We’d quite like to apologise

Picture the scene: as you approach St Pancras, there’s a prerecorded announcement apologising for the late arrival of the train. Or perhaps when you, in the phone queue for 20 minutes and ready to slit your throat, hear ‘all our customer consultants [ugh!] are busy; we apologise for the delay.’ The obvious insincerity of it all. How can a prerecorded message apologise for anything? Why do they apologise when they don’t do anything about it? Apology is devalued.

Now we have the bank bosses apologising one day for being substantially responsible for the mess we’re in, and the next announcing their obscene bonuses—in large part now funded, boys and girls, from your taxes and mine. And even if they forgo them this year, poor darlings, is it back to ‘normal’ next? Then we hear that the man who warned them years ago that their ways were likely to bring disaster was gagged as a troublesome whistleblower. What do they think an apology is? Just words to get them off the hook? Apology is more than devalued. It’s no wonder that Monty Don is said to be incandescent with rage. So am I. These people have disgraced themselves—not for what they did (we all do foolish things), but for trying to wriggle out of it and carry on as before. Japanese businessmen in such a position have been known to take their own lives. Apologies are pointless, indeed inappropriate, unless they’re part of a change of heart and behaviour.

There is too much in our daily lives that may be legal, but feels plain wrong. It’s worryingly likely to drive people into the arms of extremist groups. Who listens to us? Do you remember what Gandhi did in order to hasten the end of the British Raj in India? He called for a nationwide day of prayer and fasting, and the country came to a halt. I wonder …

There is another way. I’m talking about repentance, or penitence. It has nothing to do with grovelling, but everything to do with changing direction, and making the effort to do so. Not for the sake of any reward we might or might not get in the future, but because we’re more likely to feel at peace with ourselves here and now. This year, March falls entirely in Lent, and Lent is traditionally about just this. Lent: lengthening days, getting brighter, a time when we take stock and make plans for the coming months. New growth—and growth is change. Biology is doing it as seeds sprout and animals are born.

Some people think it’s necessary, or desirable, to give up treats for Lent. Let them at it, I say. Pretty pointless. If folk want to wear a hair shirt, they’re welcome. My suggestion for Lent is to get rid of stuff you don’t need any more. If you’ve not used it for the last 10 years, you’re not going to need it in the next 10. And when you’ve let it go, start letting go of prejudices and attitudes that restrict your view of the world. This is giving up something for Lent that is worthwhile. It has nothing to do with making yourself miserable, but everything to do with freeing yourself up for delights you never knew were out there. It’s about losing yourself, being transformed, so that the real you shines out, free of the mask of expectation, or the cloak of ‘tribe’ membership, or the facade of pretending to be what you’re not. Let go.

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