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America’s chief apologist

Published 8:17pm Saturday, June 29, 2013

You’d think that after doing something every day for more than 11 years, I’d be an expert at it by now.

Apparently not — at least when it comes to marriage.

Following a wonderful (and rare) date with my wife last week, we were sitting in our family room, watching a few minutes of television, when I started a silly argument over a subject that truly meant very little to me. With my careless words hanging in the air between us, I glanced over at Annette to see her quietly holding back tears.

I knew immediately I’d been a jerk (call me Mr. Sensitivity), I immediately apologized and we quickly moved past the moment. Being able to move quickly on is the true result of 11 years of practice, along with God’s work in our lives.

But ugly words and apologies have been all over the news lately, and the next day I wanted to be sure that my apology was complete.

Recalling the incident, I told my wife, “I was wrong, honey. Completely. I shouldn’t have said that. It wasn’t nice, and I’m sorry I said it.”

While I could never take back the incident — or erase the slight stain it left on an otherwise terrific evening — what I could do was make certain she knew I was contrite and that I understood how I’d hurt her feelings and to do so without making an effort to rationalize my words.

I don’t mean to hold myself up as shining example here — remember, I admitted I’d been a jerk — but something I’ve learned a lot about in 11 years of marriage is apologies. After all, I’ve had more than my share of practice.

It occurs to me that Americans — at least the famous ones who find themselves apologizing very publicly — are not very good at saying “I’m sorry.”

Since true remorse implies no small degree of humility, maybe it’s especially hard for folks who have become used to being in the limelight. When you spend your life on the public side of a camera lens, it must be easy to believe it really is all about you. Thus springs the infamous non-admission apology: “I’m sorry if you were offended by what I said.” In other words, it’s really your fault for being sensitive, not mine for being a jerk.

Then there’s the non-specific apology (“I’m sorry if something I did was offensive”), which absolves the apologist from acknowledging exactly what he did wrong and therefore suggests he doesn’t really acknowledge his wrongdoing at all.

There’s the “poor-me” apology. (“You can’t know how hard this has been on me.”) And, of course, the none-blameless apology. (“But who among us hasn’t said something we wish we hadn’t said?”) Throw in a little indignation, and you get the accusatory apology. (“I’m sorry I hurt you, but this would never have happened if you hadn’t [fill in the blank].)”

What’s amazing in this train wreck of popular American culture is watching the evolution of those apologies take place right before the cameras as one celebrity after another is exposed for some loutish behavior or — more often — churlish statement and then seeks during the ensuing days to stave off a public relations disaster.

What America needs is someone who’s very good at apologizing — someone who’s had lots of practice at it.

Perhaps I should apply for the job.

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