Apologies are funny things; they’re rarely simple sorries. More often an apology is hedged with justification or excuse. It often becomes more about the person making the apology than those who they’ve hurt.
This week New Zealand saw two men – known for their mistreatment of women – address the nation, to tell their side of the story.
Both men said they wanted to make amends by apologising and moving on with their lives, and their work.
But in both cases, these so-called apologies felt more like PR exercises than a genuine effort to atone.
During an extended interview with Newshub, and subsequent letters posted to social media, former National (now independent) MP for Botany Jami-Lee Ross spoke about his experience for the first time since being admitted to a mental health facility in October. This treatment came after Ross threw everything he had at trying to bring down National leader Simon Bridges, leaving a trail of collateral damage.
In the lengthy letters, Ross likened himself to a wounded animal backed into a corner. He said he didn’t behave well, and he apologised to his wife and his former National Party colleagues.
In relation to the women who spoke to Newsroom about the way Ross treated them, and the impact that had on their lives and their mental health, Ross said he didn’t realise he was hurting people.
“Clearly I was not a good boss, but worse than that I didn’t even realise. I never knew they felt that way. I didn’t realise that my actions were creating such an unpleasant workplace. How terrible is that?”
He also talked about a text message sent by a female MP he had a relationship with. He said this text was a low point for him, and was to blame for his suicide attempt.
He also accused Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges of sending these former staff members, and a National MP, to the media to share their stories. Bennett says those who spoke to Newsroom made that choice themselves.
What was supposed to be an apology, was filled with thinly-veiled attacks on individuals he said he no longer held animosity towards. This hardly seems like the behaviour of someone who has genuinely let go of grudges.
In a separate, two-part interview with Newshub this week, one of the leaders of the notorious Roast Busters group also said he wanted to say sorry and move on.
Joseph Parker said he did the interview to try to make amends for the hurt and harm he’d caused to vulnerable young women.
But he also said the Roast Busters “weren’t the monsters that everybody thought that we were”.
In their tell-all interviews, the men said sorry, while offering justification for their actions, and somehow making it more about themselves than those they hurt.
If they truly want to say sorry and move on, they should say sorry and move on.
No one should be condemned to a black hole for the rest of their lives, but a true apology would be made direct to victims, without TV cameras.
The best Ross’ family, colleagues and constituents can hope for is for him to keep his head down upon return.
With any luck he will follow through with what he’s promised on social media, and work hard for his constituents at least until the 2020 election.
Ross doesn’t have a great track record of keeping his mouth shut, but for his own mental health, and those around him, he now needs to try and make amends through actions, rather than words.