What is the problem with our apology culture?
Social media blew up last week with reactions to a video of an auntie’s disapproving comments towards a Delhi girl’s short dress. The whole incident was distasteful on both ends, with the auntie calling for male bystanders to rape the girl while the young woman and her friends (despite their brave confrontation of the auntie) unfortunately also retorted by body shaming her. Since then, both parties have issued apologies, with the auntie citing misplaced concern and the group of young women acknowledging their insensitive handling of a bad situation.
True remorse is accompanied by the commitment to reform.
Unfortunately, this sort of regressive thinking is far more viral than this video. With the momentum of the powerful #metoo movement, atrocities have been exposed as archaic behaviour and detrimental thinking have been challenged. There is less room for silence and brushing things under the rug, when collective voices are raised like a spotlight. Accusations against abusers of all kinds, across various industries have been spilling out at an unprecedented speed and simultaneously, we have also had to decipher the mostly lukewarm apologies that have trickled in.
The accused typically assume one of three postures - denial, silence or regretful. Among others, Former Union Minister MJ Akbar, filmmaker Sajid Khan and YRF’s Ashish Patil have chosen the former, Nana Patekar has scoffed at the allegations and turned silent, while only a handful such as comedian Utsav Chakraborty and writer Chetan Bhagat have issued some form of an apology.
Of the three reactions, regretfulness is usually the most graceful approach and this posture usually manifests in an apology. This, in itself, is a rare occurrence.
But let’s be honest - even this act of offering an apology is relatively easy. Whether heartfelt or not, it is a quick and relatively painless process. A quick post on social media or a short press release and it’s over and done with.
Receiving an apology, however, is more complex. There already exists a layer of hurt with the committing of the offense. Slapping a quick-fix apology over it is usually counter-effective, adding insult to the injury and serving only to resuscitate the wound, rather than induce any sort of healing. Moreover, apologies aren’t one-size-fits-all. There are a range of grievances and victims who have endured all kinds of pain, shame, rage and discomfort. In every instance, there has been an upheaval and their lives have suffered an undeniable shift. While we can all agree that an offended party deserves an apology (demanded repeatedly by the girls vs. Delhi Aunty), forgiveness is not something that the offender is owed in return. Forgiveness is a delicate gift of grace and in some really horrific cases, despite a perfectly-packaged apology, it is incredibly hard to bestow.
When one has been wronged, the scales are tilted because of the injustice, with the victim feeling the imbalance weigh heavily on them. When an apology is issued, the intended effect is to tip the scales and restore some semblance of balance.
In the first place, the apology must be directed towards the victim. Throwing an apology up in the air, pasting it on social media or parading it to an audience serves no purpose. Multiple public figures have expressed regret publicly, without so much as making an effort to establish contact with the accuser privately to ask for forgiveness.
An apology is completely void without sincerity, empathy and accountability. It is often easy to spot lazy, superficial apologies, manufactured by a team of expert lawyers. One look at the Delhi Aunty’s apology and you know the words are limp and lifeless. Most statements are clearly designed as a form of defense - merely to salvage one’s own reputation. Earlier this year, Varun Patra, of Homegrown, issued a two-part apology addressing two separate incidents where he was named accuser and in his attempt to explain his behavior, only demonstrated how tone-deaf he was in each of these situations, with his apology resonating more along the veins of an excuse rather than an honest explanation to the victims. What was even more shocking was his sister, Varsha’s callous reaction toward the allegations, attempting to smooth things over rather than seek justice.
As women and citizens of the world, we stand divided, if we cannot empathise. If we cannot empathise, we cannot educate. And if we cannot educate, we cannot evolve.
True remorse is accompanied by the commitment to reform. It is not in the offering of an apology that one is relieved from retribution, it is in the hard work of reflection, re-learning and rehabilitation.
There must be accountability - in most cases, apologies are served as a way to end the speculation, a way to stage a comeback or a means to salvage a reputation or a career. Presenting a scripted apology in the emotionless monotone of a customer service agent repeatedly declaring that they are “deeply sorry for the inconvenience”, results in no impact for either party, no room for change in society and most importantly, no healing for the victim.
An apology is like fine cloth - the texture of which is discernible to the keen eye of one who is intimately familiar with the fabric - the one who weaves it and the one who wears it. But to others who merely observe, its only purpose is utility making it close to impossible to corroborate its worth.
So, no, an apology is not enough. Even if it contains all the right ingredients, it is just a start and merely the first step on a journey of repentance. But it is extremely vital. While an apology can rarely undo the damage, it can certainly provide closure and set the course of action for justice to be served.