I was just reading something on the Internet today and it got me thinking. It was about a famous person who had been caught in an indiscretion with another famous person. Names will be withheld from this. Both of the people involved offered comments, largely apologizing. I will quote this particular person, but if it’s okay I won’t attribute the quote. The person said, “The actions I portrayed recently were not a representation of my true character, but a lapse in judgment on my part.” Then the person went on to apologize.
Really? A lapse in judgment isn’t a representation of your true character? Sorry, but I’m afraid it is. If you had a stronger moral character you would not have had that lapse in judgment. Now I’m not here to cast aspersions on anybody in particular. That’s why I withheld the names. I am as imperfect as they come, so I have no place to be throwing the first or any stones at anyone else. However, I hear high-profile apologies worded like this a lot. I’m not actually a racist/sexist/homophobe, this is not the type of person I really am, etc. But they are, and it is. I just wish people would own up to these things.
I’ve done this sort of thing myself. It’s natural to do it, and I’m not saying that this person is lesser than I am for resorting to this. It’s natural to try to justify things, or to polish things over because you don’t want people to think badly of you. Again, I’ll raise my hand quickly when asked if I’ve ever done that. Pride makes me do all sorts of stupid things to save face.
But integrity doesn’t end when we fail to live up to our personal standards. It is also admitting we failed and sincerely trying to change our behavior. Failing to live up to your standards is no tragedy. People can better themselves if they stop trying to please the folks watching them. I can only imagine how difficult it is to keep an attitude of integrity when you’re constantly in the camera’s eye and every move you make will be scrutinized by a hypocritical and quick-to-criticize audience. It can’t be easy, but that makes it even more important.
Our current media culture may carry some of the blame. Forgiveness is scarce in such an environment. Little mistakes in judgment can lead to loss of lucrative careers and public excoriation. The names of public figures can become associated with something bad (like Woody Harrelson’s Roy Munsen in Kingpin). I can only imagine the pressure such visibility adds to a person’s life and their quest for personal betterment. We all fall short, even celebrities, but I think most of us “little people” get a bit more slack cut for us than the high-visibility sorts.
Media culture notwithstanding, once, just one, I’d like to hear a public apology be made without some sort of disclaimer, or else not made at all. I’d like to hear one of the following: “I was completely wrong and will work on fixing what is wrong,” or “I don’t give a damn what any of you think, I am happy with what I’ve done.” I would respect either one more than insincerity or excuse-making.