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Stefanie Pettit: Resolve to end sorry apologies

The new decade begins Friday. I’d like to write about hopes, positive goals and all that aspirational stuff that this time of year is supposed to elicit in us. But, alas, I am so not in the mood.

It’s not that I’m unhappy or blue or angry or anything. I’m just being realistic. New Year’s resolutions are a sure way to set oneself up for failure. Lose a few pounds. Exercise more. Stop procrastinating. Sure, and by Jan. 10, tops, we’ve all fallen back into our slovenly ways and feeling depressed that we’ve failed at (insert your resolution here) yet again.

Still, we do like to make official pronouncements. Heart Health Month. Adopt-a-Pet Month. Things like that. So, I looked up 2010 to see if there is something special about the year that might inspire me. It’s the Chinese Year of the Tiger and the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. I’m not inspired.

I think I’ll fall back to what has been lingering at the back of my brain. I hereby designate, for me, 2010 as the Year of the Curmudgeon. I have danced around with this during 2009, but it’s now time to make it official.

I see no reason to wait until Friday, so let’s get going. I think we need to get over this apology/forgiveness thing. Sure, if someone unintentionally bumps into you as you stand on line at the grocery store and offers an “excuse me” – of course, you do. And we should certainly continue to teach our children about right and wrong and to apologize for wrongdoing.

We know that when a little one sneaks a cookie out of the cookie jar, he or she will apologize like crazy when caught by Mom. Now, the child really isn’t sorry for copping the treat and will likely go for it again if the coast is clear. Little Johnny fears the consequences – a time-out, Mom’s disapproval (perhaps perceived as withdrawal of love, psychologically speaking) or a week deprived of cookies.

But we teach our kids to say “I’m sorry” to help them eventually internalize a conscience. Cookies aren’t a big deal. Throwing bricks through windows, cheating on tests and all that can follow – those are big deals, and it can begin with the right moves at the cookie jar. At least that’s what I think.

I know that apology (repentance) and forgiveness are imbedded in our religious traditions, and I certainly don’t want to get in the way of anyone’s path to salvation. That’s between the individual and his/her creator.

What I think we should all do (curmudgeons like universal buy-in) is clearly delineate apologies – accepting those that come about from those occasional and often accidental wrongdoings, but repudiating those that come from habitual behavior. I am so very tired of seeing athletes, business executives, politicians and others step up to the microphone and apologize for – well, you name it. Eliot Spitzer, Mark Sanford, Bernie Madoff, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Balloon Boy’s father, Ted Haggard and on and on.

So, let’s say they stand before the public, humbled, on a Thursday and profoundly apologize to their spouses, children, America and their fans for their behaviors, often referencing God and their renewed faith, as if that were some magic amulet. What, they weren’t sorry the day before and suddenly renewed their acquaintance with Jesus right before the press conference?

And why might that be, I ask? Well, because their transgressions went public on Wednesday, and damage control is in high gear. What they are sorry for, really, just like the little kid with his hand in the cookie jar, is that they got caught – and they want to mitigate the consequences, from possibly saving a marriage or an elected position to avoiding jail time or loss of revenue.

It’s survival mode, baby, and they’ll do whatever they need to do. The anguish you’re seeing on their faces isn’t remorse; it’s the shock that the invincibility they felt and special status they enjoyed are spinning out of control and away from them. Surely they were (they thought) exempt from the lessons of the cookie jar.

So please, let’s go against our own good natures and not get taken in by these bovine excrement apologizers. Not being a total Grinch, I am willing to consider, accept and maybe even believe the apology – but in due time. Let’s check back with the miscreants in five or 10 years and see how rehabilitation has been playing out. I, too, believe in redemption – but it doesn’t come automatically with a sound-bite apology.

Sorry, I’m not that gullible. It’s almost 2010, and I’ve hoisted full curmudgeon sails. Batten down the hatches.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at Previous columns are available at