A Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

If you’ve had a toddler in your house at any time in the past 40 years you’ve probably heard of Alexander. His terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day is the topic of an award-winning children’s book that teaches kids how to cope when they have one of those days when everything goes wrong. Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, gets pushed in the mud, is forced to eat lima beans for dinner and watches a favorite marble go down the drain during bath-time. Alexander decides to move to Australia until his mother explains that everyone has bad days, even people who live in Australia.

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Alexander’s mom is right, isn’t she? We all have bad days. On those days when we have the reverse Midas touch–everything we touch turns to crap–we can choose to react with grace and equanimity. Or we can choose to react like Alexander (who as a small child may have a legitimate excuse). How did you react to your last terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Let’s say you reacted badly, like Alexander and children often do. Now imagine that your embarrassing, child-like temper tantrum makes national news.

That’s the sticky situation in which James Beach placed himself last week. He was tired. All he wanted to do was to fly home to Colorado. Employed by a company that builds waste-recycling plants, he was on the final leg of a long business trip back from Moscow. Maybe the Russian airport authorities had been less than friendly to the American businessman. Maybe the ticket agent at the Newark airport was a bit surly when Beach arranged to fly standby back home to Denver. Maybe his bags ended up in Naples instead of Newark. What we do know is that Beach ended up in a middle seat on the Newark-to-Denver flight. We also know that instead of closing his eyes and resting while the plane winged its way toward the Rockies, he put his tray-table down and pulled out his laptop. He had to review that contract with the Russians. To make sure he wasn’t disturbed, he installed the Knee Defender, a device that prevented the passenger in front of Beach from reclining her seat. Except she was tired too. And she really, really wanted to recline her seat. Conflict ensued.

At the request of the flight attendants, Beach removed the device. He claims the other passenger then forcefully reclined her sear, almost shattering his laptop’s screen. That’s when Beach started acting like Alexander. He roughly returned the seat-back to the full-upright position and re-installed his Knee Defender. His fellow passenger reacted like an Alexandra: she threw a cup of soda in his face. The flight attendant quickly moved the woman to another seat, but Beach didn’t stop. He re-directed his ire toward the flight attendants, saying what he says were “bad words”. The pilot then re-directed the plane to Chicago where Beach and his fellow passenger were re-directed off the plane. (No word on whether they shared cocktails at an O’Hare bar.) Beach was not going to get home to Denver that night after all.

Then his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day got even worse. The Associated Press picked up the story and ran it nationally. Beach instantly became the poster-boy for bad airline-passenger behavior. Years ago Andy Warhol warned us that in the future everyone would be famous for 15 seconds. Beach was getting his 15 seconds–and then some.

What would I do if my terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day was splashed over headlines all across the country? Would I accept responsibility for my bad behavior? I could do worse than follow the example of James Beach. In a follow-up story, Beach didn’t trash his on-board adversary. He didn’t make excuses about frayed nerves from a long business trip. Instead he told the Associated Press: “I’m pretty ashamed and embarrassed by what happened. I could have handled it so much better.”

Careful readers of this blog will note, however, that Beach’s response wasn’t perfect. He could have used his 15 seconds of fame to give us all an A+ acceptance-of-responsibility lesson. How about these suggestions, Mr. Beach?

  • “Happened” is an acceptance-of-responsibility red flag. Blizzards happen. Cyclones happen. They’re no ones fault. What went down on that Newark to Denver flight did not just happen. It’s something you did. Would it have been better to say this? “I’m pretty ashamed and embarrassed by what I did.” Or better yet: “I’m pretty ashamed and embarrassed that I did the same thing to my fellow passenger that she did to me: forcefully re-position her seat. And then I made things worse by yelling and swearing at the flight attendants. They were just doing their job and trying to clean up the mess that I had helped to create.”
  • And how about an apology to your fellow passenger? An apology does not mean that the person to whom I’m apologizing was without fault. That’s because an apology is not about what she did; it’s about what I did. She need not earn my apology with an acknowledgment of her part in this sorry episode. I need to apologize for what I did wrong, even if she never steps up and takes her fair share of the blame. It’s about me and what I did.
  • And of course an “I’m so sorry” is needed for the flight attendants who were only trying to make everyone of the crowded flight as comfortable as possible.

