I live in a world where I have no choice but to believe in the possibility of redemption. If I allow the cynicism and skepticism that has dominated my thinking for as many years as I can remember, I would have a difficult time explaining where I am today.
I have to believe in redemption. I need to. I cling to it with unyielding optimism because I have to.
Since I wrote the piece about the dangers of the ego, the power of the brain to allow a narcissist to harm others, and the path which those who can compartmentalize will begin to walk, I've been thinking a lot. I've been talking to a lot of people.
People who've been on both sides of this issue. The cheater and the betrayed. The liar and the wounded. The cause and the effect. The one who cause the harm and the one who suffered it.
I've talked to friends who've seen the effects of what happens when an ego destroys a life. When the ego becomes too important to ever admit fault, when redemption cannot come.
I speculate that Lance Armstrong might fall into that category, because as much as some people want to believe that he's truly remorseful, I can tell you he's not. I've become accustomed too much to telling the difference between genuine sorrow and staged remorse. Those who have told the biggest lies agree with me. They know he's not sorry. They know because they've been him.
I spent a lot of time yesterday trying to think of a public figure who fell from grace and found redemption. The closest I could get were those who battled addictions, hit bottom, went through rehab and fixed their lives. The Robert Downey Jr.s and the Drew Barrymores of the world. They hurt themselves, they hurt others, they were forced to deal with their demons publicly. They were sorry, really and truly sorry, and they still work every day to restore themselves. Not just their images, but themselves.
Not many people ever get there.
The road to redemption is long and painful and difficult, and can only be walked by the person who chose to be seduced by the dark side. No one can make them do it. No amount of influence from outside can force the journey. None. They alone must choose it.
Redemption is difficult, maybe even seems impossible for someone who has to try and accomplish it in the court of public opinion. As I said before, though, most people who wish for it aren't anywhere near the public eye, and only need to seek redemption from themselves and in the eyes of those who matter. I can't speak to how hard it is personally, but I can speak about how hard it is to watch someone with the struggle.
One thing that most people don't realize is that in order for someone who has caused so much harm to themselves and others to ever have any hope of changing, is that they have to hit their figurative bottom. They have to be caught with their hand in the cookie jar. They have to be threatened. They have to feel like the world they created is quickly spinning out of their control. They have to be rocked to their core, whatever that means. It means something different to every person.
For some people, it seems like they have no bottom. The men who marry women and have children and so-called happy marriages, then throw it all away for someone else. Then they do it again. And again. I know of a few who've done it, marriage and all, three times. They don't learn. They don't care. They aren't sorry.
I fear that Lance may be in this category. It's impossible to believe in the claimed remorse of someone when they still seem strangely proud of all that they got away with. There is a fundamental difference between being sorry you got caught, and just being sorry. A huge difference, in fact. Without true remorse, there can be no chance for redemption.
True remorse is a process though, not an end point of some sordid discovery. It's a true process, and it's both excruciating and frustrating to watch someone go through it. At the point where the wrong-doer hits bottom, they have to start taking a hard look at who they've become and what they've done. For many, it's too much. They don't want to believe that they were capable of doing so much damage. They can't accept that they chose to hurt the ones they love.
It's also not a linear process. It's one full of missteps and excuses. Defensiveness pops up as a self-protection mechanism, not for the victim, but for the wrongdoer. It takes time to see the enormity of the damage, to face it, to own it.
It takes time for people to do the damage, and it also takes time for them to see it.
Only then, after all that, can the rebuilding begin. Redemption is two-fold. First, and most importantly, the person who has done the damage needs to re-train themselves to live a life of integrity and honor. It can be hard, if not impossible, to do that, particularly for someone who has become accustomed to selfishness and lying on a daily basis. There isn't a light switch that can just be flipped, as frustrating as it is. It's a painful road of self-examination they walk. They have to teach their minds to be cognizant of other people again. They have to remember how to care, how to connect thoughts with actions, and actions with consequences. Most people going through this need counseling to do it, and often need medication as well.
With enough time and the right motivation, even the worst offenders can live a life of honor again. It is possible. I have to believe that.
True redemption isn't just about being a better person alone, though. No man is an island, especially one who has harmed others. It's about atonement and apologies and amends. A huge part of it requires the damage to be acknowledged, to be owned, to be apologized for.
The second part of redemption comes in the eyes of the harmed. In the hearts of those who have been held to the fire at the mercy of the person who forced them there. Redemption goes further than just forgiveness. Forgiveness has more to do with the giver than the receiver. Forgiveness requires the giver to let go of the anger, but it doesn't require the giver to trust the other person again. It doesn't require them to take a leap of faith that the other person has changed or can change or will change.
Redemption goes beyond forgiveness. It embraces the reformed wrongdoer as a wholly changed person, worthy of love, worthy of trust, worthy of faith.
Is true redemption possible?
I have to believe it is.
I'll see you when we get there.
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