"To Anyone Who Might Have Been Hurt": Delusional Headspace and Egotistical Apologies
"Never ruin an apology with an excuse." - Benjamin Franklin
Apologizing may be the most difficult linguistic task in the entire spectrum of the human experience. The verbal act of expressing remorse is an exercise in cerebral resistance; it fills us with anxiety, denies our natural impulses, and forces us to swallow our pride. When done well, it can breed genuine forgiveness and unhinge the monkey from an individual's back. However, when an apology is haphazard or perfunctory, the false atonement is viewed as a cop out and only invites more scorn.
The two hardest phrases to mutter are "I love you" and "I'm sorry" and, in my experience, the former is far easier than the latter. Admitting guilt, confessing our sins, and saying sorry to someone we've wronged while meaning every word is next to impossible for most of us. In fact, for many people today, the impetus for doing so doesn't come from any true sense of contrition, but from third-party pressure to rectify a sticky situation.
This type of apology used to be initiated by recess attendants on playgrounds or by parents leaning into the backseat after making good on their threat to pull the car over. Basically, it was reserved for children under the age of ten. Unfortunately, since it's impossible that anyone could possibly do, say, or think anything wrong these days, the only time we hear anything approaching genuine remorse comes when a job, a paycheck, or a relationship is on the line - or when a publicist is forced to intervene in order to urge a celebrity to save face.
Triple Doubles Heal All Wounds
As a rabid sports fan, I can't watch an hour of Sportscenter without viewing at least one segment highlighting an athlete's reprehensible behavior. For a jock, the secret to making the public forget can be found in their on-field performance and their reliance on their fans' short memories.
Kobe Bryant was accused of rape, so he gave his wife a shiny new ring, called a press conference, and averaged 30 a game for the Lakers: Forgiven. Homophobic wunderkind Matt Millen used a homosexual slur to describe one of his players, apologized to anyone he "may have offended" (as if the offense in this matter is subjective rather than universal), and now has a cushy job as a football analyst with two different major television networks. Roberto Alomar spit in the face of an umpire, exposed details of the umpire's private life when "apologizing" a week later, wasn't suspended for the American League Divisional Series (in which he hit .294), and was enshrined into the MLB Hall of Fame in 2011.
Athletes repeatedly behave shamefully, but if they are able to continue to perform at a high level, their adoring fans usually are willing to trade poor character for championships. If said athlete fails to return to form, however, those nasty incidents trend to linger; which is precisely why Tiger Woods has still not been publicly embraced by the media, sports fans, or the general public. Apparently, you don't deserve forgiveness if you can't hit the fairway with a 7-iron.
According to Susan Wise Bauer author of The Art of the Grovel, there are three criteria for a successful apology. Unless we actually hear all three of these elements of remorse, human beings struggle to truly forgive.
- We need to hear an admission of poor behavior. Such an acknowledgment should include the words "I sinned" or "I was wrong." This confirms our suspicions, making us feel more secure about our judgement.
- We feel we deserve a coherent story about how and why the poor behavior occurred. The sinful tail satisfies the aforementioned blood lust and allows us twisted, voyeuristic access and insight into the individual's private life.
- We need to know how the person has changed and how they're going to makeup for their transgression in the future. In other words, we need to be reassured that they know that their actions were wrong and that they will make the effort to reset their moral compass .
We usually get some combination of the three, but celebrity apologies almost always come replete with excuses, disclaimers, and/or qualifications. People often think that by accepting partial blame for an event that was entirely of their making exonerates them from any further responsibility. It's not their fault that someone could have possibly misconstrued a punch to the face for a beligerant act of violence or racially charged words as hate speech. By involving the offended party, they displace their own guilt. For instance, the most common public celebrity apologies almost always include some variation of the phrase "... if I offended anyone." Of course you offended someone! That's why all those flashy cameras and bulky microphones are in your face! The "yeah, buts" pile on, we roll our eyes, and the transgressor goes on with their life, usually with a feigned renewed enthusiasm for religion or morality (e.g. Jimmy Swaggart).
Pointing the Finger
For celebrities, issuing a public apology is much less about catharsis and much more about satisfying a greedy public's insatiable blood lust. That's right, when it comes to the Lance Armstrong's and Mel Gibson's of the world, we're all guilty. We're the ones who anointed them gods. We placed them high on their pedestals in the first place, and, now, once they've failed like all humans do, our urge is to cut them down to a more appropriate, more comfortable size. This reaffirms our personal righteousness by justifying and excusing our own selfish actions. "My affair was just a momentary lapse in judgement! Look! The President of the United States cheated on his wife with an intern! At least I didn't take advantage of a subordinate at work!" The word "but" should never be attached to an apology, it cheapens the effort and puts the onus on other people or circumstances.
Of course, our desire to witness the fall of our elected demi-gods doesn't excuse defamation of character (Lance) or anti-Semitism (Mel), it simply points to the fallibility of humanity. Somewhere along the line, we began buying into the hype. We believed what we read in the papers, we upheld cable news talking heads as prophets, and we stopped viewing celebrities as human beings. We consciously divorced humanity from celebrity. We drank the Kool-Aid and asked for another glass.
Speaking of which... Manti, you thirsty?
Daly, Alison. "Who Gave the Best Public Apology." Newstalk. 21 Jan. 2013. Web. 29 Jan. 2013.