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BOB GRAY: I’m sorry

False contrition begs the question “Are we on our best behavior because of goodness part of our fiber? Or are we good because we fear being caught and punished?”

Housatonic — Let’s consider saying, “I’m sorry.”

If you and I were riding a train, and I knocked the book you were reading onto the train’s floor, it would be perfectly appropriate if I were to apologize to you, pick up your book, and go on my way as you continued reading.

The key, here, I think is my picking up your book. Had I said I’m sorry and continued on my merry way, my apology would mean little. Picking up your book suggests that I really was sorry, and in this tiny incident an apology is perfectly polite in meaningful.

However, saying “I’m sorry” in some circumstances is meaningless and perhaps downright inappropriate to the situation.

This morning I read in the paper about a man in North Adams going to jail for downloading violent child pornography to his computer. He also used night vision goggles to both spy on and then film coeds in their dormitory at Williams College. He also filmed without their knowledge, much less their permission, women and female children at both public and nudist beaches.

I can’t help but wonder if he apologized either for his own benefit or perhaps influencing the judge that he was really a good guy who just made a little mistake.

Most apologies, at least in our little book example, are useless and actually insulting to the aggrieved party.

In this scenario, I distinctly remember the apologies offered by two deranged individuals standing up and apologizing to a gentleman for murdering and then burning his wife and two daughters. By my lights, their apologies to the suddenly widowed and now childless victim were meaningless at best and a complete charade at worst. I suspect their lawyers advised them to apologize in hopes of getting life in prison rather than the death penalty.

Japan apologized for bombing Pearl Harbor, but the apology neither returned the 3,500 dead to their families nor did one whit of good to prevent the horror that was World War II.

Just last week the Korean Airlines vice president ordered her plane to change its destination and fired the flight attendant for giving her peanuts, or perhaps it was almonds, a bag rather than on a plate. She was sorry, too. The courageous judge who sentenced the executive to a year in prison wasn’t tricked into believing her apology meant anything.

The CEO’s of the company that turned out explosive airbags and then the boss at General Motors both apologized for the harm they had caused. General Motors, at the very least, promised to “investigate” the faulty ignition switches blamed in the deaths of more than 50 people even though internal emails proved they had known of the ignition problems for years. The airbag man, after his “heartfelt” apology, not only refused to accept blame for his company’s neglect but also announced they would replace airbags only in areas where high humidity is the norm. After all, the manufacturer insisted, “the weather did it.”

This false contrition begs the question “Are we on our best behavior because of goodness part of our fiber? Or are we good because we fear being caught and punished?”

I’m sorry if I’ve offended you; I really am. But the cat’s out of the bag, and there’s not a hell of a lot I can do about it now.

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