As the presidential race kicks into a higher gear, the inflammatory silly season is upon us. Few are more adept at contributing to vitriol, hyperbole and half-truths than those who desire to lead us from the White House or the state house. They are, sadly, Exhibit A in a society in which pandering at a high volume trumps speaking with humble wisdom.
But our friends in high places often make mistakes when pumping up the emotional volume and when those mistakes are highlighted, the offenders are maddeningly consistent in their response: they quickly apologize without actually apologizing. They tweet out carefully crafted statements shaped by a committee of PR crisis managers. They go to considerable lengths to express concern but admit no actual fault.
From Hillary Clinton’s absurd rationalization that it was easier to route the writings of State through a private server in her home than to have to bear the inconvenience of two mobile devices; to Scott Walker’s attempts to eviscerate the venerable Wisconsin idea, and then blame it on a legal drafting error by his staff; to Donald Trump…well, simply refusing to apologize for anything, our wannabe VIP’s have become intellectually and emotionally incapable.
It’s time for us all to take our lumps. Stop with the “to anyone I may have offended” or “while my words were taken out of context” qualifiers.
If you’re going to apologize, apologize.
When I was a kid in Wisconsin, I still vividly remember a cloudy winter day when my older cousin annihilated me in one-on-one hockey on a frozen pond in our corn field. It hurt. My reaction to his dominance was to pick up my puck and trudge back home tearfully complaining to my grandma about how unfair he and my life were.
My grandma loved me, but she was no helicopter grandparent. She would have none of it. She told me to take my beating like a man and to walk right over to my cousin’s house and apologize for quitting. I did so with no further protestations.
I was reminded of that lesson a few weeks ago during dinner with some wonderful clients in the Middle East. One of my dinner companions told us about a family conundrum the previous night between her teenage son and her husband. Her husband was a huge fan of a soccer team from his home region, and he invested considerable free time in keeping his fan friends abreast of scores and team developments. His son, however, had developed loyalties to the team in the city where they now live. That evening, he tried to explain to his father that they could support different teams without straining their familial bonds.
His father did not concur, and the ensuing discussion was not pleasant. Annoyed, my dinner companion retired to her room for the evening and had little to say to her husband the next morning. With few words exchanged, she departed for work.
He was in trouble and, as a husband myself, I felt his pain. He needed to apologize. But unlike Lady Hillary, Sir Scott, or The Donald, he did so in a very clear fashion.
Not knowing that she would be out for a business dinner that evening, he called her that afternoon to own up to his error and announce that he would be preparing her a home-cooked meal. He was wrong, he said. He felt terrible, he said. But his next statement is what really stood out to us having dinner that night and it ought to become the new hashtag phrase for apologies: He said, “I slaughtered a lamb for you.”
Many men in the Middle East still know how to do this. Unlike me, they don’t have to rely on nose-to-tail butchers at farm-to-table restaurants to prepare prized meals. This husband had slaughtered a lamb for his wife and promised to reserve the most desired parts thereof as proof of his remorse.
He was sorry; he was sincere; and his apology was short, sweet and effective.
Authentic apologies know no bounds. They could be childhood memories in the Midwest or adult experiences in the Middle East. But sincere people and effective communicators know that they are important.
To those who dominate the mass and social media, be they elected or otherwise, take note. Don’t tell us what you want us to hear. Tell us what we actually want to hear. “I’m sorry. I made a mistake. I’ll try not to let it happen again.”