This week I asked my Facebook following how America has been hurt or helped by the forgiving nature of its people. I’m not surprised to learn that my friends are merciful, compassionate and kind-hearted – I chose my friends well. But please forgive me for thinking that this country is too forgiving and that such lenity is eating away at our souls.
There was a great line in the movie “Hud” with Paul Newman that hit me: “Little by little, the look of the country changes because of the men we admire.” But when these men plummet, they take us all with them, especially our starry-eyed kids who every day have one less person to look up to. Yes, “the country changes” when the mighty fail and fall.
When public figures such as Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods, Mark Sanford, James McGreevy, Gary Condit, Gary Hart, Newt Gingrich, John Edwards, Jim Bakker and so many more drop their pants in the wrong building, they are not only cheating on their spouses but on all those who trusted them to be attending business – not monkey business.
When congressmen are indicted, when athletes get juiced, when Wall Street scams us, when spiritual leaders are caught with their hands in the till, when the media become propagandists, they are unraveling all we believe in and everything we are. So why do we find it so easy to forgive? One Facebook friend basically said, albeit using different words: He who has not sinned among us, let them cast the first stone. So, basically, are we supposed to cater to our weaknesses? We might murder one day, too, so let’s forgive the murderers. We might rip someone off one day, so let’s forgive the CEOs for all the people they’ve cheated out of their life savings. Instead of creating a world where we can look up and strive for greatness, we are preparing our safety nets in case we mess up.
I do not believe that our indulgent forgiveness is creating a better world. Sometimes the things we believe in demand tough love. If we make it so easy for everyone to go on the apology tour with a speech produced by a PR company and we forgive them, then we are contributing to our own demise, especially in this age of the information superhighway where misdeeds and apologies become YouTube moments.
Not only do Americans forgive wrongdoers, but it seems to reward them. Tiger Woods paramour Rachel Uchitel was hired as a special correspondent on NBC’s “Extra.” Sadly, trained, skilled young journalists who work so hard to get a job move to the back of the queue because engaging in a scandal and having sex with a famous person are the prerequisites to board the express train to success. Is that the advice you would give your daughter vying for a job? If you can forgive “Extra” for that, then you are giving silent consent.
If we want to prove ourselves as merciful, good people then let’s get a little tougher and less forgiving. Let’s have some mercy for the things we value and not pretend it’s raining when cheats spit on us with impunity. I say kick the bums out, fire them, take away their endorsements, teach them a good lesson that will make the next guy think 10 times before he screws his mistress and his country and corrupts the soul of a nation. Let a new clarion call rise up throughout the land: “I don’t forgive you – and take a hike.”