The past week’s event provide important reminders of why we all of need Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, whether we are Jewish or not. No, I don’t mean that all people should necessarily observe these particular days, but the recent actions of Joe Wilson, Kanye West, and Serena Williams remind us that we all have things for which to apologize and many of us find it hard to do so.
Perhaps the idea of dedicating a period of time during which all people took stock of their own past misdeeds and asked forgiveness for them, would make it easier for each individual wrong doer to do the same And we need that kind of stock-taking and forgiveness seeking now, perhaps more than ever.

Whether or not the current climate of political incivility in our nation is worse than ever is debatable. Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker admits as much in her excellent piece bringing attention to this issue. But even if out-of-control protesters at town hall meetings and obnoxious outbursts from elected officials are nothing new, the current wave of incivility has soaked all areas of our culture in a way that is unprecedented and demands an explanation. And that explanation will help us understand why Rep. Joe Wilson refuses to apologize to his colleagues on the Hill for his outburst last week.
Over the past seven days, we have been treated to obnoxious outbursts by leading figures not only in politics, but in sports and pop culture as well. In addition to the heckle heard round the world issued by Rep. Wilson, there was the verbal attack launched by Serena Williams against a line judge at the U.S. Open, and the boorish behavior displayed by rapper and music producer Kanye West when he grabbed the microphone from award winner Taylor Swift at MTV’s Video Music Awards.
All of these stories are rooted in the same basic fact: speakers who think it’s all about them. And if it isn’t about them, they seem to think it must be about some other individual who is even more important than they are. Apparently though, it’s beyond any of the offenders’ ability to appreciate that civility is about all of us.


Civility is about creating a culture of mutual respect, not simply making sure that the biggest celebrity in the room has their moment. But Serena doesn’t get that, and neither do Kanye or Joe. And that’s why they can not or will not offer meaningful apologies for their bad behavior.
Kanye West has tried to apologize twice, once on his blog and once on Jay Leno. He blew it both times. In each case he referred to having stolen Taylor’s moment. West doesn’t understand that what he did was wrong, threatening and self-centered. He simply acknowledged that his completely narcissistic behavior cut into another celebrity’s moment of self-centeredness!
Ms. Williams, having nobody famous to whom to apologize, has yet to properly acknowledge the implications of threatening a line judge with bodily harm. Like Mr. West, Ms. Williams fails to understand that it doesn’t matter how much pressure she was under, it’s not about her! She was wrong and she should simply say that, apologize for it and shut up. The storm would pass and she would be forgiven. But that seems to be beyond her.
Apparently, it’s beyond Joe Wilson also. He apologized to the President and he has no plans to apologize any more, not to his colleagues and not to anyone else. Like Kanye West, Wilson seems to think that his words caused a personal hurt to the President and he is willing to apologize for that, but not for anything else.

Wilson sees the president like West sees Taylor Swift i.e. another star whose moment he stole. It’s a personal thing, Wilson seems to think, so why bother apologize to his colleagues? Were this attitude not so pervasive in our culture it would be hard to believe that one could so misunderstand the moment as Rep. Wilson does.
He just doesn’t get it. Wilson doesn’t appreciate that House rules which ban screaming out things like, “You lie!” are not simply about protecting the man at the mic, they are about creating a culture which encourages the free exchange of ideas. When that culture goes off the rails we all suffer and that’s why Joe Wilson owes his colleagues and the nation an apology.
Because Wilson seems to labor under that same misunderstanding that civility is linked to celebrity, he can’t and won’t apologize. Perhaps next election his constituents will elect Kanye or Serena. They are not so different from Joe and one sings better and the other has a much better serve.
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