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  • Reverend James Squire

Love Is Never Having to Say You Are Sorry

I have been watching CNN’s special on Watergate that is narrated by John Dean in anticipation of the January 6 Committee’s public meetings. I knew the politics of that moment in history but I wanted to see the psychological and group dynamics issues that were prevalent then and how they compared to the events that had occurred leading up to January 6 and the day itself.

The characters changed, but the human issues did not. I made the point in my ethics class to teach the dynamics of Philia, the Greek word for friends and colleagues, as a template for a good many historical events. You can see these dynamics clearly in Watergate. Join me in viewing the hearings on Thursday during prime time to see if you feel they apply just as well to January 6.

Philia makes good intentioned people better and bad intentioned people worse. Support groups such as for people with cancer depend on this human trait, but so do group actions like the participants in Watergate adhere to the same characteristic. What one or two people may not do alone if they are empowered by numbers they will easily be persuaded to go in the wrong direction. January 6, as I am sure we will see, had a host of players in the conspiracy to overthrow our government. One plus one equal more than two (people).

Phila is like the buy one, get one free item in a grocery store. Philia feeds our hunger for two emotional foods, self-esteem and a sense of belonging. This was clearly present in Watergate and certainly true on January 6. One mother at the January 6 scene said that what she did was more important than anything that she had ever done. The same feeling is pervasive in Watergate. The power of the feeling rests in this statement of feelings: “I may be inferior, but we are magnificent.” People were ecstatic taking selfies for friends and family as they stormed the capitol.

The heart of Philia is that it contains a moral or immoral code. The participants in both events thought that they were doing something noble. The code doesn’t make sense to people outside of the group, but it is clear to participants.

Philia or friendship is always a resistance movement. When we state us, we have to say them as well. The difference here is that the public was not behind Nixon or those who were responsible for the break in. On the other hand, January 6 is the embodiment of a resistance movement because of the high percentage of people who still believe the Big Lie. Trump sees those who don’t believe in him as deserving vengeance. Nixon had his enemies list.

When we submit our will to that of the group leader and group, their identify becomes our identity. It is why sports fans go crazy when their teams lose. The team has lost but in a real way so have their fans. Nixon was very insecure and saw enemies at every turn, and so does Trump. Their followers have lost their identity for their identity is now with the leader. It is the basis of cults as well.

Why couldn’t any of the people in either event, Watergate or January 6, admit they were wrong on top of everything above. Why couldn’t they say, “I made a mistake! I am sorry!”

Carol Tavis co-author of the book, Mistakes Were Made but Not by Me, indicates the reason is two-fold: cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias. Cognitive dissonance is when you cannot match your external behavior with the image that you want others to have of you. You either have to change your-self-image or continue lying about the event. Changing your self-image is harder to do. Confirmation bias is when you will look for anything to support our view. Think of the My Pillow man. He saw pro Trump evidence under every rock. It is just too hard for many to say, “I am sorry!” which ironically is a way to free us from the demonic in us. Forgiveness is liberating, but to his last moment, Nixon said, “I am not a crook!” and Trump declares, “I won that election by a landslide!”

When I was studying at Berkeley at Yale, my best friend was an elite distance runner. His running partner was Erich Segal, Professor of Classics, at Yale. Erich was a brilliant engaging guy! You may recall he wrote the best-selling fiction novel turned into a blockbuster movie, Love Story, in 1970 which defined an age with a simple line. The story is about Oliver Barrett, a wealthy jock on his way to a Harvard degree who falls in love with Jenny Cavilleri, a working- class girl who was studying at Radcliffe, who fall in love. Jenny has contracted a deadly disease, and on her death-bed utters the line, “Love is never having to say you’re sorry!” Erich Segal was saying that when you love someone, then no matter what they go through, or what their social status is, everything is fine, so there is no reason to be sorry about anything.

But as culture sometimes does, the phrase became twisted and came to mean among some that you should never apologize. For me that phrase in that line, “______ is never having to say you’re sorry.” could be the title of Watergate and January 6 because in spite all the harm the people involved have caused our nation, I have yet to hear any of the key players say that phrase by stating, “I am sorry for all the harm I have done to our country.” Nixon and Trump have never uttered those words. They believed otherwise.

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