One of the most useful things Catholic school taught me is the fundamental structure of apology. Whether or not you accept the notion of original sin in its most literal sense — I don’t — it’s impossible not to notice that we’re all born with a powerful inclination for fault and failure. We lie. We treat others unkindly. We nurture wrongheaded notions because they make us feel a little bit better about our imperfect selves. Roman Catholic catechism calls this tendency “the sinful condition,” but here in the 21st century, it’s more usefully known as being born a human being.
.. We live in the Age of Outrage
.. Tweet something stupid, and it must follow as the night the day that Twitter will erupt with partisan howls on every possible side, right on up to the aggrieved tweeter in chief, who is clearly thriving in the Age of Outrage.
.. One problem with the electronic whipping post is that people, no matter how patently flawed themselves, are disinclined to allow a flawed but truly remorseful person the room it takes to reform. A much bigger problem, though, lies with the offenders themselves, whose apologies ring hollow because they almost always involve some variety of self-justification.
.. almost no one in public life knows what it means to be truly remorseful. Or at least how to express remorse.
.. A child who learns these words learns that an apology consists of four parts:
1) Genuine remorse (not “I don’t remember it that way” but “I am truly, wholeheartedly sorry.”)
2) The expectation of unpleasant but entirely deserved consequences (not “I wouldn’t have fired me” but “I’m seeking help to confront my racism.”)
3) A resolution not to commit the same error again (not “I’m not as bad as some of these stories suggest” but “I’m much worse than I ever imagined, and I plan to devote the rest of my life to making amends.”)
4) A sincere effort to avoid the circumstances that led to the error in the first place (not “I won’t take Ambien any more” but “I will no longer hang out online with racists.”)
.. (“You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image,” Anne Lamott famously pointed out, “when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”)
.. When a person causes egregious offense, the appropriate response isn’t damage control. The appropriate response is a genuine apology — not because you might get your TV show back but because to acknowledge a mistake is to participate fully in the human community.
.. We all nurture prejudices we don’t recognize in ourselves.
.. Even a full-throated apology won’t erase a colossal mistake. We will never make ourselves perfect. But we can try to make ourselves better, and the culture we live in, too.