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Sorry Seems to Be the Easiest Word

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Joe Wilson and Kanye West. Kanye West and Joe Wilson. Men who will ever share a beer (or some cognac)? Unlikely. Men who have something in common? Absolutely. Both are sorry.

It's difficult to pare down the current sorry-fest to focus solely on the representative from South Carolina and the ambassador of hip-hop, and yet their apologies are connected in an unusually instructive way. The former's outburst took place in the hallowed halls of our nation's capitol during a presidential address to Congress. The latter's outburst took place in the hallowed halls of the VMAs. Each space has its rules of decorum, its own sacred cows. Each of these men trampled upon those rules with their respective outbursts.

More important, however, have been the ensuing apologies -- of particular interest to me given the way they dovetail with the upcoming Jewish High Holiday season and the specific attention paid to an overriding theme of the period between Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

That specific period, typically referred to as "the ten days of repentance," is a time of intense personal reflection, of making apologies, and a commitment to the all-important follow-up chapter to the apology that makes it complete: the resolution not to repeat the regrettable act not simply in word, but in deed.

These days, we pay loads of attention to the moment of apology and not so much to the follow up, to what the "apologizer" does to make the sorry stick.

Joe Wilson has apologized to the President. He has been forgiven by the President. And yet he continues to be wholly unapologetic when not on the phone with Rahm Emanuel or whomever else picks up the White House mea culpa hot-line. Furthermore, reports say that Wilson's outburst has garnered him somewhere between $750,000 to $1,000,000 in campaign contributions in the days that have followed. Where is the action to accompany the apology? Surely with everything that Congress has on its plate, the action does not lie in a resolution meant to sanction similar behavior. We never needed one before, as most every representative, regardless of political affiliation or distaste for whomever the sitting President may be, knows that what Wilson did was and will remain a no-no.

Wilson could retain his beliefs, continue to speak out on the issues in a manner he thinks remains true to his constituents' interests and his responsibilities as a leader, yet also could demonstrate leadership at a volatile time in our country by connecting his sorry to something concrete that does not serve his own political interests. This could come in the form of encouraging those same constituents to make a matching donation of the money they've sent flooding into his campaign coffers in support of an act that can only be compared to a five-year-old's attempt to gain negative attention to the charity of their choosing, as well. That would be a real sorry.

As for West, he has a long history of outbursts at award shows -- whether he's expressing his outrage at having been robbed of awards himself, or in other ways consistent with his most recent moment of Taylor Swift-boating. Yet I must say that his "sorry" recap on Jay Leno's Monday night premiere show was moving, particularly when Leno asked him what his mother would think of his actions, causing West to choke up in what seemed to be an entirely genuine fashion. West, who also has apologized to Swift, spoke of needing to reflect, of needing to take time out to consider seriously what he has done and determine how he can change himself in such a way that the change will be reflected in his future actions. Will his "sorry" be real? We'll have to see what he does at the next award show or in other ways and places. Perhaps for now he should find out about a charity Swift supports and make a donation to it in her honor. That would be a start.

As for all of the sorry sorrys wallpapering our screens (first, second, and third), magazines, and newspapers, perhaps the real news could be a turn away from the footage and commentary displaying the sorry acts and the sorrys themselves, and a turn towards the proof in the pudding: the action that accompanies the sorry that makes a true apology complete.