‚ÄúMan, I was thinking about when I commented on the idea of “taking the rap throne‚Äù… that¬†statement hasn‚Äôt been sitting well with me‚Ä¶ That‚Äôs a dated mentality… I‚Äôm not on that‚Ä¶ every¬†rapper is somebody‚Äôs favorite‚Ä¶ Some rappers got the club‚Ä¶ Some got the radio‚Ä¶ some got the¬†conscience‚Ä¶some got the streets‚Ä¶ Everybody has something they do the best‚Ä¶ wise man¬†should be humble enough to admit when he‚Äôs wrong and change his mind based on new¬†information‚Ä¶There is so much positive energy right now‚Ä¶ Let‚Äôs stay on this Ultra Light Beam‚Ä¶In rap we have been developing a brotherhood‚Ä¶ My number one enemy has been my ego‚Ä¶there is only one throne and that‚Äôs God’s.‚Äù
‚Äì Kanye West
In running Prufrock I‚Äôve had to make one really serious apology, and I‚Äôve had one given to me.¬†The second was when a great little magazine published a poem by one of Prufrock‚Äôs writers,¬†and submitted by us, under my name. They hand-corrected each issue still in their possession¬†and sent apologies to the writer, to me, and to all of their readers. It wasn‚Äôt as bad for me as it¬†was for her, of course.
Then, in our last issue, we published a piece under the wrong name. The name we published,¬†on the cover, was the writer‚Äôs brother‚Äôs and I realised this only as I was handing copies over to¬†the writer‚Äôs colleague. It felt terrible. We let him know and he was justifiably angry but quickly¬†pretty nice about it, considering, as was his brother. We apologised on Facebook and Twitter¬†and the website.
It‚Äôs obviously important, for any sort of publisher, to know how to say sorry. Your job is, after¬†all, saying a whole lot of other things, in public. The Mail & Guardian apologised in a big way¬†recently, following its story claiming that Mmusi Maimane was receiving politics lessons from¬†FW de Klerk.¬†The M&G‚Äôs editor, Verashni Pillay, put the apology on the front cover and did a pretty stellar¬†job, if still making sure that she made the paper look good (which, really, is her job too). The¬†‚Äúwe‚Äôre held to a higher standard‚Äù apology seems to be almost as common as the ‚ÄúI‚Äôm not angry¬†just disappointed‚Äù response to wrongdoing. It‚Äôs the ‚ÄúWhat is your greatest fault?‚Äù interview¬†response of saying sorry.
I once had to go on a conflict resolution retreat with colleagues for work (not Prufrock). At the¬†retreat there was crying and literal blood. With our backs to each other, we had to explain a¬†picture to a partner who couldn‚Äôt see it and they had to draw it, which was fun. The pieces of¬†advice I remember were ‚Äòdon‚Äôt make it personal‚Äô, and to find out what each party‚Äôs real¬†interests are, and hopefully then find a common interest. It was interesting. It was also so¬†stressful for me, a person who hates any kind of conflict, that at some point, and I think the two¬†are related, I was in terrible pain. One of the hotel‚Äôs staff members snuck me out to get¬†Nurofen and a Steri Stumpie.
There wasn‚Äôt much focus on how to apologise, I suppose because when you‚Äôre employed, this is¬†something you should probably know how to do. But in the conflict resolution retreat that is¬†South African politics, the who and what and how of apologies are a big deal at the moment.
‚ÄúSay sorry for e-tolls‚Äù
‚ÄúSay sorry for benefitting from apartheid.‚Äù
‚ÄúLike you mean it.‚Äù
‚ÄúSay sorry for what you did, Gareth Cliff‚Äù
‚ÄúDali Mpofu is a Good Lawyer! #GarethCliff‚Äù
It‚Äôs worth remembering that nobody looks great rejecting a sincere apology. Who, for example, could turn down Emily Post replying to your message after way too long (from Post‚Äôs Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics and at Home, 1922):
HOW NOT TO BEGIN
Even one who ‚Äúloves the very sight of your handwriting,‚Äù could not possibly find any pleasure in a letter beginning:
‚ÄúI have been meaning to write you for a long time but haven‚Äôt had a minute to spare.‚Äù
‚ÄúI suppose you have been thinking me very neglectful, but you know how I hate to write letters.‚Äù
‚ÄúI know I ought to have answered your letter sooner, but I haven‚Äôt had a thing to write about.‚Äù
The above sentences are written time and again by persons who are utterly unconscious that they are not expressing a friendly or loving thought. If one of your friends were to walk into the room, and you were to receive him stretched out and yawning in an easy chair, no one would have to point out the rudeness of such behavior; yet countless kindly intentioned people begin their letters mentally reclining and yawning in just such a way.
HOW TO BEGIN
Suppose you merely change the wording of the above sentences, so that instead of slamming the door in your friend‚Äôs face, you hold it open:
‚ÄúDo you think I have forgotten you entirely? You don‚Äôt know, dear Mary, how many letters I have written you in thought.‚Äù
‚ÄúTime and time again I have wanted to write you but each moment that I saved for myself was always interrupted by‚Äîsomething.‚Äù
One of the frequent difficulties in beginning a letter is that your answer is so long delayed that you begin with an apology, which is always a lame duck. But these examples indicate a way in which even an opening apology may be attractive rather than repellent.
Apologise. Do not be repellent. But, when needed, here is a song for if you‚Äôre sorry not one bit.
Helen Sullivan is the co-founder and editor of Prufrock, a multilingual print quarterly of African fiction, nonfiction and poetry. To submit, subscribe, find stockists or get in touch, visit prufrock.co.za. Follow her monthly column on Casimir.
Illustrations by Tyla Mason