I’ll give him a B-. And the lesson for me when I have that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day and “lose it” like little Alexander and James Beach–especially if I “lose it” in front of a national audience–is to step up and forthrightly accept responsibility for it. That means admitting what I did without excuse or finger-pointing, apologizing to anyone I’ve wronged, and doing what I can to make things right.

Top Ten Reasons Why Our Kids Are Leaving the Church

A workplace colleague recently engaged the young people of his church in a discussion: Why are your friends leaving the Church? Now, as a former youth-group leader I know that getting kids to open up and talk is not an easy undertaking. But on this topic the discussion was so lively that he took notes. And then he shared them with me, inspiring this list (in no particular order) of reasons why our children–and grandchildren–are choosing not to worship with and serve alongside an organized body of believers.

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  1. I don’t agree with the politics preached from the pulpit.
    Is God a Republican? Or a Democrat? When I worship with my church family, I feel pressure to vote a particular way once I turn 18. And that’s not right.
  2. Some of my friends don’t feel welcome here.
    I have friends from another side of town. I have gay and lesbian friends. I have friends whose skin is a different color. I have friends with piercings and tattoos. I don’t feel comfortable inviting them to share worship with me here because I’m not sure they’d feel welcome. 
  3. The leaders spend too much effort trying to seem cool.
    Why does the pastor try to dress like a teenager? (He can’t pull it off.) I don’t need hipster adults; I need mentors who will inspire me and examples who will model for me the kind of person God wants me to be in 10, 20 or 50 years.
  4. I don’t feel respected as a person.
    When adults see me in church, they don’t see a person; all they see is a kid. I don’t know everything, but I do know something. Do I have to wait until I’m 35 to be treated halfway seriously?
  5. I’m too tired from Saturday night to get up and go to worship Sunday morning.
    Hey, I’m alive, I’m in college, and I like to have fun on Saturday night. Not drinking or partying but hanging out with good friends. Sometimes until 1 or 2 in the morning. But my friends and I might go to a worship service if there was one Saturday night, like at 7 or 8 o’clock.
  6. The sermons are boring and have nothing to say to me.
    Yeah, I know that parents with little kids need some help from their church. And my grandparents are having trouble coping with their empty nest. But what about me? I’m here too! I can’t relate the message to my life. And is it too much to ask that you include a video clip or visual aid–something!–to make the message understandable and interesting? I’m having trouble staying awake .
  7. Anyone older thinks they automatically can tell me what to do .
    I get tired of people telling me what I should be doing, what I should be wearing, what I should be saying, without making the slightest effort to get to know me first and find out who I am.
  8. It’s full of people pretending to be something they’re not.
    What good is going to worship on Sunday if it has no effect on what we do the other six days of the week? If it’s real, shouldn’t it lead us to make better choices throughout the week? Love more deeply? Live with more integrity? Serve with more compassion? I don’t see it happening; the church is a bunch of hypocrites.
  9. Shouldn’t it be about more than just a list of “Do This But Don’t Do That”?
    Is that all there is to our faith? Is it just a bunch of rules? I desperately want something–or someone–to believe in. But all I hear about in youth group is what I shouldn’t be doing.
  10. Too judgmental!
    I don’t feel loved and appreciated; I feel judged. I know I’m not perfect, but then neither are you. Can’t we both love one another and support one another as we fight our battles and work on our issues?

Maybe things haven’t changed too much. Matthew 23 tells us that Jesus had strong words for the church leaders of His day. He criticized them because “they do not practice what they preach” and [e]verything they do is for people to see”. They insisted on complete compliance with a heavy load of rules, but “neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness”. Jesus called them “hypocrites”, “blind guides”, and “whitewashed tombs” who were clean on the outside but filthy on the inside.

