Walking for Zimbabwe: Tom's Walk 2016

The Day After

Like hitting your head on the brick wall, it’s great when you stop. It’s a blessed and sunny day and it’s a great day not for walking.

We stay once again with kind and indulgent friends: we get up late and drive slowly home. We calculate how many thank you letters we will be delighted to write to so many kind people who have put themselves out for us.

But is saying “thank you” now a rarity?

Our two younger hosts told us that when they had eight friends of their eldest daughter to stay for a weekend – all under seventeen – and worked hard to give them a good time (preparing meals, making beds, more washing up,  the cost, you now what it all entails), not a single one of them wrote to thank their hosts, not a single call, not an email, just nothing. Other friends tell us that when they had a big wedding for their daughter, at least ten people failed to show and not a word of apology afterwards. Others tell me that that many gifts to his and her relatives go “un thanked”.

When I was a little boy the need for “thank you” letters and saying: “Thank you for having me”, was drilled into me. I suspect most of my generation were awarded the same treatment.

We recently had a party for Jane’s birthday; about fifty of our greatest friends came; around fifty warm and appreciative thank you letters awaited us when we got home today. It’s not that we asked our friends to supper so they would say “thank you”, of course not, but these letters are a loving response to an act of hospitality; saying “thanks” makes the cold world a little bit warmer, a touch less hostile and more friendly: expressing gratitude for dinners, overnight stays and birthday presents is a gentle and courteous thing to do and it makes the world a little less lonely too.

I’ll bet that all ZANE donors are “of an age” and we were all taught to “thanks”. I’ll bet you are also rather shocked at the casual brutality of today’s ungracious young who seem to take kindness, gifts and hospitality for granted.

Have today’s parents stopped teaching their children manners?

It’s great to be back home.


Nigel Biggar, the moral theology professor at Christ Church, told Times readers recently that the default position of the Japanese is an inability to say “sorry”.

For example, at Japan’s Yasukuni Shrine lie the remains of 14 class “A” war criminals who are still revered today. Japanese historians call the horrors perpetrated in Nanking in 1936, when Japanese forces raped and massacred 300,000 Chinese, merely “an incident”. They make no apology for – and don’t even mention – the fact that 60,000 people died building the Burma railway. Nor do they bother to apologise for the horrible fate of the thousands of so-called “comfort” women exploited as prostitutes by the Japanese imperial army.

Japan’s culture of cast-iron pride and “keeping face” does not allow for repentance or forgiveness. The Japanese have become expert at processing reality so that they can either pretend the horrors never happened in the first place or, if the hard truth proves inescapable, commit suicide.

The Germans have long since accepted that the Nazi regime was a time of deep shame for their country. On 7 December 1970 outside the Warsaw Ghetto, Chancellor Willy Brandt actually knelt and then comprehensively apologised for the horrors that attended the Jewish Holocaust. Although Germany is today a secular country, the ancient Christian ethos of repentance and atonement still lies deep within its DNA. This has apparently been lost in translation to the Japanese.

Peace and Harmony

I am always astonished at the number of people I work with who – like the Japanese – find saying “sorry” more or less impossible. I don’t mean the sort of romantic sorry paraded in the old movie Love Story when Ali McGraw cooed, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry” (which is of course drivel for successful marriages demand chorusing “sorry” all the time), but some people clearly believe deep down in their soul that the admission of guilt somehow diminishes their humanity. It’s a maddening fault, for until people admit they have made a mistake you can never be sure it won’t be repeated. It all stems from deep insecurity.

Pope Francis introduces himself to journalists by admitting he is a “sinner”, then lists in graphic detail all his latest follies. No insecurity there.

The result of refusing to admit error is a daily tide washing through our family courts, each side escalating vicious disputes and spending a fortune on lawyers as they accuse once-beloved partners they are 100 per cent in the wrong and that they themselves are faultless.

I have lived long enough to know that none of us is ever 100 per cent innocent: it’s always varying shades of grey and the fastest way to a happy life is to mutter “sorry” right away.

It takes grace to say “sorry” when you are at fault. It takes even more grace to say sorry when you are not remotely sorry. But it’s the quickest way to bring harmony.