4 – But Are You REALLY Sorry?

If you feel compelled to read yet more about the recent overabundance of public apologies, come on in.  In keeping with my commitment not to add fuel to any celebrity’s, politician’s or athlete’s fire, we’ll omit the names and get right to the point.

First I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the public’s immediate reaction to recent events involving public figures behaving poorly.  People should be upset by random acts of rudeness.  They are, after all, entirely too abundant.   My own response was far less fervent.  I felt that the acts were rude and in bad taste, but certainly not deserving of the hubbub that followed.

The endless stream of apologies didn’t satisfy the public’s thirst for vindication.  America championed the wounded parties more passionately than had a loved one been offended.  The first round of apologies apparently lacked sincerity.  We demanded more.

(Before I go further, I have to tell you that we are not talking about the criminal abuse of animals – that’s another column.)

Days of press coverage followed.   Then came the guest appearances, the talk shows, cameos on the nightly news, print articles, a blinding web presence, a ton of tweets, and gobs of free publicity for all involved.  Both the offended and their offenders basked in the spotlight.  More apologies were proffered.  The issue of civility was front and center.

All of which looked good on the surface.

But just beneath the surface, in the social media that reflect the demeanor of a large part of our society, it was a different story.  Or perhaps I should say, it was the same story.

The people were speaking, and it wasn’t pretty.  Letters to editors, blogs, forums, and countless other internet chatter made the actual incidents that sparked the civility discussion look like models of decorum.  Even the President called one of the offending parties a “jackass,” which was polite compared to a good deal of the chatter.

Rude, boorish, and juvenile comments flew through cyberspace.  And when folks disagreed about the incidents, the exchanges turned into biting personal attacks on each other.

Any of the newsmakers could have made this a “teaching moment.”  Rather than using the free publicity to promote themselves, the celebs could have encouraged their rapt audiences to use this as a learning experience.  From the entertainer with an adoring fan base of tweens ripe for learning, to the athletes who fell short on sportsmanship, to the politician who could have delivered a meaningful message, none of the parties looked beyond themselves and how the incidents impacted them.

As far as I’m concerned, all involved committed an abuse of power by missing a golden opportunity to encourage better behavior from their devoted fans, and I think they owe us an apology.

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