The list of celebrities known for their boorish, selfish, obnoxious behavior is notoriously long. I’m not going to name names, here, but you know who I’m talking about: the stars who believe the world revolves around them, who act as if the normal rules of morality and social propriety don’t apply to them at all.
These folks end up on tabloid covers week in and week out. Their seemingly never-ending string of poor choices and narcissistic behaviors mean their pictures and shenanigans are never far from the top of the page on celeb gossip sites like TMZ or Radar Online.
To borrow from Santa Claus, we might call it the celebrity naughty list.
But there’s another list, too. It might actually be longer, but you’d never know it because the celebrities who end up here are so, well, nice that you never hear much about them unless they’re accepting an award. You know, folks like Tom Hanks or Jennifer Lawrence, among others.
Until last week, most of us probably would have agreed that actress Reese Witherspoon owned a very solid spot on the nice list. But when her husband, Jim Toth, got pulled over in Atlanta last week because a police officer thought he might be driving under the influence, Witherspoon made a pretty shocking play to join those on the dark side.
Toth was indeed arrested for drunk driving, but not before Witherspoon gave the officer a piece of her mind … and managed to get arrested for disorderly conduct herself.
“Do you know my name?” she demanded of officer James Pyland. A bit later she added, “You’re about to find out who I am,” as well as, “You are going to be on the national news.”
Turns out, no one much cared that Trooper First Class James Pyland was doing his job. But the always-salivating industrial gossip complex tasted blood in the water. Soon the “Good Girl Gone Bad” meme was all over the Internet. And so it was Reese Witherspoon making the national news—and not in a good way—as she quickly shuffled her membership from the nice list to the naughty one.
Personally, I was surprised and perhaps a little disappointed in Witherspoon’s seeming entitlement complex. “Just another self-centered celeb after all,” I quickly judged.
But then Witherspoon did something that’s a bit less common in these situations. She issued an apology three days later in which she took specific responsibility for her poor response to the situation:
I clearly had one drink too many and I am deeply embarrassed about the things I said. It was definitely a scary situation and I was frightened for my husband, but that is no excuse. I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. I have nothing but respect for the police and I’m very sorry for my behavior.
Now, a cynic—and I have to admit, I have a cynical side—could dismiss a statement like this as simply doing the necessary damage control. And that’s likely true to some extent. That said, I was still impressed by Witherspoon’s willingness to own her bad choices (“I clearly had one drink too many,” and “I was disrespectful”) and to apologize for those choices (“I’m very sorry for my behavior”).
This template is actually not far from the way my wife and I try to help our children, who are 2, 4 and 6 years old, apologize to each other: naming the bad choice and saying that they’re sorry for it. No matter how poor the choice may be, no matter how hard the consequences associated with that choice, we strive to distinguish between making a bad decision and being a bad person.
Too often, I wonder if we fail to extend the same courtesy to those in the celebrity world. We’re shocked when someone on the “nice” list does something self-centered. And we tend to think, almost unconsciously, that those on the “naughty” list are beyond redemption, doomed to keep repeating their bad choices ’til the bitter end.
I think the value of Reese Witherspoon’s run-in with the law is in reminding us that we’re actually not so different from her after all. Even if we’d say we spend most of our time on the nice side of the ledger, given the right circumstances, we too might find ourselves acting out just like she did in an embarrassing, high-pressure moment.
Our meltdowns likely won’t end up as front page news on TMZ. But when we have them, we, too, need to own our choices, accept the consequences and say sorry to those we’ve hurt. And by the grace of God, His gracious offer of forgiveness in Christ guarantees that the hope of real change and redemption from failure is always available to us—no matter how “naughty” our choices have been.