Great Stories, Leadership

The Missing Piece

Are you more enthralled by vigilantes or saints? Do you get more excited when the bad guy gets gunned down, or when the troubled soul finds new hope? Are you more into stories of frontier justice or remarkable transformation?

I had an interesting Facebook dialogue last week about the power of redemption stories. It seems there is something deep in the human condition that resonates with tales of rising from the ashes and becoming something new. 

We also respond strongly to stories of retribution. The visceral thrill of justice served, especially when it is deserved, swift, and explicit; brings a primal satisfaction.

These contrasting plots show up in so much of our literature and entertainment that they are immediately recognizable. In fact, the tension between which outcome will occur is one of the most compelling ways to maintain our interest in a book, movie, or tv show. 

I find myself intrigued by the essential difference between those who we celebrate for a dramatic turn around in their character and behaviour and those who we cheer as they get what they have coming to them.

It’s an old concept, but it seems the key is repentance.

We are in an age when examples of prominent people being exposed for some of their worst deeds are frequent (and often long overdue). And yet, offering even as little as a sincere sounding apology that isn’t obviously written by a professional PR fixer is tragically rare. The pattern seems to be scandal – spin – silence where what we really want is scandal – sorrow – solution. Instead of protecting our power and positions, we need to see people own their errors and do what they can to make it right.

The problem is that we want to shortcut the process of redemption. We want to be welcomed back into the community without having to really face our failures and deal with the consequences. We want what some religious leaders have called “cheap grace”.

But grace isn’t cheap and reconciliation requires more. It requires repentance.

Repentance is the active process of understanding where we have transgressed, understanding the harm we have done, experiencing sorrowful regret, sincerely apologizing, and determining to do better. It is a painfully honest assessment of the attitudes, actions, and issues that contributed to our sins and a resolution to change. It depends on humility and accepting consequences before seeking restoration.

To be honest, I’m not all that good at repentance. I’d prefer if my screw ups could be overlooked and people would always give me an enormous benefit of the doubt. I want cheap grace.

But it never works in the long run.

So here’s to those who have the courage to see truth in the mirror and deal with it openly, honestly, and without a defensive agenda. We could sure use a lot more of that story.