Apology and contrition

Published May 2, 2000

In their paper, The Promise and Pitfalls of Apology, to be published in the Journal of Social Philosophy, Canadian academic Trudy Govier, a professor at the University of Calgary, and Wilhelm Verwoerd, a professor at Stellenbosch University, South Africa, examine exactly how significant apology really is in human lives. “We suggest that it is because saying ‘I am sorry’ or ‘I apologize’ … primarily implies acknowledgement of the human dignity and moral worth of the victim,” the authors write. “An effective apology provides the basis for an emotional shift towards forgiveness. The recognition of painful feelings such as resentment is very closely linked to the recovery of self-respect.” They say also that an apology can often be more important “than even rather generous financial compensation,” provided contrition is part of the apology and there is a commitment to practical amends.

According to Rupert Ross, author and assistant Crown attorney for the District of Kenora, practical amends require an appreciation, if not an understanding of the victims and their culture. “Until we realize that Native people have a highly developed, formal, but radically different set of cultural imperatives, we are likely to continue misinterpreting their acts, misperceiving the real problems they face and imposing, through government policies, potentially harmful ‘remedies,” writes Ross, in his 1992 book, Dancing With a Ghost.

Mindful of the vast differences between Native and non-Native cultures, various programs and funds have been established and put under the guidance of Native administrators. The Anglican Church has the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples and the Residential Schools Healing Fund, which has so far earmarked more than $500,000 for expenses incurred by Native-run programs, ranging from establishing conferences, to printing hymn books in various Native dialects, to counselling for those suffering from the effects of their traumatic residential-school experiences.


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