• Luke Pearson (Charandev Singh)Source: Charandev Singh
COMMENT | 'Why should I say sorry?' exists in this country as a constant groan, a low roar that reaches its crescendo every year on the 26th May, otherwise known as Sorry Day. It is a cry that rings out with all the petulance and immaturity of a child asking why they have to help do the housework; and the answer is the same to both questions: because you live here too.
By
Luke Pearson

27 May 2016 - 8:32 PM  UPDATED 29 May 2016 - 5:29 PM

If you want to feel pride when Australia wins a gold medal at the Olympics, or when you wave the flag on Australia Day, or whatever it is that floats your boat and makes you feel like a ‘proud Australian’, then you likewise have to feel sorry about all the horrible that Australia has done and all too often, continues to do. That is the price of admission for belonging. 

You don't get to only pick the feel good things as a matter of personal pride which you claim some part in while denouncing or denying the negatives as someone else's responsibility. It's an all or nothing arrangement.

Since Federation, there has only been one Australian government. Each new one inherits the current situation from the last. They don’t get to come into power and say: "We aren’t doing anything about unemployment, because that was a previous government who made that mess.”

Likewise, every generation of Australians, whether they were born here or moved here from elsewhere, cannot ignore the impacts the past have had on the present.

We have to acknowledge and deal with the wounds of the past if we want to be a part of the Australian story and help create a nation that can one day live up to its lofty slogans of being a ‘Lucky Country’, a nation where everyone gets a fair go.

An important point in this conversation is to ask these people if they ever refuse to express sorrow when a friend loses a loved one, or any similar tragedy befalls them. Do they hear about the funerals that others have attended, hear people say ‘I’m so sorry for your loss’, and then interject with ‘But why should I say sorry? I didn’t do anything wrong!'

I suspect they do not, because this blind refusal to acknowledge ‘sorry’ as being not just an admission of guilt but also an expression of sorrow seems wholly reserved for this specific context. It is a refusal to express basic human decency reserved exclusively for the experiences of Indigenous Australia. There is literally no other context in the broader Australian narrative where it is so fervently refused.

This brings us to the crux of the matter, it is not simply a misunderstanding that words can have more than one meaning, and similarly it is not a refusal to participate or claim any ownership in the collective ‘Australian’ experience. It is exclusively reserved for denying the experiences, and the humanity of Indigenous peoples, but it is not our humanity that is diminished by this act.

It is a barrier to the healing of many, to feel such animosity and resentment aimed in our direction, but it is not our humanity that is diminished. It is those individuals who suffer the most from their belligerent refusal to respect and learn from the experiences of those whose lands they live on.

It is Australia as a whole that is diminished, as we all live with the awareness and understanding that those who share these lands with us feel no connection to the spirit of these lands, to the hardship that people have experienced, and continue to experience, to give them the opportunities that they take for granted.

These opportunities bring with them responsibilities. And those who deny their responsibilities while exploiting these opportunities only serve to make the work that needs to be done that much harder for the rest of us, because we know that we need to carry for the load for those who refuse to be a part of the healing that must occur and the justice that must be felt before we can ever hope to come together, not necessarily as ‘one people’, but as people working together for a common and collective purpose: making true the promise of a fair go for all.

So to all those who, like my own family, have been affected by the Stolen Generations I express my sorrow… and to all those who refuse to express sorrow, I express sorrow to you as well because I do not think that ignorance is bliss, and I wish everyone well on this journey of healing, even those who don’t yet know the opportunity they are missing by refusing to take part in it.  

Related
Sorry Day is about empathy
OPINION: On this National Day of Healing, let’s recognise that starting point of 'sorry'. Empathy is a virtue vital for Australians to reach reconciliation, writes Luke Briscoe.
Factbox: What is Sorry Day?
On 26 May every year, ceremonies, marches and presentations are held to commemorate Sorry Day, the day on which Australians express regret for the historical mistreatment of Aboriginal people.