Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Senator Dick Durbin teaches us how NOT to apologize

Headline after headline today will refer to Senator Dick Durbin's "apology." Did he apologize? To whom? For what?

The Bible does not use the word "apologize" as we do in English. In fact, the Greek apologia has the opposite semantic impact. Far from being an admission of guilt, it means a reasoned defense (cf. 1 Peter 3:15). We have to look for other words to find out what a real apology is.

What should we do when we do something wrong? The shortest expression I can think of both sides -- what not to do and what to do -- is found in Proverbs 28:13, to wit:
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper,
but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.
The background is his transgressions, acts that someone has committed which cross the line, which are wrong. They are his, they are no one else's. That is a fact. It is what he does about them that makes the difference.

Perhaps he conceals them. That is, he tries to cover them over. Maybe he denies having done anything. Or maybe he acts as if nothing happened. Perhaps he explains them. Or he blames others for them. He insists that he, or his actions, were misunderstood. He accuses others of being harsh, judgmental, unkind. He says that everyone does it.

If does any of this, his transgressions remain his transgressions, and he won't go anywhere good because of them.

The only other alternative has two parts: confess, and forsake.
You confess when you admit that you did something wrong. No excuses, blameshifting, equivocations, Byzantine explanations. "I did wrong. Here's what I did wrong. It's my fault I did wrong."

Then you forsake it when you turn your back on it, and replace that ill behavior with right, God-honoring behavior.

Now, you can't forsake something that you've explained, rationalized, or blamed on someone else. You can't forsake something that wasn't your fault, or wasn't really bad. It all hangs together.

Having said that, consider these excerpts from Senator Dick Durbin's "apology" for likening the American military (and, which was more his subtext, the evil genius/idiot behind it all, President George Bush) to Nazi's, or to Pol Pot, or to torturers at the Soviet Gulags. See if this apology, which I've excerpted with my own emphases added, meets those criteria:

...I took the floor of the Senate to speak about genuine, heartfelt concerns about the treatment of prisoners and detainees at Guantanamo, and other places. I raised legitimate concerns that others have raised, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, about the policies of this administration, and whether they truly do serve our needs to make America safer and more secure. Whether, in fact, some of the policies might, in fact, endanger our troops, or in some ways, disparage the image of America around the world. ....After reading the horrible details in that memo.... ...I made reference to the Nazis, to the Soviets, and other repressive regimes. Mr. President, I've come to understand that was a very poor choice of words. ...I tried to make this very clear, that I understood that those analogies, to the Nazis and Soviets and others, were poorly chosen. I issued a release, which I thought made my intentions and my innermost feelings as clear as I possibly could. ...I sincerely regret if what I said caused anyone to misunderstand my true feelings. ...even though I thought I had said something that clarified the situation, to many people, it was still unclear. I'm sorry if anything I said caused any offense of pain to those who have such bitter memories of the Holocaust, the greatest moral tragedy of our time. ...I'm also sorry if anything I said in any way cast a negative light on our fine men and women in the military. ...I never, ever intended any disrespect for them. Some may believe that my remarks crossed the line. To them, I extend my heartfelt apologies. ...I don't want anything in my public career to detract from my love for this country, my respect for those who serve it, and this great Senate. I offer my apologies to those who were offended by my words. I promise you that I will continue to speak out on the issues that I think are important...
Did he say he had thought or done anything wrong, wrong in itself? Did he admit to any error in judgment? He admits his words were poorly chosen; what of his thoughts?

He apologizes -- but for what? And to whom? He likened the military to the Nazi's and those other murderers. Did he apologize to them for doing so, or for choosing words which some thought might do so? Did he take the blame for bad thinking which resulted in bad words? Or did he, in a roundabout way, blame others for not understanding him? Did he actually admit to thinking or doing anything wrong? Or did he promise to keep doing exactly the same thing (i.e. blame America first, demoralize our troops, enable our enemies, vilify our president)... but maybe with better-chosen words?

And what of President Bush? It would take a pretty dim bulb not to discern that the real target was President Bush, whom Durbin was meaning to rank with Hitler and other tyrants. Did he apologize to President Bush, for stating outright that he is responsible for such heinous policies?

Class -- marrieds, singles, employees, church members, friends -- this is a golden lesson in how not to apologize. It may be the Clinton way. It is not the Christian way.

UPDATE: humorist Scott Ott, at the often deliciously and hysterically funny Scrappleface, satirically outlines what actually would have been an immeasurably better and real apology.

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