Tuesday, September 15, 2009

“I’m Sorry” A Social Contract

This week has brought forth much media hoopla over a few incidents in which celebrities had to apologize for. It seems a week doesn’t go by where some public figure isn’t at a podium or a talk show seat expressing regret for their actions.

The thing that most people seem not to realize is “I’m sorry” is not just the end of an issue in the past, but if truly meant, it is a beginning to a change in character. In effect it is saying, “I recognize my actions were socially unacceptable and I will not do it again.” The “I recognize” part addresses the event that happened and the “will not do it again” is the constraints of the contract.

Now, it might be adaptable and acceptable to say, “try not to do it again.” In cases where addiction, compulsion, or ignorance is the reason for the social foul, there might need to be a correction curve. But in these cases a “ramping up” of effort should be demonstrated with each new infraction. So say that somebody with an alcohol problem says, “I am sorry I came home wasted and acted like an ass last night. I will try not to do it again.” Well, that person just admitted they have a problem controlling themselves under the influence. Maybe they “try” to quite or at least restrain on their own. If they fail and once again repeat the behavior, then the next step is to demand they seek alternatives to address their lack of commitment to the contract.

That leads me to the point. If they repeat and do not seek alternatives to their offensive actions, then they are really not “sorry”. They really don’t feel what they have done is an offense. In this case you can expect that the action will happen again. In this case, “I’m sorry” is merely lip service in an attempt to calm the contempt towards them.

Applying that logic to this week’s events we can all agree that we hope Mr. West and Ms. Williams apologized to the public because they feel the image they displayed was not conducive to a positive role model. Their actions are not how we would want our society to handle problems, nor do we want our impressionable aged citizens to see that as an option. So, from this day forward these two have to raise their bar for social appearance to a higher level. If events happen where other entertainers may have skirted that grey area between acceptable and offensive and gotten away without an apology or a half hearted apology, these two could justifiably be chastised for such actions.

In politics there is something that occurs along the same lines that I find much more difficult to accept an apology. Often, people who have more liberal perspectives are accused of not getting scrutinized by the media as harshly. Well there is a reason for that. If by “liberal” perspective means that they advocated for such issues as “gay marriage”, “abortion”, “stem cell research”, “legalized drugs”, “legalized prostitution”, and generally have a 1969 “free love” approach to their political perspective; then their judgment standards are different. If they get caught with a prostitute smoking weed then it is kind of a “so what”. Of course they did, they believe it should be legal and have advocated for it. In this case an “I’m sorry” might be more offensive then the activity itself. However, if a more conservative minded male politician who opposes the ideal previously listed gets caught poking some dude in the bathroom stall while smoking crack, then an apology is required. Beyond that, the constituency should require an explanation and a character change. As a policy maker who opposed these activities has either introduced laws to bar such activities, or at the very least hindered attempt to normalize them socially. Such a person is also known as being a hypocrite. In this case, open public verbal flogging to discourage such narcissism is not only expected, but required. Simply saying, “I’m sorry” isn’t going to undue the damage that was done for the sole purpose of protecting the offender’s ego.

It is harder to be a conservative, certainly. Those that choose that path have to recognize it. Often times it means rejecting self centered animalistic instincts. It often requires self assessment as to whether the cause is still relevant. This is different then just embracing those instincts as an insurmountable trait with little to no negative affect on the overall culture.

An apology should always be accepted. (Unless it is late in the night and it is in the form of half 151 and half Rumplemints. That should never be accepted, trust me.) However the level of reservation and the amount of influence the person asking for forgiveness should be allowed is completely based upon the existence and history of a social contract being offered before. If the apologizer has one, what are the extenuating circumstances? What makes their renewed commitment different? If the answer is “none” and “nothing” then remove yourself from their influence as best as you can and continue with the lessons learned.

So from Kanye and Serena we should accept their apology but expect that their level of rudeness and disrespect will not happen again, at least in the public eye. However, two truths remain about celebrities. One, the negative publicity is apt to get them financial and social benefit. That means they will get face time with the cameras. Two, our impressionable ones will most likely notice the social gain over the shame these stars are currently displaying and many kids will take from it a lesson that “aggression and rudeness only stings for a bit, but then there is lasting benefit.” And we wonder how we got here…

The true hypocrite is the one who ceases to perceive his deception, the one who lies with sincerity”- Andre Gide quotes

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