This assembly begins by considering the numerous apologies which have been made in connection with the football World Cup. It goes on to discuss the difference between a qualified apology and a true expression of regret
Resources: A Leader and two Readers.
England are out of the World Cup and that has left a lot of people feeling sorry. Some fans, who had spent a lot of money - wanted someone to say sorry to them – and striker Wayne Rooney did just that. He didn’t like being booed after the Algeria game and said so to the TV cameras. But later on he did issue an apology: ‘I said things in the heat of the moment out of frustration at our performance and the result... I apologise for any offence caused by my actions.’ (1)
Then there was that England goal which was disallowed by the referee from Uruguay. Back in his own country, a leading news paper urged its own FA to apologise to England ‘Say sorry!’ was the headline. (2) And after that Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA has said sorry to England – and Mexico – for not installing technology that would help the poor referees. So let’s think about saying sorry – how to do it, and how not do to it. Our two Readers will present several short sketches will may help to spot the difference between being truly sorry and offering a phony apology.
Reader 1: Our first scene is called ’I’m sorry IF...’. We are in the Public Relations department of a television company. The director has the job of dealing with complaints sent in by viewers. Our first Reader is the director and the second is a secretary.
Reader 1: Any tricky complaints today?
Reader 2: Just another letter from Mr and Mrs. Normal.
Reader 1: Oh not them again! What are they moaning about this time?
Reader 2: They didn’t like one of our programmes. They thought that ’Dancing with Dinosaurs’ would be suitable for children, but they say that it gave their kids nightmares.
Reader 1: OK. I’ll send them the usual answer... Let’s record it right now. [Starts recording]
’Dear Mr. And Mrs. Normal,
We are sorry if you were offended by our programme ‘Dancing with Dinosaurs’. All our output is produced by creative people who have many years experience working in the media. ’Dancing with Dinosaurs’ was not intended for the younger generation and was not shown in the early evening: though we do understand that not all children go to bed early. In conclusion, my I remind you that any television programme can always be switched off.’
Leader: Let’s stop there. Is the TV company really saying sorry to Mr and Mrs. Normal? The words ‘I’m sorry if...’ show that this is a conditional apology. ‘I’m sorry, if...’ could mean ‘I’m not really sorry at all – it’s your fault if you don’t like what I did.’ .
Now let’s try another way to say sorry.... This one is called ’I’m sorry BECAUSE…’. This sketch takes us back a hundred years, to an old -fashioned boarding school, where the headmaster used to punish offenders with a cane. Reader 1 is the Head, and Reader 2 is a boy called Sanderson. He’s in big trouble.
Reader 1: Ah well Sanderson, here we are again!
Reader 2: Sorry sir.
Reader 1: You may well say sorry, Sanderson, because you are in serious trouble. Two weeks ago you went into town without permission and got into an argument with some boys outside a public house.
Reader 2: They were saying rude things about our school, sir.
Reader 1: The town centre is out of bounds, as you know very well. Last week you were let off with a warning. Now I learn that you did the same thing again, only yesterday. You went out of bounds – and this time the argument turned into a fight.
Reader 2: I’m sorry sir.
Reader 1: ‘I’m sorry sir’. You’ve said that before. So tell me Sanderson, just why are you sorry?
Reader 2: Because...
Reader 1: Because you’ve been caught! You are only sorry because you know that you will be punished. I’m going to give you a good caning. Hold out your hand.[The Headmaster brandishes the cane, and Sanderson holds out his hand]
Leader: Stop there! Corporal punishment has been abolished and so we have to stop there. But it’s clear that people often say ‘sorry’ only because they have been found out – which of course is another way or not saying sorry at all.
Our thirds sketch is called, ‘I’m sorry, BUT...’.
This time our two Readers both recognise that they have done something really wrong.
Reader 1: I feel awful.
Reader 2: So do I. We never meant it to turn out like that.
Reader 2: Let’s own up. Tell them that we did it.
Reader 2: We can’t possibly do that.
Reader 1: It’s the only way. We’ve got to say sorry.
Reader 2: But my mum and dad will go crazy. It could end up in the papers. We could be expelled from school.
Reader 1: We can’t go on living with this for the rest of our lives.
Reader 2: Why not? Nobody knows it was us.
Reader 1: God knows.
Reader 2: That’s OK for you. I don’t believe in God.
Reader 1: Even then, somebody does know. You know. You’ll never be happy if you don’t admit it.
Reader 2: Look. I’d like to admit it was us. I’d like to say sorry ...but...
Reader 1: You’ve got too much to lose. That’s the problem.
Reader 2: It’s terrible. What on earth can we do? (They ‘freeze’)
Leader: There’s our third apology.’ People say. ‘I’m sorry, but...’ when they can’t face up to the consequences of admitting that they did something wrong.
The couple in our third sketch do feel sorry; that’s called remorse. But then comes the harder part, which is repentance – admitting what we’ve done and making up our minds not to do it again. After that comes restitution: doing our best to repair the damage we may have done.
Let’s try again. Our last sketch is a bit more cheerful:
Reader 1: Look, I’m sorry for what happened last night.
Reader 2: Forget it.
Reader 1: No. I can’t forget it. I really am sorry. I shouldn’t have said what I said and I shouldn’t have done what I did.
Reader 2: It’s OK.
Reader 2: And – look – if I caused any damage... I’ll pay for it.
Reader 1: No damage done. Well, maybe you hurt my feelings?
Reader 1: That IS damage. Please, I’m sorry. Will you forgive me.
Reader 2: Why not? (They smile and shake hands)
Leader: Saying sorry – without an ‘if’ or a ‘but’ or a dodgy ‘because’– can never be easy: but we all have to do it sometimes. And saying sorry doesn’t mean that we’re soft. Quite the opposite. Saying sorry is a sign of strength.
Let’s finish with a wish-list. It could also be a prayer.
Reader 1: Help me to recognise when I’ve done something wrong
Or missed the chance to do something right.
Reader 2: Help me to feel as sorry as I should be.
(Not overdoing it, and not underplaying it.)
Reader 1: Give me the strength to repent.
Give me the courage to own up.
Reader 2: Give me the chance to make up for what I’ve done;
And help me to make new friendships,
Reader 1: To mend broken friendships,
And make old friendships stronger.
This e-bulletin issue was first published in July 2010
About the author: John Coutts has worked as secondary school principal in Nigeria, taught RE in Scotland, and has been involved in teaching and teacher training at the University of Greenwich. He currently works as a freelance writer, poet and performer.