‘Sorry about that, Chief’ suffices for our wrongs

     A popular sitcom of the sixties, “Get Smart,” featured Don Adams as Control Agent 86, whose responsibility was to undo evil forces of KAOS.
     Bumbler that he was, Maxwell Smart made life miserable for his long-suffering boss, played by the late Edward Platt. On the many occasions in which Smart committed a faux pas, he’d simply utter, “Sorry about that, Chief.” So popular did that expression become that even the public used those exact words to rub out an error.

     “Sorry about that, Chief”–instead of a heart-felt apology–lost its value and became a catch-phrase, as we knew he’d be using that expression often. When it comes to degrees of regret and repentance, there seem to be three classes of people who experience them.
     First, there are those who see the error of their ways and vow never to commit the act again.
     Second are those who simply cannot apologize or admit fault. They blame society. They usually hire lawyers used to shedding real tears in court, all because their client had a rough childhood.
     And the third group represents the Maxwell Smarts of the world. They know the impact of their behavior and apparently believe that uttering “sorry about that” will rectify things.
     Notice how many times an office-seeking candidate gets caught in a lie. A Santa Fe woman just recently went through that. During an political forum, the senatorial hopeful lied about Item No. 10, which always appears in questionnaires and gets asked at public forums: Have you ever been convicted of DWI?
     The candidate in question answered no. Immediately a host of Santa Fe-based reporters began searching web sites to check her answer. As it turns out, 20 years prior she was charged with DWI, fined and had her license suspended. Her reason for covering up the lie was the presence of her children in the audience and she didn’t want to embarrass them. The following day she admitted her previous arrest–presumably her children now know the truth–and offered an explanation and apology. So eloquent was she that she may have scored more points than if the DWI matter had never surfaced. The Santa Fe reporters were simply doing their job. No candidate for elective office is naive enough to believe reporters won’t try to discover those peccadilloes. Yet, we wonder whether she ever would have admitted the indiscretion had the news people not checked.
     Candidates for office and applicants for prestigious positions often operate with an inflated resume. A high-visibility football coach quit soon after it was discovered that he didn’t possess the two degrees that showed on his application.
     Years ago, when people questioned whether a political office seeker really had a bachelor’s degree from Highlands, as touted in her campaign literature, the political aspirant relied on the standard the-dog-ate-my-homework type of excuse along the lines of “My publicist assumed I had the degree and printed the pamphlets before I had a chance to go over them.”
     The sorry-about-that personality tends to rankle others. It’s so simple to utter a mea culpa (and even that eloquent Latin term, which some people use in place of “my fault,” is construed by some as a sacrament).
     A minor, yet common, incident took place at a recent high school basketball game when a rather large fan apparently faced the urgent need to transport her body to another set of bleachers. In doing so, she needed to get past us. So she uttered “excuse me.” Now normally upon hearing this request, we imagine someone patiently wishing to walk by us. But in this case–and that parlance is becoming increasingly popular–“excuse me” is a warning, which means, “I’m coming through, so move!” In her wake, she dislodged my granddaughter from my grip and apparently never realized it. The fan’s emergency? She needed to get to the concession stand.
     A recent court case involved a young Santa Fe driver who received probation and community service in lieu of time in a reformatory after leaving the scene of a fatality involving liquor. A lot of tears flowed in the courtroom, on both sides of the aisle. The chorus of mea culpas was palpable. And though we wouldn’t wish such a tragedy on anyone, there’s still the question as to whether the real regret was over having been caught.
     Finally, notice how often people use euphemisms and dodges to cover their misdeeds. Some of the most popular are, “Let’s move forward,” “I’d like to put this behind me and get on with my life,” or, to the cop who tickets them, “Don’t you have anything better to do? Why don’t you go after the real law-breakers?”
     On the subject of culpability, or its lack, I never really understood Ryan O’Neal’s meaning in the 1970s romance, “Love Story.” What he probably meant was, “Having a lawyer and blaming society mean never having to say, ‘I’m sorry.’”
     My usually optimistic demeanor just isn’t coming through in this column. Perhaps daily doses of reading the news have affected me.
     Sorry about that.

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