Last week I read a letter to the Editor in my local community paper, the Richmond Hill Liberal. At first, it appeared to be another rant on the lack of civility that many charge (and I agree) is starting to characterize our society. But my jaw dropped after reading the entire thing.

It described a man who, while going into a convenience store, almost tripped over a pile of bicycles left in front of the door. Once in the store, the man chewed out a few pre-teen boys standing there, even dropping the ‘F bomb.’ When they responded that it wasn’t them (and gave their relatively polite, G-rated protest), he then chewed out two more teens he found standing in front of said bikes, again using the abusive language.


The letter went on to identify its writer as the man in question. His intent: to apologize to the kids for his inappropriate behaviour, and to express his hope that they’d learn that while adults, too, make mistakes, they can be ‘man enough’ to admit when they are wrong.

I was gobsmacked at the turn in my feeling after seeing that it was the culprit himself who was publicly sharing  – and taking responsibility for – his own bad behaviour.

Apology legislation takes accepting responsibility to a new level

The letter reminded me of discussions I’ve heard recently about the Apology Act. Yes, there are even laws that govern humans saying they’re sorry to other humans.

People in medical and other organizations have historically been prevented from taking personal responsibility for their on-the-job errors, lest the apology be taken as an admission of legal liability and subject to further legal claims. One report I heard said that even people who’ve erred in their personal dealings have been loathe to issue an apology, because they fear being taken to court.

The Apology Act aims to change this. Passed in six of Canada’s ten provinces, the Act,

“broadly defines apology and states that an apology can not be used as evidence in legal proceedings to establish fault or liability. Liability or fault may still be proven through other evidence.”

(taken from the Nova Scotia Government website)

oopsWhat conclusion are we to draw from the fact that they’ve had to legislate such a deeply human practice, which one would think should be left up to individuals to decide about? The Ottawa Citizen said it best: “In a litigious society, sometimes “sorry” really is the hardest word.”

To learn more, read the rest of that article, published October 8.

p.s. Ironically, as I write this I am listening to a broadcast called Apologies, being aired on the show Living Out Loud, on CBC Radio One. It’s all about the ways different people have chosen to make amends.



(You can hear more about this broadcast if you search for ‘Living Out Loud’ in their Search box, then sorting their results by date)