Because clearly enough people haven't weighed in on Chris Brown's Good Morning America meltdown last week, I've decided to add my voice to the fray. The only real insight I have to offer on this debacle is a tip for Chris Brown's new publicist, since he recently parted ways with his old one. (Apparently alienating the reporters and crew of a major national news program can make publicists feel less inclined to work with you. Who knew?)
Here's a heads up to whoever is helming Brown's new PR team: Those of us who are former fans of Chris Brown, but now can't stand him, don't dislike him for the reasons you think we do. We don't hate him because he beat a woman (although the seeds of discontent were certainly planted then). We dislike him because he seems utterly incapable of showing any true remorse for "what happened." (Which for the record is how he has, for the most part, described his assault of Rihanna.)
His behavior has made him the poster child for the "I'm sorry, but not really" era.
Today, no one responsible for anything apologizes anymore.
If you're Charlie Sheen and you make a borderline anti-semitic comment, you're not sorry you said it, you're sorry "if I offended you." If you're Congressman Eric Massa and you resign in disgrace for groping a staffer you're "sorry if somebody... was offended." (Newsflash: being groped in the workplace tops most people's lists of offensive behavior, so we don't really need to wonder "if" somebody was offended. Trust me. Somebody was.)
As I noted on MSNBC's The Dylan Ratigan Show on Monday, the non-apology has become so popular that it warrants its own Wikipedia entry. It appears to be an unfortunate byproduct of the age of litigation. People are hesitant to apologize outright even for clear wrongdoing for fear that it may later be used in litigation as an admission of guilt. However, many statutes preclude casual apologies from being admitted as evidence of admission of legal wrongdoing, yet it hasn't stopped the non-apology from taking hold of our culture. (Click here to see some of the most egregious examples of celebrity and political non-apology apologies.)
Allegedly in his first interviews on "Rihanna-gate" Chris Brown's representatives limited his language expressing remorse for the assault for this very reason, because it was a pending judicial matter. But last I checked the legal case is for the most part resolved (unless he finds himself sent back to the pokey for his GMA meltdown) and I highly doubt Rihanna's planning to sue him, so what's stopping him from coming clean -- all the way clean?
Despite his handlers' fears, a sincere, detailed apology could only help him. Goodness knows it can't make things any worse than they already are. And there is well-established precedent for the effectiveness of a genuine apology both personally and professionally. Increasingly hospitals -- whose errors can have life or death consequences -- are encouraging doctors and other medical personnel to openly apologize for errors. It's been found that doing so actually reduces the number of patient lawsuits.
When someone says without equivocation, "I'm genuinely sorry," no excuses, no blaming anyone else, but "I did it, now just tell me how I can make it right," it's the equivalent of letting the air out of the tires of the other person's anger, and opening a pathway to healing and forgiveness. But what's infuriating is when people refuse or seem emotionally incapable of doing that, blaming everyone but himself for "what happened."
I recently had the opportunity to hear one of the world's foremost experts on forgiveness explain it in a way that's easier for we non-experts to digest.
If forgiveness were an Olympic sport, Father Michael Lapsley would be a gold medalist. A vocal anti-apartheid protester in South Africa, he endured years of death threats before a mail bomb sent by pro-apartheid forces left him maimed for life. Today, despite being left partially blind and without hands by the explosion, he has become a passionate advocate for forgiveness, and is a participant in the Forgiveness Project. Recently Father Lapsley did what few clergy do: admitted that forgiveness is rarely easy. He described it this way: "If someone steals your bicycle, gets caught and says 'Sorry. Will you please forgive me?' that's great and that's a big first step. But if that person then refuses to turn over the bicycle, that's a problem and will make the road to forgiveness longer and tougher."
Chris Brown, we're all waiting for you to turn over the bicycle. We're waiting for you to go on television and apologize NOT for "what happened," not for "what went on," not for "what transpired," but for WHAT YOU DID, which is beat a woman beyond recognition.
We're waiting for you to say "I'm sorry" and mean it, and then actually show that you mean it by not doing things like breaking windows (allegedly) when someone asks you a question about something you should spend the rest of your life being sorry for.
We are waiting for you to say that in a message to batterers, and battered women everywhere, for the remainder of your career you will be donating at least some of the proceeds from your concerts and/or CDs to battered women's shelters. (Food for thought: Halle Berry began volunteering at a battered women's shelter more than a decade ago as part of her community service for a car accident. Guess what? She continues volunteering there to this day, and as far as I know she's not paying penance for beating up anyone.)
To those of you saying that he's "apologized" enough (though he really hasn't but you can keep pretending that he has) I'd like to ask you this. If a successful singer like Carrie Underwood or Shakira or Celine Dion -- take your pick -- said the "N-word" or some other highly offensive slur on national television, then after having their publicist issue a non-apology apology on their behalf, resumed their careers as if nothing ever happened, would you ever say the words, "I'm sick of people expecting them to continue apologizing. Geez. They've apologized enough."
I doubt it. (For the record none of the ladies mentioned above have done any such thing.)
So if Chris Brown and his "fans" (who frankly, should be embarrassed for him and about him at this point) want the rest of us to move on, then he can do one of two things:
1) Leave the public eye. If not for good then for an extended period of time. Join John Edwards in the Obscurity Hall of Shame and do some good with your life. Go to New Orleans and build some houses or go somewhere else, anywhere but where there's a camera that will force us to see your smug, self-satisfied, non-contrite face. (And where TV studio windows will be safe from you.) 2) Finally come clean. Tell the truth about what YOU DID (not "what happened"). Accept full responsibility, and demonstrate on a daily basis that you are working to make amends, not just to Rihanna, but to every woman who may have suffered because you sent a message that sometimes a woman who is beaten may have it coming -- and therefore the man never really has to apologize for beating her OR keep working on himself -- for the rest of his life -- to make sure it never happens again.
But to start, maybe instead of titling his album F.A.M.E.: Forgiving All My Enemies, Chris Brown should have titled it simply: "I'M SORRY. Forgive me." It would have been a nice first step in returning the metaphorical bicycle. This post originally appeared on TheLoop21.com for which Goff is a Contributing Editor.