This week, I watched TNT’s The Closer on Tuesday night instead of the usual Monday. (Since the advent of DVR, nobody watches their favorite TV shows when they’re actually on, right?) This is a show I usually watch when it is broadcast on Monday night, despite the fact that I can’t fast-forward through the commercials, because it gives me something to look forward to at the end of a long Monday. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen this week, and I suppose given the change in routine I should have expected other changes—in my response to the show and the show itself—but I didn’t. I was fundamentally unprepared. For what? I thought you’d never ask.
In an episode titled “Off the Hook,” a member of the Los Angeles parole board was murdered while on the phone with Sgt. David Gabriel (Corey Reynolds), trying to contact another detective in another department altogether. To say the least, it was a bad situation. Made worse when assistant chief of police, Will Pope (J.K. Simmons), decided that Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) and her team were somehow negligent witnesses to the death and were incapable of bringing the case to a satisfactory resolution. This conclusion inspired Pope to investigate the case himself and to steamroll anyone in his way, all "for the good of the Department’s image."
By the end of the investigation, Pope succeeds in impeding Johnson and her more-than-competent team’s forward progress, while denigrating the skills of another officer initially investigating a potential stalker of the murdered parole board member and yelling at everybody. When the crime is solved and all involved were found to have given their best and done their jobs well, Pope apologizes to no one for his assumptions or his behavior and offers only comments in the vein of, "It’s unfortunate that this happened and caused me to assume …" or, "I’m under so much stress." When Johnson takes issue with his lack of apology, Pope simply turns and walks away. The credits rolled and I turned off the television … angry.
I’m still a little bit angry, in fact. A small part of me is angry at what I saw on this television show and wants to know what is going on behind the total flip-out of a character who normally tries to keep everyone under his command even-keeled and functioning in harmony. But if this type of behavior was confined to the small screen, it wouldn’t demand my attention or emotion days later. A bigger part of me is reacting to a real-life trend I have seen a thousand times. Public figures—politicians, athletes, corporate CEOs and others—in the midst of a chain of bad choices that lead to wrongdoing for the world to see, unwilling to say the simplest of sentences: "I’m sorry. I was wrong."
The power of these words is not in their ability to erase any of the consequences. Those we all have to live with, but the ability to sincerely apologize reflects acknowledgment of the wrong and all its accompanying consequences. It is a sign of foundational moral character—an indication that even if a person’s current path and behavior have destroyed much of his or her good reputation, there is still one stone left on which to begin the long process of rebuilding.
Consider the instances you can think of in which public figures refused to apologize for their behavior or even say, "Yes, I did that.” How would their stories as we know them be different if they had been willing to acknowledge what they had done? Would there have been public investigations and media crucifixions? Would we, as members of the public, even know or care about their actions now?
How would our own lives be different if we were more willing to acknowledge our sins and apologize to those we have hurt? I’m willing to bet our relationships would be stronger and our road to healing shorter, because a genuine declaration of "I’m sorry" changes everything.