respective life expectancies, raising the standards of Aboriginal education and increasing their economic opportunities. And he said that he was sorry.
These are all very beautiful words,  and certainly Aboriginal people feel better and more accepted, and that's my problem.

Because these problems are too big for a 'sorry' to fix.

All of these sorrys are one tiny piece of a much larger puzzle. A history of homophobic, sexist and racist culture that just doesn't seem to die. So, rather than try to fix the problem, we attack the symptoms.
Every time we see a Racist comment or Sexist rant or an Injustice, we stamp it out like a rat in the kitchen, ignorant of the nest that lives behind the fridge. The problem isn't that one person said something and needs to apologize. It's that we live in a society with a deep, in-grained history racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, intolerant & supremacist views.
Just because the rats aren't running the ship doesn't mean that they've gone away. And the problem only gets worse when you pick on these ignorant fools, and think you've caught a rat, when all you've done is kill a mouse.

I'm sorry that the world is fucked, I truly am. But this zero tolerance policy towards Sexism and Racism is wrong. Because it's missing the point entirely.
These people who are getting in trouble, they're not intolerant, they are just victims of this new media-saturated world, where every comment from Social Media is put under the microscope and every off-colour comment sets off the Political Correctness alarm - even if nothing was meant by it.
Back in my post "The Dark Word" about using racist language, I said this:
  "Words are just ideas, put into a fluent and transmissible form. So fear of words is no different from fear of ideas. Sure, racism is a bad idea, and you should be afraid of prejudiced and proactive racists. But stopping people from using the word, isn’t going to stop the idea. It’s just going to make it harder to find."
I still stand by that assessment. If we really want to stop Racism and Sexism and Homophobia, then the trick isn't a zero tolerance policy. Because as I see it, intolerance towards intolerance, merely begets more intolerance.

In all of this nonsense, though, I think people are starting to see the problem. See, my issue isn't that the word 'sorry' is meaningless. My issue is that, although the media likes to hype up the apology, the apology isn't what matters. What truly matters is the forgiveness.

I don't forgive these people for making jokes in bad taste. They don't deserve it and they haven't earned it and Rice doesn't get my forgiveness, because she did nothing wrong.
Besides, in most of theses cases I'm not the one they should be saying 'sorry' to . . .

But not everyone is an idiot. Some people understand what matters here, and knows where the problem lies. Above I mentioned that Adam Goodes left the sporting field after a 13 year old girl called him an 'ape'. Later, he addressed the media in response to this event, and had this to say:

  "It's not her fault. She's 13, she's still so innocent. I don't put any blame on her. Unfortunately it's what she hears, in the environment she's grown up in that has made her think that it's ok to call people names."
  "I can guarantee you right now she would have no idea how it makes anyone feel by calling them an 'ape'. I think it was just the name calling that she was doing, and unfortunately it cut me deep, and it affected me so much that I couldn't even be on the ground last night to celebrate a victory, to celebrate Indigenous round. I'm still shattered, personally, it's tough. I'm loving the support of my friends and family, and people in the social media, it's fantastic, but I think the person who needs the most support right now is the little girl. People need to get around her. She's 13. She's uneducated. If she wants to pick up the phone and call me and apologise I'll take that phone call, and I'll have a conversation with that girl about, 'you know what, you called me a name, and this is how it made me feel'. And it's school stuff . . ."

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and I can only hope that all will be forgiven . . .


  1. Racism is a funny, festering part of the human psyche. The apology may be meaningless because it means we shove down that fester instead of facing it head on.

    1. It's just a part of this selfish, lazy mindset we all have. It's been shown that if you give people two options:
      - Something useless, but requiring little effort
      - Something effective, but requiring hard work.

      People will choose the easy option almost every time.


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