The almighty S-word

Wednesday – 15.10.2014

A couple of days ago, the English minister for welfare said that disabled people should not be able to earn the minimum wage. The minister for welfare! It’s Orwellian…

It was of course followed by his “unreserved apologies”: Sorry, sorry, sorry…which turned out to have been demanded by the Prime Minister. Yes, he was not thinking of apologising at all until his master told him he might lose his office (Yeah…What else is new?). And all the perks that come with it (Argh!!): promise of very lucrative business deals with private health firms after he left and a privileged position in lobbying groups.

Call me cynical about this kind of politicians and their motivation when it comes to their office but I am not the welfare minister who said disabled people should not be allowed to get the basic living standards because they are different. His mission of welfare is obviously the least of his worry.

In the Commons, Cameron said the usual “it does not represent the view of the government”, that the guy apologised so, he insisted, the matter was closed. He concluded by saying he “didn’t want to hear about it anymore”. Well, the rest of Europe doesn’t want to have to deal with your childish, selfish demands anymore so I fear we are both going to be disappointed…

The fact is the guy said sorry for expressing his views out loud. That is the issue for the Tories: the public display of their inherent will to stampede the poor and the sick, and that’s what they want him to be publically sorry for. We don’t know if he thinks differently now, we don’t know what’s going to happen when he gets a bill or is asked to look into a reform to ease the burden of disabled people. Is he going to be impartial, just chuck it away, try to make it disappear because he doesn’t think it’s what should be done?

By I digress. My issue (among many) is that the guy said sorry and that’s it. The matter is closed and I don’t understand how that “Sorry” word has become a one-word closing chapter of all books and disagreements. I think that’s what I’ll do in this blog: be extremely cheap, offensive and racist but close every post with the word “Sorry” so the matter is settled and no one can mention it again.

By saying he doesn’t want to hear about it anymore, Cameron is using his minister’s S-word to stop any further important questions. Because that guy is still in the government, so is his eugenistic thinking. This might not be the views of the government but he’s still an official minister in charge of welfare for disabled people and Cameron doesn’t want to get rid of him. It’s not like he doesn’t have a cohort of desperate office-seeking politicians lurking behind. So why? We will not know because of “Sorry”.

That’s why I have come to hate the S-word. It is used to avoid discussion nowadays, we are forced to accept it. There is still some kind of moral value attached to it that dictates that when someone says it, they are being truly repentant, they are bowing down in humility and thou shall forgive and forget. But it’s not! It has become an escape.

Has it ever happened to you when you are angry at someone for wronging you, you want to go to the bottom of it, you want to talk and discuss it but they say a vague “sorry” and suddenly you become the bad guy if you don’t accept the body, even if it’s still warm?

I became sick of it after a few years. I realised that as a French person, the cultural shock became too much. In Southern Europe, we say sorry when we mean it, at least I do. It’s like “Thank you”. By sorrying and thank-youing right, left and centre, it doesn’t mean anything anymore and yet you still expect the receiving people to be grateful for the gesture.

In England, that word has become a reflex, an exit door when faced with the responsibility of actually looking deep inside oneself and one’s actions. Sainsbury kicked out a couple of girl students for holding hands and kissing in one of their store after a someone popped up from the 1900’s to say they found it disgusting and were afraid for their poor children (Wait, until they find Pornhub!). It’s late 2014!! So of course, there is an outcry and the store tried to avoid the huge backlash by saying that they “sincerely apologised to the couple”. And they expect everybody to be happy with it, they really do not understand why it is still an issue.

The examples are endless and, daily, in every aspect of life, the papers is filled with endless apologises. Take the Guardian website this morning and you’ll have three of them on the first page. Well it was at 6am…

This problem runs very deep because it starts very early. The society teaches kids to say “Sorry” but we don’t teach them why and how. Sorry becomes a social reflex and a foreign expectation, like yawning with your mouth closed, shaking hands with greeting someone or say “Bless you” when someone sneezes. It’s a social convention, the right thing to do. Kids do it because they feel people are expecting them to, not because they truly thought about what they did and are actually feeling sorry. They have a habit of apologising straight away. Where’s the thinking of what they’ve done? “Just do it, who cares if you actually believe it!” – Probably Cameron’s words to his minister.

I conformed until I became too French during a parents meeting: Two parents whose child was a constant nuisance in lessons, the one to say “Sorry, Sir” everytime I told him off but never changed, but mostly who would become the meekest kitten to handle when his parents were here. You see the type. Well he apologised, once again and the mother got offended when I remained stone-like. She said I was being unfair and could at least acknowledge his apologies so I told her that I didn’t believe he was sorry at all because he says it to me at least 10 times every single lesson and yet his behaviour never changes and here we were, having a meeting about the behaviour he tells me again that he is sorry for. I said I would only accept an apology if he, himself, wanted to give me one because he felt it was the right thing to do, not because someone else told him too. I do not consider empty gestures. The adults were shocked but I was forgiven for being “a foreigner” (Go figure).

I am telling you about this for I long thought that kid would end up a minister for welfare but he never apologised again. I preferred it that way. His behaviour did improve with me after that because somehow, we were honest with each other and trust developed on our terms, not the ones dictated by the S-word.

When he learnt I was leaving England, he begged me to stay.
“Why?” I said, “I am very strict with you”
“Yeah but we like you” he replied. “You don’t care when we say ‘Sorry'”

Teaching is made of small victories.


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