REDEMPTION ONE: BETTER THAN EVER OR BETTER OFF DEAD?
In this mini-series the saga of redemption, as frequently manifested in the form of “comebacks,” is investigated.
a. Leadership & Empathy
The Boston bombings in April triggered a very strong emotional response from the American audience. As everyone was wondering what the circumstances and details that led to the violent actions were, the media used the usual humanizing technique it consistently has since I can recall being a part of its audience: individual sagas and personal stories were provided to increase the degree of empathy the viewers experienced.
Leaders–or individuals who desire to rise to a leadership capacity–have been cognizant of the powerful positive impact of engaging the audience’s compassion. In our epoque of suavely-impersonal communications that allude to convey a “personal” impression, the humanizing factor of public figures morphs into a vital quality. Gradually, a larger part of the audience recognizes that we often feel like we know others to a much grander depth than we actually do through their social media projections and the curated accessibility they provide. Suddenly, achieving a stronger human connection is ultimately integral in setting leaders and public individuals apart from their competitors.
The recent popular imagination has introduced a modern hierarchy in which potential leaders and public individuals become an inspiration for the masses. Rather than an alien image of perfection, the idea of the strong individual who learned from his/her mistakes seems like a newfound pattern in reaching previously unattainable levels of respect. A routine of redemptional strategies has become commonplace in helping individuals progress to higher positions. The mistakes or faults ultimately yield an advantageous result by making them more “human” and easier to identify with as authority figures. The degree of empathy they manage to garner from the audience is relative to their declaration of a new status which clearly pronounces their existence as void of their prior faults. Under such circumstances, where individuals sought change, their mistakes even add to their charisma and personality. Having demonstrated sensitivity humanizes them; being able to surpass the stigma legitimizes their leadership potential.
As hoards of Hollywood starlets, tragic chanteuses, entertainment’s “bad boys” and rappers prove, fucking up is acceptable, if not expected. Certainly, people across several decades have earned popular respect for owning up to their mistakes. The magnitude of media attention it invites today in its multiple stages, however, indicates that the subject of redemption is most relevant now. In our time of hypermodernity we continue to share a few key activities as humans: having sex, eating food, needing sleep. Another detrimental shared activity, when smoothly handled, becomes a tremendously powerful leadership tool: the archaic universality of fucking up. A tremendously efficient way for public individuals to derive a meaningful emotion from their potential followers is very likely an action within these realms of heightened empathy. The vigor of the audience’s empathy is frequently the result of the acknowledgment of their past engagement in one of the aforementioned actions and/ or their distancing from it.
b. Authenticity: Fuck Up!
The foremost ingredient in successful redemption narratives is that they meaningfully form an aspect of genuine authenticity. Such authenticity is a refreshing instrument in the predominantly sterile perfection the PR-coordinated universe has created: it helps the mistake-maker defy homogenization. The mistake itself does not necessarily humanize the offender, but it generously provides the verisimilitude of ‘realness’ that today is the hardest element of success for a public persona to attain, because it cannot be purchased as a commodity.
Beyond the connection the audience might feel in case they have made a similar mistake, redemption-seekers garner the utmost respect when able to move forward by demonstrating their practical dynamism put in effect. Such an aptitude exhibits the admirable perseverance of their leadership: they can adequately rise above challenges.
c. Learning: “I have never in my life yelled at a girl like this.”
Making an error transitions to a public negative experience of the (public) individual who made it: it becomes a mutually shared weight that falls on both the error-maker and the audience witnessing the error. The sole condition in this framework is the ability of the audience to “lift” the weight of the mistake: it must be sufferable. To proceed with emotional fortitude and demonstrate the reformed nature following a gaffe, the redemption-seeker must be–or at least convincingly perform to be–honest and humble. Following the questionable actions with the necessary acknowledgment and a public acceptance of responsibility paves the route to a triumphant redemption.
Additionally, as Bill Clinton’s cigar-dipping adventures illustrate, it is more likely for individuals whose mistakes are constrained to their personal lives to be forgiven rather than individuals whose errors occurred in their professional capacity. A recent example within a professional setting that corroborates the truth of this phenomenon is that of Dutch social psychologist Diederik Stapel, who committed academic fraud by presenting counterfeit scientific studies in the field of sociology. In a recent profile feature–in which he was presented as humbled and ashamed of his actions–Stapel was still described as “perhaps the biggest con man in academic science.”
Naturally, the magnitude of each scandal defines how viable each sinner’s redemption is. Such a “comeback” narrative does not comprise a recent cultural development exclusively. However, the pattern has been strengthened by today’s desperation for a more intimate connection to public individuals. Massive Internet obsessiveness, the highs and lows–in their full extremeness and daunting intensity–become valuable in setting people apart from the mundane stability Anne Hathaway represents and Gwyneth Paltrow perfects. What used to be a welcome addition, such as personal stories and information of a private nature, is now expected of public personae. The next niveau of connection between public figures and their observers is most easily enabled via the acquisition of an empathy that makes the observers identify more strongly with individuals/ entities in visible positions.