I've noticed a troubling trend of late.
A soldier who went on a killing rampage says through his attorneys that "an apology may be forthcoming at sentencing." Let that sink in for a minute. A man who needlessly, thoughtlessly, heinously killed other human beings and who has never publicly expressed remorse is announcing that he may apologize. At his sentencing hearing. When his fate is being decided.
Ryan Braun, a talented, world-class athlete who wasn't satisfied with the incredible athletic gifts he was given by nature, cheated by using illegal Performance Enhancing Drugs. When accused, he lied. Oh, and he attacked the reputation of the innocent man who took his urine sample. He didn't just lie to the public. He lied to his friends, like Green Bay Packer QB Aaron Rodgers. Rogers believed his friend to such a degree that in a twitter argument with a fan, he bet a years salary that Braun was clean. No word on whether he's paid up that 5-6 million dollars yet.
Three days ago, Braun "apologized." I put quotation marks there because he apologized through a ten paragraph written statement. He didn't schedule an interview with someone like Bob Costas, because Costas would have asked the uncomfortable questions he didn't want to answer. Instead, he wanted the public credit for acknowledging his cheating without actually having to take responsibility for it.
Obviously, the soldier who went on a killing rampage is a much more serious issue, but at the heart of both these stories is the troubling trend... using an apology as nothing more than another move in a public chess match. It's obvious that the original intention of apologizing - a remorseful accounting of wrongdoings with a meaningful intention to do what can be done to set things right - is long gone, at least in public situations.
This makes me sad. The idea of another perfectly valid human emotion being co-opted by PR hacks and being exploited without conscience is horrifying to me. But, what can we do about it? Nothing, I suppose, except note it, talk about it, and do our best to make sure that the people who hide behind calculated apologies get as little out of it as possible.
When I'm wrong (and that happens surprisingly often) I have learned to take responsibility, apologize honestly and ask for forgiveness if necessary. I say that I "learned" that behavior because that's what happened. In most people, I think the natural instinct is to deflect, if possible. I remember a day back in 1981 when I had just been appointed a Floor Manager in a large retail store in Tri-Cities, Washington. The General Manager of the store was doing a walk through one of my department when he noticed something amiss. He called me over, pointed out the mistake and asked me why it was that way. I immediately blamed it on my Department Head. The GM took me by the shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said "If you ever shift the blame to someone below you in the chain of command again, I will fire you."
It wasn't a pleasant moment, but it was a pivotal one in my life. It was a major step in learning how to take responsibility. I learned. I was lucky to have someone like that GM to help me learn. I know not everyone is so lucky, and that's how we end up with 10 paragraph statements being issued, and promises that "maybe" an apology will eventually be issued.