3) If you’re going to humble yourself, do it right. Some years ago, a ministerial colleague of mine asked me to help him draft a letter of apology to another minister with whom he had engaged in a public dispute. As I typed out his handwritten apology, I cringed, wondering out loud, “Aren’t you going too far? Aren’t you giving your critics more fuel for their fire?”
He said to be in reply, “I was taught a long time ago that if you’re going to humble yourself, do it right” – and that means no finger-pointing, no excuse-making, and no trying to soften the blow.
Others can evaluate to what extent Armstrong adequately followed this rule, but it’s certainly a good rule for the rest of us.
4) The public can forgive you, but it takes a long time to rebuild trust. Sports columnist Rick Reilly penned a very candid column about his reaction to Amstrong’s personal apology to him by way of Twitter. (“Riles, I'm sorry. All I can say for now but also the most heartfelt thing too. Two very important words. L.”)
Reilly wrote, “And my first thought was ... ‘Two words? That's it?’ Two words? For 14 years of defending a man? And in the end, being made to look like a chump?”
Reilly continued: “But here's the thing. When he says he's sorry now, how do we know he's not still lying? How do we know it's not just another great performance by the all-time leader in them?
“And I guess I should let it go, but I keep thinking how hard he used me. Made me look like a sap. Made me carry his dirty water and I didn't even know it.”
Of course, Reilly was much closer to this scandal than the rest of us, but the sentiments he expressed reflect the sentiments of many: “You lied to me, and I believed you. You were so sincere – even passionate – in your denials, and you convinced me. And I wanted to believe in you. Now you have been caught and have lost everything, and you have no choice. Why should I believe you are sincere now?”
So, we can (and should) forgive Armstrong, but it will take him a very long time – if ever – to rebuild trust and to rehabilitate his reputation. He will literally have to become a different man.
And maybe he will become a different man, the first of a new brand of heroes for a generation that so desperately needs them. It’s farfetched but not impossible.
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.
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