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OPINION - Meaningless apology

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) “Say you’re sorry, Chris.”  When I was a kid, my mother would make me apologize when I’d do something mean to my sister. Pull her hair… “Say you’re sorry…”   Sometimes there’d be a threat built-in, “… or we won’t be going out for ice cream.” What would follow would be the most half-hearted, least sincere apology of all time. I’d put my hands in my pocket, eyes staring off into space, and mumble a barely audible “…sorry.

An apology only has meaning if it’s sincere and voluntarily. A forced apology is meaningless.

Last night the Wausau Board of Education debated whether it would force an apology from Superintendent Kathleen Williams over the still-simmering controversy over holiday concerts and religious music. The board voted 7-2 against it, mostly because an investigation into the matter isn’t complete. This issue may be revisited in the next few weeks.

Even when the facts come out, a written letter apologizing for the situation is a silly waste of time. Suppose, hypothetically, the policy change was initiated by the superintendent. She was applying the law as she understood it within the context of her values and interpretations. Whoever made this change put risk-management and aversion to being sued over the values and desires of the community. In short, they were out of touch; tone deaf. That’s not something you apologize for. The apology would be forced and half-hearted. And the least sincere of all apologies is “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Apologizing because of the way someone else feels or reacts isn’t an apology at all.

What the community wants is a promise, not an apology.

When the source of this policy change is known, we’d like them to promise that large-scale policy changes will be made publicly, through the Board of Education. And we’d like a promise that in grey areas of the law that decisions will come down on the side of the people’s will. That’s the path to keeping this from happening again. A public apology means nothing.

Chris Conley
11.12.13