Jamaica Gleaner / Financial Gleaner COLUMNIST, Aubyn Hill
On Friday, November 21, 2014 the former long-serving attorney general, and our foreign minister for the past three years, made a sublime apology in the Senate. I believe the quality of Senator A. J. Nicholson’s apology raised this category of repentance to a new and pristine pinnacle, and to a moral and philosophical height that is so daunting that it will be very difficult to surpass.
I dare say it will be the standard by which public apologies by politicians, first, but also business people, the clergy, persons who serve non-governmental organisations, and even private apologies by ordinary folks, will be judged for decades to come.
It was stellar in its contrition, personal accountability and humility. In financial services terminology, in one fell swoop, the churlish Senator Nicholson used his thoughtfully and sensitively crafted apology to transform his insensitive and offensive “flexi-rape” comment into a superb asset burnishing and rating upgrade opportunity.
The asset, which he so diligently and carefully polished with obvious care, and packaged and wrapped with such touching and classy emotional words and phrases, was his tarnished reputation – tarnished nationally and especially among women.
Mind you, the foreign minister needed to ‘eat a lot of crow’ because as he stated in his excellent, if untimely in its lateness, apology: “Rape is certainly no joke”. To have uttered the extremely reprehensible phrase, sotto voce or not, in “the highest limb of the Legislature” and directed at a female senator, qualified him for an extensive and intense sublimation under sackcloth and ashes.
SACKCLOTH AND ASHES
‘AJ’, as the senator is very often called, admitted to three sins. First, for voicing the flexi-rape comment, and “second, for my hesitancy in recanting and last, for issuing what, I now agree was not a sufficiently full apology”.
The senator went biblical to pronounce his sorrow. His mellifluous baritone cradled gently one of the most memorable sentences of this surprisingly humble apology when he stated that: “For despite my raiment, I am covered in sackcloth and ashes”.
The combination of his ear-fixing baritone and contrite tones elevated A. J. Nicholson in the Senate chamber, and in the minds of countless Jamaicans who listened on the radio – former detractors and supporters alike.
The learned Senator Nicholson would be painfully aware that any reference to sackcloth and ashes would signal repentance of an almost prostrate variety. The black goat’s hair that was used in biblical times made sackcloth a very coarse material that brought discomfort to the skin of the wearer.
No doubt, Arnold J. Nicholson knows that when one was clothed in sackcloth and ashes in biblical times it symbolised debasement, repentance and or mourning. Anyone who wanted to show – and that means openly admit and openly display – his repentant heart would wear sackcloth. When ashes were added it signified desolation and ruin.
Senator Nicholson’s apology a week ago today in the Senate had a depth of sincerity that was more than sufficient to convince even the most obdurate sceptics of its genuineness.
Indeed, which public official or private-sector leader, or erring clergyman, ever put together in a public apology phrases and sentences like “my initial failure to promptly withdraw that awkward insensitive remark has been greatly frowned upon”.
He continued: “My conduct has provoked considerable controversy”, or “I am truly sorry on all three accounts” and he backed it up with “I was plainly and terribly wrong in what I said”, and capped it with “I repeat: I displayed lamentable insensitivity”. That was quintessential sackcloth-and-ashes kind of stuff and feeling.
DELAYED BY FULSOME RESPECT
So what prompted this heartfelt, fulsome and quite exemplary apology from the 72-year old leader of government business in the Senate? I theorise that it was Nicholson’s basic decency – any hubris was buried under the sackcloth and ashes – as well as his inherent ability to reflect, listen and repent.
Repentance involves the ability to see that one is wrong and be big enough to admit it. In Senator Nicholson’s case, he proved to be big and mature enough, and he beseeched extremely publicly.
There may have been private conversations and encouragement to recant, but if he was forced to do something with which he did not agree, the Honourable Senator Nicholson is clearly a wordsmith of high order and he could have conveyed the perfunctory equally as well as he conveyed his awesome sincerity last Friday.
Senator Nicholson was also moved by respect for the Jamaican people. He stated clearly: “A three paragraph apology issued by me the next day seems to have been rejected by the wider society.”
A lot of us – especially our political leaders – need to adopt that rationale. Alas, the prime minister’s doubling down her support for the remnants of the NHT board makes her appear to possess an abject disregard of the deep and pervasive expressions of concern of the wider Jamaican society. She leaves us to believe she only listens to her belligerent loyalists.
By taking us into his mind on this issue, Senator Nicholson stands tall, head and shoulders above most every politician.
Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and chairman of the opposition leader’s Economic Advisory Council.Email: [email protected]: @hillaubynFacebook: facebook.com/corporate.strategies
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