I hold no brief for Trevor Mallard. I don’t care for his seemingly overwhelming attachment to sports, I don’t like his pugnacious attitude, I remain unimpressed by his handling of the Auckland waterfront stadium proposal, and I am appalled by his lack of self-control in resorting to punching another man, even ‘though that man had been taunting him. If “she was asking for it” doesn’t excuse domestic violence, then it doesn’t excuse violence between grown men either.
However, he has done something very impressive in recent days. He has given a real apology. That is a very rare thing.
When I returned to university in my late twenties, I formed friendships with some of the younger students, but for the most part, I spent my time with other ‘mature age students’. There was a group of us who used to gather every day in the cafe, to drink coffee, gossip, and being the nerdy swots we were, do some study. One of our number was a lovely young woman, Kathy. Kathy was a nun, so we always tried to keep our language a little restrained around her. Until the days when one of my friends said something like, “I’m sorry that I did x, but…”, and Kathy interrupted with:
“Everything before ‘BUT’ is bullshit.”
Right. We all laughed, and after that we weren’t so careful about what we said around Kathy.
My friend gave a proper apology for whatever it was – I can’t remember now. And I have remembered Kathy’s words of wisdom ever since.
Listen to what people say, and what you say yourself, in apologising. The form, “Yadda yadda yadda BUT…” is not an apology. People excuse their behaviour, give reasons for it, and try to shift the responsibility for the behaviour to other people. It’s a weasel way of appearing to apologise, but not really doing so at all.
“I’m sorry that I upset you but…”
Translation: I was right to upset you and I would do it again, because my behaviour was justified.
“I’m sorry that you’re upset but…”
Translation: It’s your fault that you’re upset
“I’m sorry for hitting you but…”
Translation: I’m allowed to hit you if I think I have a good reason for it.
“I’m sorry for doing x but I have been under a lot of strain recently.”
Translation: I didn’t really do anything bad at all.
I’m sure you can find plenty more examples.
To Trevor Mallard’s credit, he didn’t take the “Yadda yadda yadda BUT…” option. He apologised properly. No excuses. No references to his personal life, which we all know has been difficult recently. No suggesting that it was really the other man’s fault. No trying to say that his behaviour was excusable at all. He simply said, “I’m sorry. I did something wrong, it was stupid, and I am ashamed.” (Or words to that effect.) It was a genuine apology.
Try it yourself sometime. It’s remarkably refreshing.