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Reflections on “Apologies”, a Mayor/ and learning moments*

Maybe it is because I grew up in the 70s, when Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw  made famous the idea that “love means never having to say you are sorry”  in the film Love Story  (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0066011/), but having listened these past few days and once again today to Toronto’s current mayor, Rob Ford, stating “again, I apologize” (he left out the part about “drunken stupor” today, replacing it with “acting on impulse”) it seems that his declarations of “Love for the city” while apologizing for his actions, are finally wearing thin – what then is behind apologies?  

First off, we teach children to “say you are sorry”, and dutifully, many will.  Any parent or teacher after a period of working with others can become familiar with the difference between the apology offered up because one was caught versus the apology offered generously when the giver genuinely feels remorse at hurting someone.   The first type of apology is, as stated earlier – duty bound – expected – and rarely results in an understanding between parties.  The action is done, period.  The second type of apology may be the result of deep communication between or among people, or it may be the result of soul searching on the part of an individual – and I will digress for a moment to put in a positive word for the Arts and how they can encourage empathy; many pieces of ‘great literature’ deal with this soul searching conflict.   Back to the  problem that we, too often, encourage that simplistic “say you are sorry”  educational construct, beginning in preschool and continuing.  And the message absorbed could be, that the statement itself is enough.  

Sincerity though is different from duty.  Sincerity suggests that a person has some understanding of the pain caused, and in this case, Mayor Ford’s numerous apologies sound hollow.  He appears sorry to have been caught.  Does he appear to demonstrate understanding of how damaging the actions may have been?  NO.  Back to school, and places where educators have the opportunity to discuss just this difference in the meaning behind or within an apology.  Mayor Ford has mentioned he has been in a “drunken stupor” as if this were an acceptable excuse.  If he is encouraged to join a 12 step program he may again be told to “apologize”.  As both a parent and a teacher I have seen and heard all kinds of apologies. Little is more heart wrenching than being privy to the sincerely felt sorrow of one individual or group of people who actually acknowledge where and when they acted, perhaps without thinking, or, yes, maliciously.  Rarely is that genuine apology the result of sanctions or threats; it arises from something else.  Sincere commitment to understand another’s feelings.  As adults, parents, educators and in the case of Torontonians, voters, we are in a position to not only “practice acts of kindness” but to also demonstrate empathy.  The learning experience that Mayor Ford’ s implosion offers is strong: we can show why empathy allows us to recognize each other’s emotion; we can show whether we believe the public apologies ( recall, apologies given under threat of sanctions ); and we can take it outside the Toronto arena and look at relationships between and among countries.  Finally we can speak among ourselves, with our children, about the understanding that is reflected through our actions, and how saying “I’m sorry” needs to be accompanied by an action that extends beyond the words.  

Back to Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw  – watch the movie …. 🙂

* learning moments are like teaching moments only even better ’cause they allow for insights on both sides.