Friday, February 10, 2017

Pardons and Apologies

I've been reading articles about various countries pardoning LGBT people who had been convicted and imprisoned in the past. I thought if it in context of the apology, here in Ontario, to people with disabilities, who were imprisoned, without dignity of trial, into large residential facilities. And the context of the apologies given by the Canadian government to First Nations people for brutally ripping children from their families and placing them in residential homes to suffer abuse akin to torture with the goal of eradicating their cultures and languages.

Pardons and apologies all sound like such good ideas. Maybe they are. Maybe it's part of the healing process for those individuals who experienced the brutality of being governed by good intentions. In every case, the government thought it was acting in the best interests of society or of the individuals themselves. I'm sure that many of you are familiar with the C. S. Lewis quote, which I'm quoting with severe misgivings:

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for the do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason ..." C. S. Lewis

And let's be clear, the apologies and pardons have been given with good intentions. They are often beautifully worded and delivered with the right degree of regretful emotion by whatever head government reads them. The ceremonies are profound a moving. I am in no way mocking these events, I was moved to tears by the Ontario apology to disabled people.

But I wonder if the giving of the apology means that those who suffered under the tyranny of good intentions are required to accept? Those who were imprisoned for being gay, is there an option to simply not accept the pardon? Can disabled people individually or collectively say, "Thanks but no thanks." Can First Nation's people simply turn their backs on the words from Ottawa?"

Are pardons and apologies less about addressing the causes that lead to imprisonment and abuse and more about an attempt to erase histories? To 'make better' now at this point in time, so that you don't have to deal with further ramifications in the future. "But we apologized for that, don't bring your paint, your deeply rooted trauma to me now, it's done, it's finished, it's like it never happened."

I heard one person say, after the Ontario apology, "Well, finally, that's done." I wondered, but did not say, well what's done? People with intellectual disabilities are still underfunded, they are still subject to support providers and I'm guessing abuse didn't disappear instantaneously, and society, well, it's still not that welcoming to disability of any kind but intellectual disability in particular.

Apology should start the process of change. Apology without change is like a hurricane with no wind. Pardon without action is like a tool that's never picked up or used.

Had I been imprisoned, in jail, rather than behind the locked doors of a stoutly built closet, I don't know if I would want the pardon. I don't know if I'd want to hold the power that the conviction now gives me taken away.

What power?

The power to demand recognition as a representative of a time when prejudice had a gavel.

I don't know if I'd accept apology for the same reason.

Nothing changes the past. Unless there is active work to change the future, unless the apology or pardon comes in the midst of strong legislation and appropriately funded efforts to create a welcoming world, it is meaningless.

I'm not sure it should be accepted.

(Please note, I am speaking from my own perspective and my own world view, I am aware that there are those who truly suffered at the hand of the government and for whom the apologies and pardon deeply matter. This piece is not a criticism of that, it is not my right to tell anyone how to feel about anything. However, I maintain my right to consider, in my own small human way, really large and important issues like these.)


Unknown said...

Haven't thought about CS Lewis in a long time..I think the quote is quite apt, though the phrasing is clearly from a different era.
Apology is one part of healing - the recognition by perpetrator(s) of injustice and injury (or their successor representatives) that they did take actions that caused harm and that they recognize 2 elements - their role in causing the damage AND their responsibility to work hard to help make 'whole' whatever it is that they 'damaged."
An apology covers the first part AND the second essential component is making amends - not just words, but actions to repair the damage done, making changes to ensure the damage does not continue or reoccur in future, and you often make some personal sacrifice to show that you are suffering as you work to repair the damage and you accept this suffering as a demonstration of solidarity with the person(s) who have been harmed.
I believe the concept is referred to as 'restorative justice' in some circles, tho I'm not sure. Words alone without changes in future actions are just meaningless sounds that add to the cacophony of meanness in the world.

Glee said...

I agree

ABEhrhardt said...

Agree; any apology without a plan for change in the future is not only cosmetic, but it is an attempt to avoid any substantive improvements.

Ron Arnold said...

Two thoughts: 1) I think that people who think they know what's best for me are laughable - until their opinion becomes law. Then they're not so funny anymore. 2) I've always told my children that "sorry" is not something you say, it's something you do. It's a change in behavior.

I don't mind laws (a.k.a. opinions with a gun) that are designed to increase opportunity but those laws seem most rare . . . .

Unknown said...

I agree....don't apologise if you have no intention of making very real change, and don't expect people to accept a flippant apology with no remedy attached. I never told my kids they had to "say sorry". What I did tell them was, " I want you to think about what you did, I want you to figure out what you can do to fix it and then do that, and when you're ready and when you mean it, an apology would be nice."