It’s a competitive category, to be sure, but right up there among the biggest drags of political correctness has to be the symbolic apology.
Believe me, I try to tread lightly where slavery or the Holocaust are concerned, but watching French rail firm SNCF become the latest institution to be made to jump through hoops for the sins of its forefathers strikes me as the most monumental misdirection of energy. If talk is cheap, apologetic talk from people who weren’t even born when the offences in question were being committed is surely the loose change of rhetoric.
“Don’t say sorry, act sorry,” I tell my kids when they step out of line and I’m inclined to take the same stance on a larger stage.
I’m neither black nor Jewish, so I appreciate that I can only speculate here, but my speculation nonetheless is that were I to fall in either of those camps, hand-wringing apologies for the distant past would mean rather less to me than proof positive that the lessons of that past had been emphatically learned.
If SNCF is colour-blind in the way it runs its business; if its bosses treat staff and customers – without exception – as they themselves would wish to be treated and if it makes no attempt to gloss over the skeletons in its cupboard, then I speculate that I’m happy.
And as an aside, I’m struck by the way the duress element of this story is subtly sneered at, as if were the flimsiest of excuses: not the first time I’ve seen this happen whenever the 21st century turns its scrupulous spotlight upon the impossible dilemmas of a continent at war.
It’s easy to be noble about the concept of “just obeying orders” from a safe distance. Pray God we’ll never have such orders barked at us in our lifetime…
“Start the train or expect a call from the Gestapo.”
“Start the train or take your place with the passengers.”
“Start the train or your wife and kids are on the next one.”
We all like to think we’d know how to act under that kind of pressure, for how could we ever live with ourselves otherwise?
But if it came to it? I really don’t know at all. And I doubt I’m the only one.