Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Devaluing the Concept of Apology

La Shawn links to this story about a woman offended by a police officer eating a banana:

Just think of all the ways a man might use a banana to offend a woman.

Then you may imagine why some people leaped to the wrong conclusion when a woman complained about a Columbus police officer eating a banana at the Civic Center as people gathered for a Jan. 15 civil rights march.

The woman was deeply offended, she told police. The police were deeply bewildered.


Then she called Mayor Bob Poydasheff. He said she just started berating him about the police. He told her he'd heard only compliments about how officers handled the weekend march in which the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other longtime civil rights activists led 8,000 people from the Civic Center to the Government Center.


Well, it seems that in the context of the march, she took the officer's banana eating to imply an analogous racial slur relating black people to apes.
Pretty silly, you say? But, wait! There's more:
So he called the woman back and explained all this, and added an apology. "I'm sorry you were offended, and let me apologize to you personally," he told her.

"Well, send it in writing," she told him.

So he did. Call it "The Banana Apology."

Dated Jan. 22, it says: "As I said in our telephone conversation, I am sorry you found Columbus police officers eating bananas on the street when you arrived in Columbus for the protest. Let me assure you there was no intent to offend. The officers needed some nutrition after standing long hours on the street and they particularly needed the potassium available in bananas and some other fruits."

Later the mayor writes: "There was no thought of insulting or offending anyone and perhaps this was thoughtless on our part. In any case, let me offer my sincere apology for anything our officers may have done that gave offense to you or anyone else."

Did this satisfy the woman?

"I haven't heard from her," Poydasheff said Thursday. "And quite candidly, I don't care. Our officers did no wrong."
Mr. Mayor, if the officers did no wrong and you don't really care about what the woman thinks, DON'T FRIGGIN' APOLOGIZE! An apology implies an admission of error. This woman owes the officer an apology (along with everyone else whose time she wasted). I can see how a politician might not want to press that issue, but offering a fake apology devalues the meaning of the word and undermines the very concept of courtesy and manners (to say nothing of the weightier concepts of repentance, atonement and forgiveness). Such encouragement of unreasonable grievances and insincere apologies contribute to the coarsening of public discourse.

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