We're getting pretty good at being bad.
The public apology is #trending. From Rob Ford to Chris Christie to the all time phoney Lance Armstrong, we're getting really good at saying I'm sorry. Except Armstrong. He never really said I'm sorry.
More like I'm sorry I got caught.
Western culture has evolved to a point where the craft of “I'm sorry” has an arc just like a storyline. First denial and outrage (“Ah did not have sex… with that… woman”) then wobbling assurance until finally giving way to grudging admittance, we now have a template for how to say I'm sorry.
A template designed to minimize ownership and responsibility.
Apologies aren't simply the domain of political and sports icons. And who the hell said we should make role models out of these people anyway? Politicians who have no principals, athletes doping their way to greatness, bonus-driven CEOs in the midst of RIFs? These, are not, role models.
Yet their dilution of the apology threatens the core of our culture. Children hurt each other on the playground, yell “I sorry!” then run away for a repeat. Friends and family damage our trust letting us down yet one more time thinking an apology cleans the slate.
And the office? Back-stabbing body-slamming politics runs unabated as the so-called role models show that just a momentary mumble sounding vaguely like an apology will settle things down and move us all along.
To which I say, bullshit.
We're afraid of the C-word. Character. It costs too much. Demands we make the best of ourselves and treat each other with respect. Its tough, and compels us to reach our higher self.
But it can be done.
You want role models? How about the single mom working two jobs to put her children in good schools. The teacher in those schools hamstrung by silly administrivia striving to teach those children anyway. The firefighter and cop out in this ungodly weather trying to keep us safe even as we curse them because we're late for work. The office mate who keeps doing good work despite toxic management. The neighbor who watches our house while we're on vacation even though we're not all that nice to them when home.
Character. Strength. Moral bearing.
Do these people apologize? Yes, when they screw up and hurt someone they love, they do. But unlike the phoneys simply trying to manage poll ratings people of character don't move on so fast. They stay with the pain they caused and hold it. They think about what they did and how that made people feel. How it affected their character.
And maybe people of character don't do things very often in the first place that demand an apology.
Should we learn how to manage the apology? Or perhaps think about our behavior before hand, what we stand for and what the right thing to do is at home, with friends, with family, in the neighborhood and at the office.
Maybe the right thing to do is act with integrity building our character so we never get good at apologizing since we so seldom have to do it. Let's think – hard – before we act.
Let's not get good at being bad.