Doing a blog is like keeping a dream journal. When you know you want to write, you tend to notice and remember images, anecdotes and embryonic ideas. I have found that every week something rises to the surface and declares: “Write about me.” Something funny happens, or a seed sprouts in a plot of ground I care about. Both things happened this week as I wallowed in the Downfall of Rush Limbaugh. So many writers have parsed the actual story so well that I don’t have anything more articulate to add. And Comedy Central has done itself proud in the humor department.
So I have been reflecting on the concept of “sorry.” In spite of the headlines that said differently, Limbaugh made no apology. And no one expected one. Saying sorry is not the same as crying uncle. It’s not something you finally croak out when you realize your backers are deserting you. It’s not something you scramble to say when you realize that in the attempt to save your face and cover your ass at the same time, you have done neither.
Genuine apologies are between two people. They are too intimate to be part of public conversation. When public figures engage in pseudo-remorse, and when contrition is an Olympic sport where anyone can hold up a rating, it’s degrading to everyone. We’d do better to skip the pretense and stick to the equation of the First Amendment plus slander laws. There was a time when X equaled shame, but we’re past that.
“Sorry” is an umbrella term, covering a wide circumference. When we climb over all the subscribers in our row to get to the ladies’ room in the middle of Hamlet’s soliloquy, we say “sorry” a half dozen times. When we can’t hear the salesclerk say, “That’s $29.57,” we say, “sorry?” When we say “sorry” for getting our face in front of Dick Cheney’s rifle then you know the word no longer has any discernible meaning.
I didn’t understand what an apology was until I was in my late forties because I was raised in a fundamentalist household where forgiveness was a bit of a racket. The winner had to be Right and the loser had to be Wrong. Whoever lost the moral sweepstakes got to be disgraced and whoever won got to be smug and quote Bible verses. What is non-ironically referred to as “our public discourse” is as familiar to me as childhood.
Here’s what a genuine apology looks like:
Part One: “I behaved badly and hurt you. I’m sorry. ”
Part Two: Shut your mouth. Stop talking.
The minute you add something like, “Against my better judgment I stooped to your level and fought with your tactics,” you have negated the apology.
Then you stand there in all your flawed humanity and tolerate whatever feelings made the apology so hard in the first place. If you are fortunate, the person you’ve hurt, your fellow flawed human being, will say, “I appreciate that” or “Apology accepted.”
The relationship can start to repair itself. If it wants to. Forgiving does not mean forgetting. What martyr put those two words together anyway? We all hurt in different ways and we recover –or not–on our own internal schedules according to our own desires.
I like the expression, “It’s all good.” Sometimes it’s good like flowers blooming and sometimes it’s like rotting compost.