Nowadays, you almost need a scorecard to keep up with the number of celebrities and politicians being forced to apologize for past misdeeds.
Well, OK, mostly it’s men who are unable to keep their eyes on the road and their hands to themselves.
One of the most recent—and oldest—is Oscar-winning actor Dustin Hoffman, who apologized in response to accusations that he sexually harassed a young woman on a film set 30 years ago, when he was a mere man of 50.
Hoffman apologized for anything he said and did that may have construed harassment, adding, “I am sorry. It is not reflective of who I am.”
Well, sure it is.
Otherwise, you wouldn’t have done it.
It is difficult, taking responsibility for one’s misbehavior. We’ll do everything to spin away the possibility that we’re perfectly capable of heinous behavior.
It’s not unlike the mother who swears her criminal son is innocent because he treats her well.
Apologizing for our mistakes and misdeeds takes maturity and a willingness to be honest. Some people never apologize for anything they do.
We’re loathe to admit that some of the behavior for which some Hollywood celebrities are currently doing penance also lurks within the ranks of people we know and love and, yes, even within our own hearts.
The number of people currently being accused of inappropriate behavior is surprising. It’s even snagged a former president, though there’s some debate in his particular case. If the accused is a wheelchair-bound 90-year-old who, as part of a punchline to a corny joke, puts his hand on someone’s posterior, does that qualify as “assault?”
It probably depends on whom you ask.
One reason the current wave of revelations regarding sexual assault seems so pervasive is because, until now, the culture mostly shrugged when victims complained.
Even now, there are loaded questions, such as why it takes some accusers so long to speak up. But trauma, powerlessness and patriarchy are all factors that can’t be dismissed. Now that people have found the courage to stand up and speak out, they shouldn’t be ostracized for it.
We no longer can avoid that the problem is deep, systemic and generational.
An apology straight, no chaser, also is the best policy because of social media. When an airline mistreats a passenger, for example, it would do well to just say mistakes were made. Wheel-spinning only gets lost in the stampede of instant outrage, which can morph into a public relations disaster faster than a 737 can take off.
Too often, people wreathe their apologies with the claim of wanting to spend more time with their families, “the last refuge of scoundrels,” to borrow from the writer Samuel Johnson.
But America is a very forgiving country. For the most part, we love comebacks, redemption and giving people second chances, provided we feel that they’ve made an honest effort at making things right, though some things can’t be undone.
But the public also can smell a non-apology when they hear it, and they take it as an insult of their intelligence. People who insist on hiding behind such chicanery shouldn’t be surprised when the world moves on without them.