Tiger Woods doesn't owe me an apology. Nothing that he has ever done has cost me a dime nor an hour of sleep. This is not a plea to be "non-judgmental." I am very judgmental about all sorts of things, including Tiger Woods' bad behavior. But that is very different from saying that he somehow owes me an apology. – Thomas Sowell
I was out of town when Tiger Woods made his apology last week. Since then, I've been thinking about apologies. As far as Tiger Woods' apology, I believe it was staged, but also sincere. Preparation doesn't make something insincere. I'm appreciative of the fact that he apologized to the public—especially to those parents who have been holding up Tiger as a role-model to their children. Whether or not parents should have done so is another issue. It is what it is. Tiger knows that, and did the right thing by apologizing. As Tiger mentioned in his apology, he'll spend much of the rest of his life apologizing to his wife and children through actions, rather than words. I wish him well.
One of the questions batted around in the media, and soon to be raised in court via Gloria Allred, is to whom Tiger owes an apology. Did the public deserve an apology from Tiger Woods? Do his mistresses deserve apology from him?
In a recent column, Thomas Sowell, a scholar at Stanford's Hoover Institution, commented on what he called "aimless apologies." The broader thesis of his article is that apologies are becoming increasingly empty in our society because people apologize to everyone for everything…whether or not an apology is deserved or means anything at all. For Sowell, some things are simply too awful to apologize for (like slavery or murder). In other cases, society apologizes to people for failing them, when a person needs to take responsibility for their own failings. As you read his thinking here, keep in mind that Sowell is African-American.
"Public apologies to people who are not owed any apology have become one of the many signs of the mushy thinking of our times. So are apologies for things that somebody else did. Among the most absurd apologies have been apologies for slavery by politicians. For one thing, slavery is not something you can apologize for, any more than you can apologize for murder. If someone says to you that he murdered someone near and dear to you, what are you supposed to say? "No problem, we all make mistakes"? Not bloody likely! Slavery is too serious for an apology and somebody else being a slaveowner is not something for you to apologize for. When somebody who has never owned a slave apologizes for slavery to somebody who has never been a slave, then what began as mushy thinking has degenerated into theatrical absurdity– or, worse yet, politics."
This discussion fascinates me, and has me thinking about the process of reconciliation. Is Sowell right that apologies such as he describes above, while goodwill-building, do not always help the broader issues of society or represent genuine reconciliation. Is it true they sometimes lead to the erosion of personal responsibility. Perhaps a heightened sense of personal responsibility would lead to more genuine apologies—not just in word, but in deed. It seems to me that all this is relevant as we try to make sense out of things like the Austin kamikaze pilot, the Ft. Hood tragedy and the faculty shootings in Alabama. I grew up in L.A. watching some of the biggest farces on T.V. each day – the Menendez brothers, O.J., Rodney King, and other trials. In each case, the questions of who "deserved" an apology, and who "deserved" compensation came up. Ultimately, these are questions of grace and justice and it seems to me that we must pay attention not only to reaching just verdicts, but also the thinking behind them.
I think I'm with Sowell on this one. Some things are too big for apologies, and apologies are becoming more and more cheap as the supply of them continues to outpace the demand. Does it hurt to apologize? Does it hurt to apologize for others? Does it help to ask how such a person could be "driven" to do such things, or does such thinking erode personal responsibility and thus encourage more treachery? I heard one commentator say in the midst of the Tiger Wood's mess that society owed Tiger an apology. Hmmm… Not even Tiger thinks that. That is to his credit.
Sowell writes, "This craze for aimless apologies is part of a general loss of a sense of personal responsibility in our time. We are supposed to feel guilty for what other people did but there are a thousand cop-outs for what we ourselves did to those we did it to."
"Yet increasing numbers of educators and the intelligentsia seem to have devoted themselves to undermining or destroying a sense of personal responsibility and making "society" responsible instead. Aimless apologies are just one small symptom of this larger and more dangerous attitude."
I'm inclined to agree with him.
What say you?