Imus In The Mourning

Paul Heagen Purposeful Leadership & Living Leave a Comment

Don Imus is a conflicted soul. He made his living – 50 years of it — as one of the most successful and notorious radio shock jocks. Abrasive, unvarnished, crude, cranky, indulgent and self-absorbed. Juxtaposed with that dark image is a man who also used his fortune to buy — and for years personally operate — a 4,000-acre cattle ranch for children suffering from cancer, eventually selling the spread and turning over all the money to cancer research.

Don Imus signed off last week. Some would say good riddance. He certainly left a mark (so, too, do the brass knuckles of a street thug).

But this is not about Don Imus. It’s about a part of us.

Like any of us might face at the end of an era in our lives, he was asked if he had any regrets.

“Yes,” he said quietly. “The Rutgers thing.”

Ten years ago, Imus rumbled a racist, demeaning on-air insult at the all-black members of the Rutgers women’s basketball team. He shrugged off the initial blast of criticism, but after being fired by CBS Radio and being pummeled as a bigot from all corners, he agreed to meet privately with the team members. In a four-hour meeting, a guy who talked for a living found himself listening for a change. He said it was the best thing he ever did in his life.

“There was nothing I could say other than I’m sorry,” he reflected on a recent interview on CBS Sunday Morning, “and promise them that I would never give them a reason in their lifetime to be sorry that they forgave me. And I haven’t.”

While our own ill-considered offenses may never rise to the level of those of Don Imus, we all say stupid things sometimes, or do things that can hurt others.

And so we apologize. We eagerly accept forgiveness. Maybe promise ourselves to never do that again. And put it behind us. It is alluring to see an apology as a door-closing exercise — enough of that awkwardness, let’s move on.

However what Imus did was deeper than that. It is this notion that an apology is not an event but a decision — an enduring journey — that sets our life on a new trajectory, a willingness to be held accountable for that life change. Not just admitting a mistake but embracing it fully as part of our story and assigning it the task of informing and fueling how we live.

An apology (and in leadership we certainly create for ourselves many opportunities to exercise that) and its attendant and reciprocal exercise of forgiveness should not always be a causal act, at least not for those graver offenses.

Treat more of these apologies for the meaningful exchange they are and we will become more than what we ever can on our own.

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