I have fought bigotry of all my life: anti-black, anti-Semitic, anti-gay, etc. The list, sadly, is endless. As a recovering alcoholic and one who increasingly recognizes and believes in the beauty and power of honesty, accountability and self-accountability are pivotal realities for me. While no one, least of all Don Imus, excuses his remarks last week denigrating the women of the Rutgers Basketball team, the man has done all any human being can do when they make a terrible mistake. He has admitted it, apologized for it and, in my view, learned from it. Were our elected leaders and, in some cases, our religious and social leaders as wedded to self-accountability as Imus, our country would be better off.
I hear that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, ministers both, have called for Imus’s resignation or firing. A sad and barely understandable reaction on the parts of both men. After all, should Jackson remain forever punished, unforgiven and judged because he once referred to NYC as hymie town? Should Sharpton, who in so many ways has developed into an extraordinary civil rights leader, remain forever punished,unforgiven and judged because of the Tawana Brawley fiasco? The answer is no.
None of us are thoroughly free of the disease of prejudice and bigotry. Our responsibility as a people and as individuals is to acknowledge it, own it, apologize for it, make amends, learn, and struggle to get free of its insidious and poisonous grasp. Imus this morning showed he has learned from this by pointing out that while “the climate on (the Imus) program has been what it’s been for 30 years (it) doesn’t mean that it has to be that way for the next five years or whatever because that has to change, and I understand that.”
How I wish more people had the character to own unhealthy aspects of themselves. Were this to become a trend, we, as individuals, and we, as a people, a world community, would find the world in a better place. Forgiving is not an easy thing to be sure. Someone said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” If you disagree with this in any way, the man who said it, Mahatma Gandhi, has long since passed away.
The building of real character rests in large part on the back of honesty, the ability to allow self-honesty its full reign, no matter how grueling and painful the journey may be at times. A wonderful woman once said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” So said Helen Keller.
A childhood hero and a current hero of mine said “The true measure of a man’s strength is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.” Imus created his own challenge and controversy with his remarks. He has chosen to stand in the open, take responsibility, apologize, make amends and learn. That meets the definition of strength in the last quote. The man who uttered the words in the last quote was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Rarely, if ever, is a person fairly defined by a single act. In a way we are all, in some measure, the sum of our history and our dreams for tomorrow. The tally of all I know about Imus is this; he is a man that started a ranch 10 years ago for kids with cancer, sickle cell, siblings of children who died from SIDS and more. He is a man who after watching one of the children from his ranch fear their imminent death from sickle cell, came back asking elected leaders to explain why so little is being done on sickle cell research. He is a man who has drawn enormous attention to the plight of children with autism and over the years has raised more than $100 million to help others. He is a man, too, who said a horrible thing last week. He has owned it, apologized, and learned. You can ask for nothing more from a human being.
An Imus resignation or firing would be a terrible mistake for many reasons, not the least of which is this: how refreshing is it for you to finally see someone in the public eye not just apologize, but admit they were wrong in the first place? It’s a novelty. Perhaps with Imus’s display courage, humility and accountability, it might just become a trend.