Apologies and Victims


Usually in this blog I try to avoid contentious issues, but a particular newspaper opinion piece this morning resonated with me.

You will have your own thoughts on this. I hope you don’t mind if I share mine.

It is so much easier to adopt the high moral ground and issue apologies for the shortcomings of others, than to engage in self examination or to offer real help. In recent times various political leaders in Australia have issued staged, symbolic apologies to our indigenous people, to people who were abused as children in church and state run institutions, and to people who were taken away from their mothers soon after birth and adopted, to name a few.

There is no doubt of the weight of personal suffering in each of these contexts. I can cry tears as much as anyone when confronted with what some have dealt with in their lives. There are terrible injustices. There are unbearable burdens, and there are situations in which people are trapped and see no way out. There is much that cries out for our intervention and for wrongs to be righted.

It’s just that responding with symbolic public ‘apologies’ for the wrongdoing of past generations, or for past actions not in step now with progressive attitudes, is tokenism at best. At worst it is patronising hypocrisy.

The leader issues the apology, people cry, the leader steps down from the podium, and everyone feels better about themselves. Life goes on. Victims are encouraged in their victim role. Fingers are pointed once again at ‘outmoded’ values and attitudes, and the self appointed enlightened ones preen and prance in the glare of the media spotlight. Ultimately, however, the process has not changed much for those apologised to, other than to encourage them in their victim role.

In pursuing some recent social agendas I believe we have encouraged ‘victims’ in place of heroes. We have trashed the narratives of our parents and grandparents. We have allowed self-centredness and personal convenience to guide our moral compass.

By all means apologise for wrongdoing and for harm caused. But apologies made on behalf of others who are now dead and can no longer speak for themselves are faux apologies. Sadly, they are feel-good gestures that are meaningless. At least, I suppose, they allow those who make them to bathe in self righteousness and a confected feeling of moral superiority. They raise expectations yet ultimately serve to perpetuate victims as victims.

By all means show compassion. Give, donate, support and empower as needed. Remember though, that compassion has little to do with the feel-good gestures so favoured by opinion leaders. Encouraging people to remain in a ‘victim’ role does not offer real help. Real help involves requiring those we help to exercise personal responsibility.


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