08 June 2010
As the eldest child, and the only boy, I was often called upon to apologize to my sisters. Whether I was pulling their hair, breaking their toys, or insulting their character, our mother would often demand a punitive apology. The regret I expressed at such moments was not for any harm I caused, but for having been caught.
Once, when I was in the sixth grade, I was horsing around with my youngest sister near several sheets of propped up drywall. I carelessly knocked over the stack, causing an avalanche which my sister barely escaped. My mother came unhinged, insisting my actions could have killed my sister.
I replayed the moment in my head, imagining heavy sheets of drywall piling atop my sister’s body, shattering bones, crushing the life from her. The thought was terrifying, and I realized it would have been my fault. Imagining such a scene caused me to not only regret my reckless behavior, but choose to be less reckless in the future. When I apologized, it was from the heart.
When one is truly sorry for something, it is evident in both the content and delivery of their apology. The truly repentant recognize what they did wrong and pledge restraint in the future. Conversely, lame and insincere apologies are made reluctantly, under coercion, and often deflect blame.
Journalist Helen Thomas, long regarded as the “dean” of the White House press corp, resigned in disgrace Monday amid controversy surrounding remarks made at the White House’s official celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month. A reporter from a Jewish online news service asked Thomas for a comment on Israel.
Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine… Remember, [the Palestinians] are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germany’s, it’s not Poland’s.
Asked where Jews should go, Thomas answered, “They should go home, to Poland, Germany…”
Watch the video.
In the midst of overwhelming backlash, Thomas issued a statement on Friday:
I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.
It is difficult to accept this apology as genuine. Thomas’s former off-the-cuff comment was clearly indicative of her true “heart-felt belief.” When offered the opportunity to qualify the remark, Thomas only specified her call for Israel’s dissolution. The content of her apology cannot be reconciled with the record. For the apology to have merit, Thomas must refute the comment which necessitated it, not merely express regret.
As things stand, Thomas cannot rightly claim to value “mutual respect and tolerance” while calling for Jews to return to lands where they were horrifically persecuted. Strictly speaking, tolerance involves coexistence, not exile. Thomas’s view of tolerance is apparently deference to the demands of Palestinian Arabs over the sovereignty of Israel.
A genuine apology would have been significantly different, detailing how her comment was wrong. It is not enough to regret an incident. Surely, any criminal caught red-handed regrets their action. A true apology involves repentance, recognition of an action as wrong, and commitment to improved behavior.
From Thomas, we get a statement of regret and a resignation under tremendous pressure. It seems more likely she feels wronged than in the wrong.
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