Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Insults

A little while ago, a young woman was looking to go to law school. She decided to attend a prestigious Catholic institution run by the Jesuits. Before joining, she learned that the student health insurance plan did not cover contraceptives and abortafacients. Outraged, she decided to enroll in this Catholic school and tried to get the administration to then violate Church teaching.

She was invited to speak before a congressional committee, but was turned away because of her lack of expertise. She then gave a non-testimonial speech before a smaller sub committee where she urged lawmakers to take action and force Catholic institutions to act against settled Church morality.

And then Rush Limbaugh called her a slut.

Under great pressure that the radio host usually acts like teflon to, he apologized to the young lady, Miss Sandra Fluke. Her response:

I don't think that a statement like this, saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything, and especially when that statement is issued when he's under significant pressure from his sponsors who have begun to pull their support from the show. / I think any woman who has ever been called these types of names is [shocked] at first. / But then I tried to see this for what it is, and I believe that what it is, is an attempt to silence me, to silence the millions of women and the men who support them who have been speaking out about this issue and conveying that contraception is an important healthcare need that they need to have met in an affordable, accessible way” (^ "Sandra Fluke Says Rush Limbaugh's Apology Doesn't Change Anything". ABC News. Retrieved March 6, 2012.)

Here's what I'm trying to figure out: why didn't she accept his apology?

She is perfectly within her rights to disbelieve his sincerity because of the pressure he felt. But it got me thinking about what would have been an acceptable apology to make? Limbaugh said:

...I chose the wrong words in my analogy of the situation. I did not mean a personal attack on Ms. Fluke. I think it is absolutely absurd that during these very serious political times, we are discussing personal sexual recreational activities before members of Congress. I personally do not agree that American citizens should pay for these social activities. What happened to personal responsibility and accountability? Where do we draw the line? If this is accepted as the norm, what will follow? Will we be debating if taxpayers should pay for new sneakers for all students that are interested in running to keep fit? In my monologue, I posited that it is not our business whatsoever to know what is going on in anyone's bedroom nor do I think it is a topic that should reach a Presidential level. / My choice of words was not the best, and in the attempt to be humorous, I created a national stir. I sincerely apologize to Ms. Fluke for the insulting word choices. (^USA Today Limbaugh apologizes to Sandra Fluke by David Jackson, March 3, 2012)

I know that I am doing a lot of heavy quoting in this essay, but I believe we need to look at the actual texts. He says his word choice was inappropriate, which it most definitely was. But because he speaks of the word choice, the meaning of those words have not been explicitly retracted.

A “slut” is someone with loose sexual values, and Limbaugh did not affirm her virtue. For example, usually if someone makes a implication of racism against a candidate, when under pressure to retract, they usually say something along the lines of “Of course Candidate X is not a racist, but their policies have racial implications.” Limbaugh did not say “Of course she isn't what I called her, but her position has moral implications.” So the insult is left hanging, but no longer dressed with that specific word.

So what would have been a satisfactory apology? An apology requires contrition and a sincere pledge to cease that bad behavior. He did the latter, but it is possible to question the former. Some believe he is sorry and some believe he is not. But the point is that I don't think that would matter either. If you look back at her original response to his apology, the problem is less the insult and more his opposition to her attack on the Catholic Church's stance on not participating in something it believes to be morally wrong, from which he made clear he would not back down.

There is too much political value in painting your opponents as mean-spirited. Right now Mitt Romney is scoring points because of the absurd ad linking him to a woman's cancer death. Rush Limbaugh is too valuable as an enemy to Sandra Fluke in order to push her agenda. Remember, she is not a simple private citizen pulled from obscurity and thrust into the spotlight. She sought out to publicly highlight the Catholic Georgetown University policy that she finds unacceptable Was it wrong to insult her personally? Yes. Was it wrong to point out the wrongness of her position? Absolutely not. But my impression is that the only way an apology would have been accepted would be a capitulation on the issue at hand.

This brings me to my point. Something happened to us as a society where we decided that loving and accepting a person meant that you have to love and accept all of their beliefs and choices.

I remember seeing the horrible movie, Valentine's Day, an American attempt at a Love Actually-type story. In the movie, a man finds out that his wife of many years once had an affair. As you can imagine, he has great trouble dealing with it. But when she makes her plea to him at the end of the movie, she says, "When you love someone, you love ALL of them. Not just the good parts but the bad ones too."

How stupid of a statement is this? It is almost as dumb as the much lauded line Kevin Smith's Dogma, “It doesn't matter what you believe as long as you believe.”

My wife contracted rheumatoid arthritis when she was 4-years-old. She has lived in a state of near constant pain ever since. I hate what it does to her. I hate her arthritis.

Saying you love the bad parts of people would be like turning to a loved one and saying, “I love your crack addiction.” It is absurd to love that which is bad about the person because it is bad FOR the person. I know that my friends and my family love me, but I pray that they do not love what is bad in me. I am actually blessed with a great group of pals who will always poke holes in my ego to keep me from becoming to inflated. They call me on the carpet for when I am in the wrong. Now, if they called me a horribly insulting name, I might be hurt and I am sure that they would say they were sorry for the word, but not for telling me I am in the wrong.

Love is often telling people that they are wrong. Love isn't always encouragement. Love should be encouraging virtue and discouraging vice.

Mr. Limbaugh was wrong in what he said. He was right to apologize. But he was right in not validating her position. Ms. Fluke is absolutely wrong in what she is doing. The Catholic Church and Catholic institutions should not be forced to participate in that which they believe to be morally evil (especially considering that you can get contraceptives for free at several locations and less than $30 a month at Walmart). She was not tricked into going to Georgetown. She knew what she was choosing and she did it freely. She was insulted and she chose not to accept the apology. It would seem that, to her, an appropriate apology would be to accept her position.

Now contrast that with another insult situation that I brought up on this blog before. A young lady named Rachel was verbally assaulted at the drive thru of a Chick-Fil-A by Adam Smith. He returned the next day to apologize, but Rachel would not see him. He posted the video of his abuse online and was soon fired from his company in the wake of a large backlash. He then posted a youtube apology that, like Limbaugh's, excoriated his personal behavior while advocating for his beliefs. Since then Rachel has said she is interested in speaking with him one-on-one, but she has stated publicly of Adam Smith: “I do forgive him... I feel sorry for him and his family, and for everything that has happened to him since.”

Rachel was minding her own business when Smith attacked her for the President of Chick-Fil-A's opinions. I don't know what Rachel's position is on “gay marriage.” (though based on her interviews, my guess is that she is not against it) But her acceptance of Smith's apology was simple. Yes, you can doubt the sincerity because of the pressure he is under. But she chose to forgive.

And what about us? When someone insults us and hurts us, do we forgive when they ask? Or do we withhold our clemency for some kind of gain, be it tangible or psychological?

We don't have the power to make other people love us. The only thing within our power is how much we love them.

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