Forgiveness and the Unforgivable: Rihanna and Chris Brown in the News Again

Don Henley sang that everyone loves dirty laundry in the song of the same name, and nothing from that 90’s tune is any less relevant now than it was then.

Rihanna has been in the headlines again lately for breaking her silence on the events of the night that her boyfriend beat her to a pulp as they drove in a rented sports car. Speaking with Diane Sawyer on 20/20, Rihanna finally recounted what happened that night, and why she acted the way she did after the altercation. Predictably, Chris Brown has come out with a statement in which he voices his preference that the details of that night be kept under wraps between himself and Rihanna; well, no kidding, why would he not want it kept quiet? But, amazingly, the idea of forgiveness of mistakes has been wafting around the airwaves and internet channels, begging the question, just how much can be forgiven?

I’ve written about this disgusting little saga before, and I haven’t made a secret of how repulsive I find Chris Brown for his actions, both the beating and the orchestrated apologies and professions of love afterwards. I promise that’s not what this is about. Nope, this is about us regular folk who seem prone to dissembling, excusing, and forgiving what is unforgivable.

According to the story recounted by Rihanna, the whole event started with a text message that Brown allegedly received from another woman. When Rihanna asked him about it, she claims she could tell he was lying. She continued to argue with him about it, and the argument escalated until he began beating her.

Well, that’s the Cole’s Notes version, anyways.

Reading between the lines and applying some creative license, one can assume that the argument from Rihanna’s end was probably not cool and composed. I’d be willing to bet that there was yelling, possibly hysterics, possibly she hit him a couple times or somesuch. The truth is, we can’t know just how heated she got about the text message. She might have been a raving, hysterical bitch. Although, given that she’s come out with her side of things, you would expect Brown to have come out with details like that if that had actually been the case.

No matter.

What is incontrovertible is that Brown beat her so bad her face was unrecognizable. He hit her so hard her head was smashed into the window. He punched her, and at one point he even bit her. By the time it was done, she was disoriented, swollen and bloody.

This much we can trust, because everyone has seen the photographic evidence that has been so shamelessly posted all over the internet.

So, does anyone think that a simple “sorry” suffices to excuse what he has done? Does anyone think that an irrate, probably verbally abusive girlfriend deserves to have the living shit kicked out of her? That’s the part that I’m interested in, here; I want to know why some people think that any kind of apology that Chris Brown can make excuses his actions or earns him some measure of sympathy. I want to know why people couch what he did in terms of “mistakes.”

Let’s be blunt: there is no such thing as a mistake. Everything we do is the result of a deliberative process in our minds. We think of the situation, contemplate our possible actions, weigh the pros and cons of the consequences of those actions, measure them by whatever morality and ethics we have instilled in us, and then we act. This is the basic procedure that we follow whether we’re planning to get a glass of milk or set a cat on fire. Sure, it happens a lot quicker than that, and maybe not all of those steps are followed with as much time and care as others, but they are the steps we take before any action is taken. So, to call something a mistake is to say that there was a flaw in that procedure, somewhere. A mistake occurs when one of those steps went wrong.

Only it doesn’t.

To call something a mistake requires that we give our decision a second thought. We forensically look at our decision-making process and determine that there is a fly in the ointment somewhere. The thing about that is you can only choose to look back on the process you followed in making a decision after the decision has already been made. This means that you have experienced the consequences of your actions, which changes the way you look at the specific points that lead to the decision, changes the weighting. This is what you call a “mistake;” something that, if you experience the reality of the consequences and the impact of the action, does not seem to be the proper decision to have made.

A mistake isn’t an “oops, I didn’t mean to do that,” it’s an admission of fault and that you shouldn’t have done what you did, wrapped up in a term that obsolves you of the very real responsibility you should take for having deliberately chosen to take a particular action.

Deep, huh?

We can be assholes, we can be jerks, we can be rude or just clumsy, but at the end of the day, we are still responsible for having made the decision to be what we are and do what we do. This is why I can never call what Chris Brown did a “mistake,” because, ultimately, it wasn’t a mistake in the way that the term commonly means. Even if he is completely genuine in his apologies, all he is saying is that on further review, he regrets what he did. It doesn’t change the fact that, at the time, he made the conscious decision to act the way he did, not matter what the mitigating factors are.

What are we willing to excuse? And, what does excusing one thing mean for others?

Would anyone be showing sympathy or talking about how “everyone makes mistakes” if we were talking about a murderer? A rapist? A pedophile? Why are we more willing to entertain a lesser amount of responsibility in what Brown did than any of those other crimes?

A “mistake” as we commonly call it would maybe have been had he slapped her. Still, he’d be responsible for that action, but one could argue that his emotions and anger and fear got the best of him and he acted in a rash manner and flung out a hand and slapped her. But, that’s not what happened here. He beat her. He bit her. He bloodied her.

What could he possibly say that would earn my forgiveness of his actions, or my sympathy? Nothing. I don’t believe that a man who beats a woman deserves forgiveness or sympathy.I don’t know why anyone would think that a wife or girlfriend beater should deserve sympathy. But, he would have been a lot closer to gaining that sympathy had he just said “Everything Rihanna has said about that night is true, and what I did is unforgivable, and I regret having hurt her, and wish her the best in her future.”

Instead, he says that he’s sorry, that he still loves her and wants to be with her, and that he wished they could have kept the details of what happened private. That doesn’t sound like someone taking responsibility for his actions, that sounds like someone who’s still just thinking about themselves. And, the video of him goofing around and slack-assing while performing his community service doesn’t exactly portray him any more as a person who truly understands and regrets their actions. All it does is show him to be a person who regrets the consequences of their actions.

No sympathy here, just a sincere hope that someday he actually gets what he deserves.

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