When I was a kid, I distinctly remember an incident where a boy in school made fun of me because I was poor. Our teacher, upon overhearing this grabbed the boy by the scruff of the neck, shook him and shouted, “APOLOGIZE!” The boy cried out in pain and mumbled a weak, “Sorry”. The whole event bothered me. Not because I was made fun of, but because someone used coercion to force an insincere apology from another. It was one of those incidents that sent me home to seek out the wisdom of my father. Yes, I was hurt at being taunted for something over which I had no control, but the disturbing part was the meaninglessness of uttering a platitude that offered nothing to either party. Even at the tender age of six, I understood the importance of words. In his infinite wisdom, Daddy saw the lesson here, about the careful choice of words, motives, and outcome. We talked at length about the power of the written and spoken word and how they affect people. We spoke at length about sincerity and honesty. It was a lesson I’ve carried with me for more than half a century. I want to thank Dad for having the patience to explain this to my six-year-old mind. Good job, Dad.
(Scratching record sound, fast forward 50 years). I dedicated five years of my life to our community as a City Councilman. I’m not from here. These folks are clannish and most have never been out of the state. Their world, their ideas and their attitudes are small – it doesn’t make them bad people, it is what it is. I tell you this to provide some cultural background. That said, I witnessed a tiff between the City Clerk and the City Collector where a very personal exchange took place and the City Clerk uttered an unpardonable slur against the Collector’s family. The Mayor and a long-time Councilwoman, champions of the City Clerk, told me to order her to issue an apology to the Collector. Why me? Because while they knew that what the Clerk said was wrong, they secretly agreed with her. Making me perform the deed would make me the teacher, grabbing the student by the scruff of the neck, coercing an apology. I refused. I did call both individuals to my office and shared that truth with them. The City Clerk had an opportunity at that moment to do the right thing for all the right reasons. Instead, she got up and went to her office. The Collector thanked me for not forcing her to endure further insult and assured me the incident was over, and it was. The City Clerk lost respect and credibility from many people and the Collector gained a good deal of respect for being the adult in the room. That’s the way it’s supposed to work among the civilized.
What the Collector intrinsically understood was that an insincere apology is worse than none at all, which brings me to this weeks’ lesson: The Art of the Non-Apology Apology.
Several days ago, The Washington Post published an article
involving Willard Romney bullying a presumed gay student at his exclusive Michigan boarding school. In this incident, Romney, who had repeatedly voiced his disdain for the boy’s hairstyle, formed a posse, cornered the boy, held him down and savagely hacked his hair off with a pair of scissors while the victim screamed, cried and begged them to stop. Five of Romney’s classmates remember the incident vividly. Mr. Romney claims to have no recollection at all. Okay. I don’t know what he does and does not remember. I’m not that much younger than Romney, but I can recall every physical altercation in which I have ever been involved. Perhaps that can only be construed to mean I have a better memory or that the incident was so meaningless to Romney, it was immediately forgotten. Maybe it means he and his buddies bullied so many others, the memory was lost in the fog of a litany of bullying. I don’t know. It wasn’t meaningless to his classmates, some who participated and live with deep regret. It was most certainly not forgotten by the victim. The New Yorker Magazine did a brilliant analysis of the story. In what Romney now describes as a practical joke and ‘hijinks’ (who the hell uses that word anymore?), what bothers me more is not that he did it, and I believe he did, but his response. A laughing Romney stated, “if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that.”
IF anybody was hurt by that? IF anybody was offended? Obviously somebody was hurt by that. John Lauber the victim was hurt by that. Anyone would be hurt by that. The subtext here is if someone is so thin-skinned to be offended by being held down and having their hair brutally hacked off with scissors while screaming in terror by a pack of homophobes, it’s their problem, not his. In September 2010, after an epidemic of suicides by young victims of bullying, columnist Dan Savage launched the “It Gets Better Project,” where user-created videos help LGBT youth understand they can find happiness and acceptance at some point in adulthood. Mitt Romney told those same kids in his non-apology apology that the people bullying them can do so without consequence and can evade responsibility for it later in life if they become powerful adults. Mitt Romney isn’t ‘Biff’ from Back To The Future, he is the privileged son of a prominent family who should have known better.
