Each student would wad up a piece of paper. No other directions than that. Some would crumple it loosely; others would wad it into a tight ball.
Next, I asked them to smooth it out. Make it as much like its original smooth surface as possible. They would have spent far more time than I gave them, rather than write.
I asked them why they thought I had them do this. None had a clue. So I explained:
When you hurt someone, you crumple them like paper. Saying ‘I”m sorry’ is better than not, but it doesn’t fix things. You can’t return the victim of your carelessness (or worse) to before. Any more than you can completely smoothe out the wrinkles on the crumpled paper.
Sorry doesn’t bring back the dead. It doesn’t undo cruelty or abuse. Nor restore lost lands, nor change history. My former student said she still remembers the crumpled paper activity. It’s been at least two years since she was in my class. And I would rather she remembered this short class activity than anything I taught on research.
Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely believe in saying ‘I’m sorry.‘ Even as I know it fixes nothing. But it can help begin a process of healing. Let’s not pretend, however, that graft, murder, rape, and other heinous acts can be ‘fixed’ with even a sincere apology. Instead? Let’s work hard to help the victims. And recognise their losses.