If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you’re probably familiar with Paula Deen’s racist attitude, or perhaps Alec Baldwin’s disturbingly violent anti-gay remarks. Both have since apologized, with Deen making two creepy videos and an appearance on the Today Show, and Baldwin writing a letter to GLAAD. Presumably, both now want everybody to forgive them, so they can get on with their lives.
I’m not going to do that.
Forgiveness only comes when you atone for the damage you’ve caused. Paula Deen and Alec Baldwin need to spend years making up for the hurt they’ve caused large groups of people. But I suspect they, and most other people, believe that an apology is enough.
But an apology is not enough. It’s a good first step, but an apology, by itself, is not a Good Thing. It’s just the absence of a Bad Thing. It’s a promise to never do that Bad Thing a second (or third, or fourth) time. It’s a recognition that the Bad Thing was in fact a Bad Thing, and an understanding that a lot of people were hurt.
The apology, however, doesn’t fix the hurt. It doesn’t undo the damage that Paula Deen and Alec Baldwin have done. And I want to make it clear that this isn’t about either of them specifically. This is about anyone who screws up and hurts people. Forgiveness does not come after you say, “I’m sorry.” Forgiveness only comes after you work hard to make the injured people better, and after you fix the damage you’ve caused.
If you punch me in the face, you do not get to say, “I’m sorry” and suddenly get forgiven. At the very least, you need to say, “I’m sorry,” get me to the hospital, pay my medical bills, and give me a decent sum of money. And give me ice cream. Then maybe I’ll consider forgiving you.
Similarly, if you say or do something that hurts a large group of people, you do not get to say, “I’m sorry” and walk away. You also have to become an outspoken ally for that group, call out other people when they make the same mistakes you have, and advocate on behalf of the people you’ve hurt.
Then I might (might) forgive you.