The latest example involves radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a “slut, “ among other things, on his program last week after she testified before Congress in favor of requiring religious-affiliated employers to cover birth control. After losing
several advertisers and being assailed even by some of his fans, Limbaugh issued a statement on Saturday in which he noted his “choice of words” and “attempt to be humorous”had “created a national stir.”
“I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices,” the statement said.
Whether you like Rush or not, whether you agree with him or not, few people will see his apology as sincere. Sincerity involves more than a press statement. According to Fluke, Limbaugh has not tried to contact her personally to apologize, which would be an act of true sincerity and contrition. (Probably just as well; Fluke has said she isn’t interested in speaking with him.)
The Limbaugh-Fluke incident is hardly the most egregious . It’s merely the latest example of life in the Age of Regret. Notice that I use the word “regret” instead of “repentence.” While those words show up together in a thesaurus, they usually mean slightly different things. “Regret” is about
feeling sad over a situation and, possibly, sorry to have contributed to it. “Repentence” is a deeper, sincere remorse, an honest shame, accepting accountability and making a heartfelt resolution to never commit the wrong again.
Sadly, most of the apologies we hear or read are made for reasons other than true repentence. “I’m sorry” is starting to ring hollow. We hear it constantly—in fact, Rush’s apology wasn’t the only one to pop up in the news over the weekend. But how often after an apology is offered do we hear that the individual’s poor behavior has re-emerged? Does anyone really believe Limbaugh will never again make “insulting word choices”on his show?
I’m not suggesting that people who do wrong should stop apologizing. But an apology has to be more than a public relations tactic. It has to be honest and sincere, it must seek to make amends, and it must reflect a visible change in behavior.
“Sorry” isn’t the hardest word to say, but it does seem to be the hardest word to live.