I was ten when I started developing my first pro forma apology. One of the flashpoints around my house was keeping my mother informed about where I was. My father had died when I was young and so my mother and I were on our own.
It didn’t seem too much to ask, even to me at the time, but neither did I take it that seriously. If I said I would be home at five o'clock and made it home by 6.30, I understood that was not good, but neither did I think it was that bad.
As a result I developed something of a pre-packaged apology. It went something like this. “Look mom, I’m sorry if I upset you, but I was playing road hockey up the street. I got my homework done right after school as you can see by the papers on the kitchen table and here I am safe and sound, of good cheer and ready for my Swanson TV dinner."
There was always an excuse. Sometimes the papers for my paper route were late (and they were), sometimes I would get engrossed in one of those “last touch” tag marathons with my friend Don Mackellar which would go on for hours and we would truly lose track of time. Sometimes it was a basketball game at the schoolyard that became a life-and-death struggle, which would only shut down as parents one-by-one came and dragged their kids away by the scruff of the neck and once it was entirely legitimate. I put my tongue on a frozen fence in the middle of winter and, yes, was not released until the kindly women who owned the fence came out with a cup of hot water to release me from my pain and humiliation.
I didn’t really get it about apologies until some years later when I was coming home by bus from a hockey tournament somewhere. I decided to stay at a friends place around the corner for a few hours, not thinking to call home and readjust expectations or take the chance I might be told 'no.' I returned home to find my mother sobbing. There had been a bus accident with a hockey team and she was convinced I had been one of the victims. I was mortified. For the first time I truly realized that apologies are not about you, they are about the person or persons you have somehow victimized, mistreated, mislead or let down. It is about understanding what you have done, facing it with humility and saying you are sorry without caveat or excuse.
I don’t mean to say I stopped letting people down after that. I am human. What I did learn was not to fudge an apology when it was warranted. A fudged apology is worse than no apology. It adds fuel to the fire.
All of which gets me to Elton John. If you don’t live in Sudbury this will mean little to you. If you do, it will resonate.
Elton coming to the Sudbury arena is a big deal. Lots of people lined up in the freezing rain to get a ticket and thousands more tried to figure out how to buy tickets online. The show was sold out in no time.
What nobody knew at the time was that the mayor and city councilors had set aside up to eight tickets a piece for themselves to buy, whereas mere mortals were limited to six if they survived the night on the street. The manager of the arena said no tickets had been set aside for anybody. When it became known this wasn’t true, all hell broke loose. At first most councilors disappeared and the mayor said in effect “'give me a break, there’s no malfeasance here, it’s a perk ..that’s it.'"
Within a week he rethought that position and made an apology. The apology scored somewhere between my 10-year old “I’m sorry if I upset you but” and my 15-year old mortified sincere apology for having put my mother through real grief. He took personal responsibility, which was commendable, but he insisted in the same breath that the Sudbury policy was no different than one in Kitchener, another stop on Elton’s tour. He apologized for a rushed decision, but not the duplicity.
It was at best a C+, but he took the hit for his councillors, which was a commendable and generous act of near contrition.
To be fair, he is light years ahead of the Catholic Church, assorted Olympic athletes, cyclists, baseball players and other politicians (Jean Chrétien and his golf course, Paul Martin and his public-trough sucking shipping company, Brian Mulroney and his ludicrous brown paper bag machinations and Mike Harris and his weasel words about Ipperwash). These guys wouldn’t know an apology if it punched them in the face.
John Rodriguez is a better mayor today than he was yesterday. His councillors need to catch up to him.
Laurentian Media Group