Henry Rollins Shows Us How To Apologize

MeaCulpaWriter, thinker, and philosopher  Henry Rollins wrote one of those columns that you should put aside for a weekend and think about for a while for the L.A. Weekly, essentially condemning Robin Williams for taking his own life. Reading it, I knew that he would regret it pretty quickly. It was obviously fueled by emotion and anger, and I’m familiar with that feeling. It was how I felt when John Belushi died, and it was how I felt when Philip Seymour Hoffman died—so much so that I had written one of those be-sure-to-think-about-it-over-the-weekend-posts when that great actor died, and fortunately trashed it. But I’ve had exactly the same thoughts that Rollins expressed so powerfully—he expresses everything powerfully—and I know I’ll have them again. He wrote:

“Almost 40,000 people a year kill themselves in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In my opinion, that is 40,000 people who blew it. Fuck suicide. Life isn’t anything but what you make it. For all the people who walked from the grocery store back to their house, only to be met by a robber who shot them in the head for nothing — you gotta hang in there. I have life by the neck and drag it along. Rarely does it move fast enough. Raw Power forever.”

I get it. But I’ve also lost a college roommate, a second college friend, and three cousins to suicide, and in all of those cases, I know that Rollin’s sentiment would be as useful as telling them “Cheer up!” —which is to say, not useful at all. His opinion is valuable only to those who don’t really need it. As such, and certainly as applied to Robin Williams, it is cruel and unfair.

Now Rollins has written an unequivocal apology for these comments. He was certainly savaged by Williams fans, mental health advocates and others for what he wrote originally, but I do not think Henry Rollins would apologize just to avoid the barrage. It is as good an example of a Category #1 apology based on the ethics Alarms Apology Scale as we are likely to see. He says in part…

“The article I wrote in the LA Weekly about suicide caused a lot of hurt. This is perhaps one of the bigger understatements of all time. I read all the letters…That I hurt anyone by what I said, and I did hurt many, disgusts me. It was not at all my intent but it most certainly was the result. I have had a life of depression. Some days are excruciating. Knowing what I know and having been through what I have, I should have known better but I obviously did not. I get so mad when I hear that someone has died this way. Not mad at them, mad at whatever got them there and that no one magically appeared to somehow save them.

I am not asking for a break from the caning, take me to the woodshed as much as you see fit. If what I said has caused you to be done with me, I get it….

I am deeply sorry. Down to my marrow. I can’t think that means anything to you, but I am. Completely sorry. It is not of my interest to hurt anyone but I know I did.”

A Category 1 apology

“…is motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.”

That was it, all right. Rollins is an ethical and thoughtful man; that he would not indulge in the usual “I m sorry if I upset anyone” deceit is not surprising at all.

It sure is refreshing, though.

UPDATE : Interestingly, Ann Althouse calls this a “non-apology.” Apparently Althouse thinks that unless Rollins disclaims his own words and declares his stated sentiments as wrong, then it’s not really an apology. That’s nonsense. Rollins apologized for the article, and that’s sufficient. He is saying, in effect, that he should have kept his feelings to himself in this case, that his thoughts about suicide were too hurtful to share. He does this clearly and without reserve.


Pointer: Mark Draughn (Windy Pundit)

8 thoughts on “Henry Rollins Shows Us How To Apologize

  1. I understand exactly what he is saying. This sort of situation CAN provoke a lot of anger, sometimes diffuse and it is generally directed at someone, not always the right target, if order to help deal with it. Yelling at someone, even if it the wrong person/thing is a catharsis…but it makes you feel like a dunderhead when you realize the person/thing you are yelling at is not at fault or even who/what you should be yelling at.

  2. Henry Rolllins really is a stand up guy. I understood those who were upset, and it seemed it was due somewhat to the coarse language and terse delivery. It made them miss the overall message of what Henry Rollins was saying.

    However, I agree that this was the perfect apology. He didn’t regret his experiences or his emotions – he said his reactions come from a deep place as well (he’s had friends commit suicide, his best friend was murdered in front of him).

    Suicide and depression are very weight emotional matters. Rollins is a good example of how one person’s works combined with their relation of experience, and survival, are an inspiration to so many.

    *Disclosure: I met Henry Rollins after a spoken word show and he told me and my friend to “never give up”, essentially, and that life is always hard – but that was living. No pleasure without possibility of pain, no success without defeat, no love without passion. That kind of “hardcore punk truist philosophy”.

  3. Edit for above (see, this is a weighty matter!): After second paragraph I meant to add that “he regrets he hurt people who legitimately know the pain of depression whether in their own lives or loved ones’.” Rather than, as you said “I’m sorry you were offended,” or the even worse “don’t stop buying my stuff! I’m sorry” apology.

  4. I think it’s an incomplete apology until he directly acknowledges the Williams family, especially the children specifically. Yes, it’s very manly to own what you did and the effects, but he doesn’t in this statement seem to acknowledge the irony of standing up against traumatizing one’s children, while he was actively dismissing their father’s life and memory publicly while they are grieving privately. However one feels about the subject of suicide, most mature adults do have a “code” as he likes to put it, about not causing people increased pain in their time of grief by saying untoward and disparaging things about the deceased directly (or nearly as good as directly in this case–if they didn’t hear it, their acquaintances surely did) to the loved ones.

  5. AND . .. I read his full text of apology today and while well-written, reflective and I’m sure sincere, I admit I am honestly shocked that he did not offer any specific apology to the family of Robin Williams. Isn’t that critical to the restoration of balance? If you named names and used a person’s death and spoke ill of them for a rant, isn’t it expected that you acknowledge that person’s family specifically and foremost in the apology?

    • I don’t see that as a fatal flaw, or even a flaw at all. The critical post was about suicide, not Williams alone. He didn’t direct it at the family; there is no reason to think the family was even aware of it. The family is included in the apology by the apology’s very nature. For all we know or he knows, Williams’family might even agree with his original piece.

  6. 1,000 words in a major city paper is sufficiently calculated and edited to betray his true thoughts and sentiments. an apology is welcome, but no discerning thinker should be quick to accept it.

    as for “for all we know, Williams’ family might even agree with his original piece,” speculation is meaningless and doesnt serve to advance any hypothesis.

    • 1. He never said they weren’t his true thoughts. I assume they were–in some ways, and in many cases, I agree with him. He apologized for making them public.

      2. It is speculation to assume that he needed to apologize to the family–that was the context of my comment.

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