Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Thoughts on penitence

The Bark, the dog culture magazine, has several articles, as you might imagine, about Michael Vick and his recent reinstatement to the NFL after serving time for a truly horrible dogfighting operation.

One thing that struck me in one of the articles was how many people thought that Vick doesn't deserve a second chance because they don't think he's truly sorry for what he did.

Why is it that being told, "I'm sorry" isn't satisfying? Even if the person never does the action that hurt you (or in this case a lot of dogs) ever again? The person may even mean it, but it seems to me there's something different between an apology and penitence. When is "sorry" coming from the heart? I don't know. I don't think we can always tell. And it may not be up to us to judge.

In Vick's case, I think that paying his dues is all that ought to be required of him. If he were an accountant, say, I doubt he would get this amount of opprobrium. Of course he would not be in the public eye this way, nor get the same remuneration. And that, I'm sure, is part of our distaste in his reinstatement: very few people get the rewards that Vick will get in playing for the NFL, even if they led the most virtuous life. But he has fulfilled his obligations under the law and I personally have no problem with him playing football. Now, endorsements? That's a different deal as far as I'm concerned. I am being inconsistent. But there you go.

The thing that I wonder about penitence is if penitence, like conversion, may be something that happens once, but also can happen over and over again. This is not about wallowing in guilt, mind you, but about becoming more compassionate, more empathetic, gaining a greater understanding of ourselves and others. Penitence as a road to humility.

That is my hope for Michael Vick, that his story doesn't end with I'm sorry. And it's my hope for myself as well. I want to learn from my mistakes, not just avoid making them again, but become a better person because of what I have gained from my penitence.

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