An example of forgiveness

Published: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 14, 2011 at 7:47 p.m.

One of the most essential of American principles is one that doesn't get enough attention from the values crowd: the importance of giving people second chances.

America is, I hear, the land of that sort of thing.

Which is why I was pleased to read about President Obama's praise of the Philadelphia Eagles for hiring Michael Vick, the once-disgraced professional quarterback who spent some time in prison for running a dog-fighting ring.

According to a Washington Post report on a call between Obama and Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, the president was passionate about Vick's comeback.

"He said, ‘So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance,' " Lurie was quoted as telling Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports. "He said, ‘It's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.' And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall."

Vick is now one of the best players in the NFL, and the public is rapidly accepting his remorse as genuine and his comeback as praiseworthy.

In a culture that seems so often to tear down those it builds up, it's important to recognize the unique willingness — even eagerness — of American society to accept that those who have made mistakes can rehabilitate themselves through hard work, discipline and other virtues.

The "correctional facilities" of our criminal justice system aren't among the best examples, but our bankruptcy laws are.

Even though it became more punitive to debtors in 2005, American law is unusually lenient in allowing folks to liquidate and start over.

This fosters entrepreneurship.

Most small businesses fail.

But it's those that succeed — encouraged by the American system's willingness to forgive failure — that separate America from the Third World — or even the stagnant economies of Europe.

Construed this way, mercy can be ethical and efficient.

I'm glad the president said so.

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