Good intentions often get lost in apologies

18:29, Jul 10 2014

Last week David Cunliffe apologised for something he didn't do. I was surprised one man's apology sparked so much debate in a land where people say "I'm sorry" as automatically as they say "please" and "thank you".

I first encountered this Kiwi trait when I started dating my now fiance Nick back in Europe. He was always the first to throw in an apology after an argument - I thought he was great at questioning himself. But after a few weeks in his home country, I realised it had more to do with cultural habits than a willingness to change.

If I bump into someone in a shop here, they will apologise first. People apologise for not understanding my accent. Even my boss apologises for giving me work to do.

My friend, Abbie, is a serial apologiser. She once hosted an amazing dinner party with a five-course meal and restaurant-style service and decoration.

After dinner we played a board game another friend had brought. Because the goal was to guess words, I was sometimes a bit slower to get it. I whined extensively about how hard it was to play for a non-native English speaker.

The next day, Abbie texted: "I'm sorry the game was a bit tough for you."


This is so sweet and so wrong on so many levels. Someone else had brought the game! I was happy to play! The only reason I whined about the game was to try and get more time to guess the words! She had cooked us an amazing dinner! No amount of exclamation marks can convey how amazed I was at her apology.

Since then, she's apologised countless times about things I was not remotely upset about, sometimes even offering to buy me coffee as compensation.

After a year-and-a-half in the land of atonement, I am still puzzled about this Kiwi trait.

Many seem to use the words "I'm sorry" to soften a complaint or a request.

Some, like Abbie, obviously mean it when they say they are sorry. It's a sign that they question the way they think and act, and even though it sometimes leads to ludicrous results it is something I appreciate about my Kiwi friends.

Cunliffe's apology "for being a man" because they are the main perpetrators of family violence seemed sincere to me.

However, I found the debate surrounding it incredibly boring. Some, including John Key, felt insulted because most men were good fathers and partners.

Others backed Cunliffe's bravery. But the appalling facts and statistics that Cunliffe outlined in his speech were left out of the discussion. I do not believe he intended to divert the debate to his apology but, sadly, it happened.

I'm sorry but apologies won't end family violence. Adequate funding and a sharp questioning of the structures in place might.

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