In Australia, today (26 May 2017) is ‘National Sorry Day’. It is worth reflecting on for four main reasons.
Firstly, we should as a nation and as citizens of this great multi-cultural nation be continuing to say sorry for the appalling treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in their own lands; the disinheritance; the discrimination; the exacerbated disadvantage through the policies of successive governments of all parties; the Stolen Generation…the list is long, painful, reprehensible, and totally indefensible.
Secondly, we should as a nation and as citizens of this great multi-cultural nation be continuing to say sorry for the ‘The Gap’ and our abject collective failure in our efforts to ‘Close the Gap’. It is exceptionally rare to have so clear a problem that all our ‘fixers’, including all our engineers, managers, policy advisors, communicators, technical specialists, and community engagement experts cannot fix. We must do better and say sorry for our poor and inadequate performance to date.
Third, we should celebrate the fact that as a nation we have now accepted there is something to apologise for; we have apologised (notably Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generation in 2008), we have seen an outpouring of emotions (relief, joy, pent up pain, a sense of justice, a feeling of finally being acknowledged, an ability to now cope with the present because past events have finally been painted as wrong, unjust and cruel).
And fourth, we should acknowledge the power of an apology – a sincere, heartfelt apology – in our day-to-day lives and work. When was the last time you said sorry to a work colleague or loved one? This past week, the past month, in 2017, not for some time, never?
I have run many workshops where I ask people to split into groups based on how often they apologise. In many cases, people say ‘never’ and then usually go on to say ‘…because I’ve never done anything wrong’. Such people usually have blind spots, their colleagues can quickly and easily think of situations where they could have or should have said sorry, and an interesting, sometimes challenging, conversation takes place. Other people say ‘I apologise all the time”, those who don’t then struggle to understand why they would do that ‘if you’ve not done anything wrong’ but it is usually explained as follows: ‘I don’t think about it in terms of who was right or who was wrong, I just think in terms of what is the best thing to do to be able to move on and maintain the relationship’. An apology is sometimes just an outstretched hand.
If you’ve never said ‘sorry’, then you’ve missed an opportunity to build a relationship and help a friend, family member or colleague – and you’ve probably not looked hard enough for something to apologise for. If you haven’t said ‘sorry’ for a while, think about someone you love and respect and haven’t spoken to for a while – and say sorry for not being in touch for so long. If you know someone who is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, you too can say sorry for the way their peoples and communities have been treated in their own lands. And National Sorry Day is a good day to do it, although the next week is National Reconciliation Week so we’ve got a whole week to get that apology out there.
Let us know how you get on. Or simply post your ‘sorry’ message here in a reply message that can be read by all to reflect on.