It’s a simple, but weighty, and certainly nuanced statement that can take on numerous guises: “I’m sorry you were hurt by what I did;” or “I’m sorry I was a complete asshole (and/or a total moron, an inept boob, a blind, selfish, egocentric jerk);” or “I’m sorry I got caught (and somebody important strong-armed me into apologizing).”
Every week seems to expose a new tragedy, scandal, buffoonery, and/or total meltdown. What inevitably follows is the requisite public confession of regret, the “I’m sorry.” Then, ironically, the guilty party usually goes about taking the apology back—a smidge at a time—hedging on that humiliating confession with various, strategic nods and winks.
“I was abused as a child by my transexual Auntie Marvin.” “I’m such a passionate person. I just care too much.” “I have a very wide stance and I suffer from restless toe-tapping syndrome.” Whatever!
I would like to think that I’m a forgiving person, that I try to give every other living, breathing fellow traveler the benefit of the doubt. I recoil when I hear terms like “evildoer.” People are capable of doing evil things. That doesn’t mean they’re evil people. Come on, W, didn’t you read the part about judging not, lest you be judged? People screw up. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re screw-ups (although that is a pretty good clue, and worthy of at least a mental note). Anyway, in my own mind’s eye, judgment is clearly not what I’m about.
However, sometimes the evidence is clear cut, isn’t it: when the guy is so obviously a reprobate, a two-faced, lying scumbag, who dares to cast stones from his bully pulpit, yet doesn’t bother to keep his own picture windows squeaky clean, “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it. Is that judgmental? Yeah, maybe. If so, and that offends you, then “I’m sorry.”
For once, I’d like to see Slick Willy step up and say the words before he gets caught, or before the leak is about to be revealed, far in advance of when he becomes convinced that disaster is imminent and that a pre-emptive public apology is the least-worst choice from a list of bad options. But, we’re just not made like that, are we? Denial R Us.
Sure, they say that nearly every felon in every penitentiary claims innocence. And, when lawyers invariably interject their convoluted mumbo jumbo, the justification for criminal socio-pathology leapfrogs over comical into Samuel Beckett Land. Filthy-rich baby-daddy jocks; closeted, drug-addicted, finger-wagging preachers; pedantic, racist, cult-following actors; girlfriend-beating hip-hoppers; predatory, money-mongering, corporate execs: these people all seem to live by another code, a mantra they repeat silently to themselves that says, “My shiny white smile will always get me off the hook, regardless of the apparent heinousness of my actions.”
Driving drunk and plowing down a kid in a crosswalk? Forgiven—just don’t do that again! Stealing hard-earned retirement funds from thousands of employees? Hey, we’re gonna teach you a lesson by giving you a cozy, country-club jail cell so you can spend some time thinking over how you’re gonna spend those hundreds of millions you’ve stashed away in a foreign bank.
For the most part, we the people manage to forgive and forget. Success, fame and fortune are the only qualities we revere anymore—try to show some genuine intelligence or exhibit real leadership skills and you’re settin’ yerself up to get shot down (figuratively, or worse). If Paris Hilton and the Dali Lama were to have competitive book signings at stores across the street from each other, who would draw the biggest crowd? I rest my case. Personally, if I was desperate for a BFF, His Holiness (or whatever you call the man from Tibet) would beat out the vapid, haughty little diva hands down. That very likely goes for you, too.
But, we’re not typical are we? Why? Maybe it’s because we refuse to forgive Paris and her ilk for having no apparent substance, for offering nada but superficial poses to the world. And, for that, these twerps are rewarded with adulation and bucco bucks. Jealous? NO! I can’t think of a worse Hell than being famous for being famous. But, Spencer Pratt and those Kardashians lap it up! (Okay, maybe I’m a little bit judgmental after all.)
Forgiveness is in abundance these days—for the Michael Vicks, the Mel Gibsons and the Larry Craigs of the world. Bill Clinton, not so much, according to those who still store gallons of vitriol in their veins over his transgressions. As a culture, we suffer from SFS (Selective Forgiveness Syndrome), a malady that allows us to continue to view the world and experience our lives through very biased lenses.
Now that I’ve got our national psyche figured out, maybe it would behoove me to delve into pondering how I can purge my heart of the poisonous rancor I still harbor for a certain producer/director (for dragging me into a sick drama that destroyed my relationship with a certain creative director and board of directors of a certain film festival). Oooo, that’s very touchy stuff. Now I feel a little nauseous. I’m sorry—sorry I even brought that ugly thing up.