BBC Radio 4 - Thought for the Day
20th June 2002
How refreshing! David Blunkett apologises for getting it wrong over the plans to allow various public bodies the right of access to telephone and internet records. His apology has been as much a story as the actual policy issues involved in these controversial proposals.
I remember hearing one management consultant rather cynically advising that bosses can always apologise for two things without fear of losing face – one is for appearing to have been insensitive and, the second is for a lack of communication. But, Mr Blunkett was actually saying sorry for making a mistake and pursuing a badly conceived plan. Admitting any error in today’s political climate takes guts. We don’t make it easy for our politicians to change tack when we deride them with phrases such as “U-turn” and “humiliating climb-down”. As he said, “when you are in a hole, you should stop digging.” Dithering and contrariness are not endearing qualities in leaders, but a genuine ability to reassess how a particular idea might have negative effects is valuable for everyone.
The narrative of the Bhagavad-gita is an exercise in reassessment. It tells of Arjuna and his brothers who were on the brink of a civil war to settle their claim to the throne. But, on seeing the opposing armies ready for battle and realising the consequences of the impending conflict, Arjuna was overcome with remorse and vowed to stop the fight.
Considering everything that had led to this point, this would have been the mother of all U-turns. The Gita relates Arjuna’s personal dialogue with God, who first off tested Arjuna’s commitment to peace saying that, considering his phenomenal fame as a warrior, if Arjuna left the battlefield then, he would be ridiculed as a coward and would have to live in disgrace for the rest of his life. God taunted him by warning “that for someone who has been honoured, dishonour is worse than death”.
But Arjuna was resolute – no one should suffer on account of his ambition. The depth of his introspection has made Arjuna’s example so inspirational for generations of people struggling to cope with life’s moral complexities. To Hindus, he epitomises soft-hearted compassion and concern for how one’s conduct might affect others; he revealed genuine humility and a willingness to re-evaluate what must have seemed an inevitable course of action. But, more importantly than just feeling sorry for the situation, he demonstrated the courage of his convictions and the willingness to make an about-turn even at the expense of his own reputation.
Oh, and speaking of errors, I’d better apologise for my dreadful blunder last week attributing the quote about the importance of football. It was, of course, said by Bill Shankley and not Jock Stein. I’m sorry for any confusion or offence caused……Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?
© BBC This script was commissioned by the BBC for broadcast as “Thought for the Day” on the Today programme Radio 4.