You know the drill. Someone famous … a politician, a celebrity … says something stupid and/or hurtful and the public demands an immediate apology. We can’t stand to have anyone running around feeling not contrite for their rude/insensitive comments. It’s almost as though if an apology is not forthcoming, we ourselves feel personally insulted. And that apology better be fast (within one 24-hour news cycle of the revelation of offensive comments) and loud and public.
There’s a problem with these public apologies, however. Because so many of them are forced, they are not always heart-felt, which means they aren’t proper apologies. We’ve been blessed with a couple of recent examples I can draw on to illustrate my point.
There’s Joe “You lie!” Wilson, the Republican Representative from South Carolina. He promptly issued an apology to President Obama, but when Congress asked for an apology, he said that one apology was enough and he wasn’t going to apologize any further.
Then, there’s Kanye “I like Beyonce better than Taylor” West, who upon realizing how appallingly rude he had been at the Video Music Awards, immediately requested an appearance on the first episode of The Jay Leno Show so that he could apologize. Kanye looked so glum about what had happened, especially when Jay asked how his mother would have felt (he was practically in tears), that it was hard not to feel sorry for the guy. Prior to this, he had already issued a public apology to Taylor and her mom on his blog.
The emotional geography of Joe Wilson’s public apology is vastly different than the ones issued by Kanye West, even though both apologies were most certainly forced through the court of public opinion. Kanye’s apology seems genuine. The guy appears to feel bad about what he had done and is doing his darndest to erase the hurt he caused. He also indicated on The Jay Leno Show that he wants to take some time off to examine his behavior. Here’s a set of apologies that is heart-felt.
Wilson, on the other hand, seemed pretty begrudging of the first apology and sure as heck wasn’t going to do a second apology, although, frankly, what made his comment so rude was the setting, not what he said. Politicians call each other liars all the time. That’s not unusual, but to do it during a presidential speech on the House floor … that’s where Wilson crossed the line. If he was truly feeling bad about what he had said during the speech, he could easily have apologized to Congress, but he won’t. And that, in my mind at least, makes his first apology suspect.
When someone is sorry, they are sorry through and through – like Kanye West. When an apology is forced, but a person isn’t sorry, he issues a quick apology and moves on without any sense of remorse – like Joe Wilson. Is this really what we want as a society? Wouldn’t we rather witness either genuine apologies or honestly unapologetic behavior, rather than forcing a luke-warm apology from someone who doesn’t mean it?