Meaningless apologies are on the rise
By Grant Crossley, Contributor
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary defines an apology as:
1. A formal justification
2. An admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret
3. A poor substitute
Have you noticed that there are a lot of people apologizing lately? Take a look at the newspaper or a TV newscast and you’re bound to find an apology: the government recently apologized for the loss of student loan files; back in November, the Bank of Montreal apologized for an outage that shut down their system, leaving customers in the dark; in January, TReO, the company in charge of the Port Mann Bridge, apologized for not having the roads salted enough during some cold weather. Do any of these apologies make you feel any better? Well, they don’t make me feel better, and I’ve had it.
Let’s look at the flip side: take the government of Canada, for instance. Pretend that I owed the government some money on my taxes. What do you think would happen if I lost my tax forms? Would I be allowed to just phone up 1-800-O-CANADA and offer an apology? The answer I would get is, “Sorry Sir, you still owe us.”
Let’s say I went to the bank and told them that I forgot to pay my student line of credit. Once again, I might offer an apology, yet I’d be dinged with—you guessed it—a penalty.
Pretend that I accidentally crossed the Port Mann Bridge: perhaps I was in the far lane, and traffic was so bad that I couldn’t get over to my exit. Maybe I wasn’t used to the new signs, or maybe I was changing the radio station. I might contact TReO and apologize for crossing the bridge so they could waive the fee, but guess what: they wouldn’t really care, and I’d still be stuck paying the toll.
So what gives? Why am I supposed to willingly accept apologies with no financial gain, yet when the tables are turned I get penalized? Does this make any sense whatsoever?
I think we have a fundamental issue with the definition of an apology. We need to get down to the root of what it means, although this may have already been done. I typed the word “apologies” into Academic Search Complete and it came up with 879 results, 610 of which were peer reviewed.
If, as in the dictionary, it really is an admission of error, then these mistakes should never happen again. The problem is that they do: the government will lose files again, BMO will have a system glitch again, and TReO will find another defect on the Port Mann Bridge. How many apologies are the public going to accept before something changes?
I don’t know about you, but apologies don’t mean anything to me anymore. If you make a mistake with me, you’d better bring your wallet. The fact that I have to pay for my mistakes means that everybody else should, as well. Once I stop getting charged, and start having my apologies accepted, I may change my mind. But I don’t see this happening for a very long time.
I will now offer my apologies for you reading this article and realizing that you’ve been taken for a fool by big businesses and the government. Try giving them a taste of their own medicine, that phone will hang up pretty quickly—trust me, I’ve tried it.
PS: Don’t forget to vote in May: we need a new government and a whole new set of apologies for not doing what was promised.