Everyone should have a chance for forgiveness, especially for long-past misdeeds.
But you don’t just get it because you want it.
There’s a process:
-ACKNOWLEDGMENT. I’m not saying “confession” because that has too much baggage. But you have to own it. Admit you did it. Give us more of the story, even — but not the part that makes you look good, the part that makes you look real bad.
-APOLOGY. Not “I’m sorry you totally misunderstood my 100% pure intentions because you are a trigger-happy snowflake but SORRRY ok can move on now?” and not “hey we were just young, immature, uneducated MEDICAL STUDENTS, what were we supposed to know? But yeah looks bad now so i apologize i guess for any hurt feelings.” But really. An apology. You are sorry for the shitty thing you did. There’s no excuse. It was your full responsibility. What a nice opportunity for you to have peace in your heart! Take it!
-CONSEQUENCES. Yeah I know. You thought the first two were the ticket to avoiding this one. But no, that’s not how it works. Indeed if you are really sorry, if you really get it, you’d WANT consequences. They’re edifying. Healing. And these consequences ideally give you a little sting — you lose some power or some wealth — but they shouldn’t “destroy your life”. Good news: Not being a Governor or Judge or big TV star any more isn’t “destroying your life”, in all likelihood it just means you’ll have to live like most people — in relative anonymity (be thankful!), maybe worrying about bills (probably not; you’ll write a tell-all memoir)…you know, just a normal life.
-RESTITUTION: Whether the consequences bring some benefit to the person or persons you’ve directly or indirectly harmed, or whether it’s a totally separate thing, remember: *This isn’t actually about you!* So you’ve got to try to bring the scales back to balance. Make a donation. Become a spokesperson. Help someone you harmed get into a position of power. Or, better than taking my suggestions: Just ask those you injured what would help, and, if at all humanly possible, do that.
-COMMITMENT TO CHANGE: This one takes a little time (like I said, it’s a process). With words, sure, but then with consistent actions, you’ve got to show that you are different now. If you’re angry about it all, go back to step one. If you have more skeletons, maybe this is the time to let everyone know. Over the months and years, people will see the change. If they don’t, it’s hard to believe in the sincerity of the apology. So walk the walk…and it could be a long walk.
But then, while no you probably don’t get to keep your cushy leadership job in the public trust and your self-image as a paragon of moral perfection, you do possibly (though not necessarily) get some personal forgiveness. And maybe even earn a little more respect (from others and from yourself) over the long term.
Plus did I mention peace in your heart?