David Twiston Davies
Ican already hear my family clearing their throats; but I am still going to state it: I forgive easily.
I have most recently forgiven this newspaper, which last week published my picture with a column in this space which I did not write, on the subject of a television sex programme. "So that's what you watch when I'm not here", said my wife.
The experience was not entirely new for me. I have made plenty of errors, relating to every conceivable subject, in the course of my career; and it is not even the first time I have been accused of writing about sex. Some years ago the editor of another paper sent me a memo about a review of some sex-coaching videos. The article had so infuriated him that he had fired off one of his "three scorching admonitions", mistaking me for the writer of the offending piece whose name had a superficial resemblance to mine. I picked up the memo between forefinger and thumb and took it back to the editor's secretary, priggishly saying that I was not prepared to accept it. The editor was not a man who forgave easily, especially those who had caught him out; throughout the next week I was aware of his disapproval looming over me as he swept past in the corridor , pretending not to notice my existence.
Everyone would agree that " to err is human, to forgive divine". The trouble is that in forgiving one is so often conscious of doing the right thing that , however pure the motive, the strain tells. As a result, the extension of the hand of friendship can easily fail to lead to a genuine heal
ing. It is therefore often easier and wiser to ignore an incident, or act as if one has already forgotten it. The only other certainty is that this is not the occasion for others, unless they possibly have some official capacity, to interfere. I recall one colleague rubbing salt on wounds many years ago by reminding strikers they must forgive, during his unsurprisingly brief career as an industrial correspondent.
But if forgiveness is right, it is becoming hard to show it in an age which is increasingly resorting to litigation, not least because of the large settlements which are daily reported in newspapers. The idea of an apology which can be accepted without a court apportioning blame and costs, is steadily disappearing. Doctors are one group who can never admit now to making a mistake. While it can be difficult for people to resist the promises held out by success in a court case, they can also fool themselves about the risks involved, which lawyers point out even as they encourage litigants to go ahead. It should always be recognised that the strength of a moral case will not necessarily be decisive when legal detail is allimportant, and the consequences of failure can be a financial burden that will last a lifetime. Yet it must also be recognised that a failure to prosecute a case can have unfortunate effects on employers, government departments and others with power to affect one's life.
All this complicates and places a considerable strain on that spirit of charity which must fuel forgiveness. A married priest who lives abroad once told me how he was libelled by a journalist; and the result of his successful case was that he felt financially straight for the first time since deciding to seek ordination. He met his offender afterwards and shook his hand in a spirit of forgiveness — "but I had made sure I had banked the cheque first".
David Twiston Davies works for The Daily Telegraph. Last week's article in this space was, in fact, by John Gummer; we apologise to both writers.