The words of a homophobic North Carolina preacher are reverberating around the Internet following a sermon in which he advocated physically assaulting children with “limp wrists.”
Sean Harris, the senior pastor at Berean Baptist Church in Fayetteville, is a strong supporter of North Carolina’s proposed antigay Amendment One. In a sermon, Harris screams like a maniac about cracking limp wrists and punching young children who exhibit gender-variant behavior. Girls playing sports are OK, but they must not be “butch” and should dress like a girl and ‘smell’ like a girl. Still searching for “Eau de Vagina” at Amazon.com for that one. Here’s the video:
Here’s a guy who understands that when you can’t ‘pray away the gay’, you should just beat it out of them. His words were disturbing enough, but his denial he’d ever said what was clearly on tape and his obligatory non-apology “I’m sorry if you were offended” was worse. This ‘man of God’ is offended by my offense, as was demonstrated in his Tweet.
@pastor_sean Even my apology is being judged by those who are supposed to be the most tolerant as insincere. At this point nothing seems sufficient.
He attacked people like me because he felt we should be tolerant of his views. He implied that if I’m not tolerant of his views, I’m a hypocrite. I don’t have to be tolerant of bigotry in any form to maintain my progressive status. But that’s a club Conservatives swing at Liberals all the time. His non-apology apology should be attacked by anyone with a soul. It didn’t have the same passion as his sermon because he doesn’t believe he should have apologized.
Rush Limbaugh, the human Hindenburg and one of my favorite targets (though it’s akin to shooting fish in a barrel), issued his non-apology apology to Sandra Fluke. In that apology, he essentially said he was sorry she was such a slut that he was forced to call her slut. That real-life Jabba the Hut could learn a thing or two about sincerity from my boss.
My employer is one of the most devout Christians I know. We disagree about a lot of things politically yet manage to maintain the utmost respect for one another. Several months back, he misread a letter from a supplier that led him to believe a business decision I had made had cost him thousands of dollars he could ill afford to lose. Not knowing the facts surrounding the letter, I believed it was true. I was horrified. He yelled, he threw things across my office (not at me) and was inconsolable for an entire morning. After several hours, I meekly retrieved the wadded letter from the corner, read it and called the supplier. Turned out it was a misunderstanding and all the money he thought he’d lost was indeed awaiting release pending his signature on a document. I’d spent the morning wondering if I’d have a job by days’ end and in my relief, began to weep uncontrollably. I learned later another employee saw me through the door in my office and bravely approached the boss to tell him this was something that needed fixed. When the boss arrived at my office, I’d gotten myself together somewhat. Please understand he’s not the touchy-feely type. What he did next stunned me. He walked over, got down on one knee as I sat at my desk, put his arms around me and said, “I hurt you and for that, I am so very sorry.” I told him about the phone call and assured him everything would be fine. I assured him our professional relationship was in no way damaged. We’ve never spoken of the incident again.
Let me put a fine point on what my boss did and did not do. He didn’t yet know the money wasn’t lost. He saw what his words and his actions had done to me. He placed my feelings above money and in that moment, showed me the kind of man he is. He didn’t say, “If I hurt you” because he knew I was hurt. He didn’t imply I was over-reacting or being thin-skinned. He didn’t minimize my pain and moved out of his own comfort zone to do the most human thing a person could do to comfort another, he embraced me without fear of political incorrectness or decorum. He doesn’t speak of it because he fears the memory will hurt me. I don’t speak of it because I fear the memory will hurt him. That, my friends is how the grown-ups do it. That’s the very essence of an apology. That is what allows one person to truly forgive another. That’s why I refer to my boss as a “Verb Christian”. He walks the walk. He genuinely asks himself, “What would Jesus do?” and then he does that. I know he’ll never read this, but I want to put my gratitude for that event into the Universal Consciousness. I can only hope it resonates into the subconscious of those who offer platitudes instead of healing.
If I’ve offended anyone with my position on this, well, I’m sorry, I guess.
Carol Baker is a political writer, satirist, and co-host with Vicki Childs of our Here Women Talk weekly internet talk radio show called BROADSIDED. You can hear their show every Thursday at 11 am Eastern/10 Central/8 Pacific.