The return of sorry

Germany’s resigned defense minister zu Guttenberg has apparently just sent an apology letter to all research assistants in the German Bundestag. From material they had put together for him as part of the governmental service, he had copied without quoting them, and thus produced a mash-up of a more than 400 pages long dissertation. A week ago he apologised publicly, saying sorry for having made mistakes after weeks of public debate about plagiarism, honesty and academic standards. A few days before, in his defense speech in front of the German government, still not ready to leave his post, he had been so audacious proposing that his humble behaviour of saying sorry could serve as a model for everyone in this country. So: Is there a come-back of saying sorry? What if, in this world of ever so many possiblities, we cannot count on our acts anymore? If there is no point of reference anymore to stand on, we need to at least be honest when we have made a mistake, zu Guttenberg seems to say. His philosophy is simple: Replacing decent action with a decent apology.

What for? Let me guess, that he wants to step back onto the political stage again in a few years time as a remorseful refined man. The first step on a new path is a hearty sorry. And this, as we know, is the common dramaturgy be it in old myths or in new blockbusters. The fallen hero embraces his faults and can then return, shimmering with new credibility. Stronger than before, better than before. Bigger, brighter, unvincable. This is why zu Guttenberg in his abdication speech quoted (without naming the source, of course) from Star Wars „The Wrath of Khan“. The story of Khan goes like this: a genetically modified Uber-Mensch leaves his exile and then returns, seeking revenge.

The only difference: Politics is not an epic art world, you cannot cut out stupid scenes or badly written paragraphs and rewrite the piece. Life is not based on a movie script, neither political life. You cannot say: „Oh, I’m sorry, I just wasn’t sure when signing this contract about 10 nuclear power plants, I apologise for it.“

But maybe we cannot draw the line anymore, between fake and fiction. A phrase regarding contraception, another form of prevention, comes to my mind. „Better to be safe, than sorry.“ Better to think and reflect about your actions, before saying sorry.