So, how does the Church keep our young people from heading for the exits? (And, really, the reasons that young people give for abandoning organized church bodies are pretty much the same reasons that adults give for drifting away.) Let’s try these remedies:

  1. Be welcoming.
  2. Be caring.
  3. Be courageous.
  4. Be accepting.
  5. Be real.
  6. Be about relationships before rules.
  7. Be a role model.
  8. Be nice.
  9. Be Biblically sound.
  10. Be humble.

What are others saying? Take a look at this blog. Or this one. Or maybe this one about Why Millennials Are Leaving the Church.

 

Top Ten – Steps to Recovery from a Bad Choice

I make bad choices. I do my best to avoid them, but I make bad choices. My duty then is to accept responsibility for them by admitting them, apologizing to those whom I’ve hurt, and trying to make it right. I hope I can be forgiven by those affected by my mistake.

But sometimes the hardest person from whom to secure that forgiveness is myself. I hope I’m generous in forgiving others, in releasing myself from any lingering bitterness, in forgetting the disappointments of the past and in moving on to the greater achievements of the future.

But it’s hard to forgive myself. That’s grounded in my pride–arrogance really. While I’m willing to accept shortcomings in others, I expect more from myself. So when I really screw up badly, it throws me for a loop. I can’t believe I acted in such a fashion. I can’t let it go–even when those whom I’ve hurt have forgiven me.

I’m a left-brained, analytical person. I make lists. So years ago after a particularly poor choice had me mired in depression, I decided to devise a step-by-step process to pull myself out of the muck. Here it is:

  1. There is a God. I’m not Him.
  2. Because I’m not God, I am not perfect.
  3. Because I’m not perfect, I will make poor choices–big ones sometimes.
  4. My poor choices will hurt people, sometimes badly, sometimes the ones whom I love dearly.
  5. When I make a poor choice, I must accept responsibility for it.
  6. I accept responsibility by admitting it, apologizing for it, and trying to make things right. (Sometimes things are irretrievably broken because of me. I can’t fix them.)
  7. I will learn from my poor choice and commit not to make the same mistake twice.
  8. I will ask those whom I’ve hurt to forgive me. I’ll ask God to forgive me.
  9. Then I’ll forgive myself and move on.
  10. But I will still make mistakes. (See #1, #2 and #3 above.) 

Top Ten – Best First Lines

It’s summer. And time for a summer-vacation blog post. Summer means beaches and beaches mean books. Is there anything better than sitting down with a good book on a sunny, sandy beach with the whole day stretching out before you?

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I love a book with a good first line, a line that not only draws you into the book but gives you a clue about what you’ll be reading. A good first line will not only get you and the book to the Barnes & Noble checkout line (when you were sure you were “just browsing”), but it will also capture the theme of the book in just a few words.

Here are my top ten favorites. (OK, I cheated. There are eleven. I just couldn’t bear to make the final cut down to ten.)  

11. “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” –JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
This captures the major conflict of the Harry Potter books, doesn’t it? What is it like to be a wizard in a world full of muggles like Mr. and Mrs. Dursley? Is there any teenager who doesn’t feel like a wizard in a muggle world? And as we become adults, don’t we realize that there is no such thing as “perfectly normal”?  

10. “It was a dark and stormy night” … –Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford
This might be the most famous opening line of all time–but not for a good reason: it’s undoubtedly the most ridiculed opening line ever. When Snoopy was struggling to write his novel with a typewriter perched on the peak of his doghouse, he always started with those same words. San Jose State sponsors an annual bad-opening-line contest named in “honor” of Mr. Bulwer-Lytton. Betsy Dorfman won in 2014 with this stinker of an opening line: When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered – this had to mean land! – but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.

9. “It used to be Cliff and Vivian and now it isn’t.” –Jim Harrison, The English Major
Is there more poignant way to start off this novel about a 60-year-old man’s quest to find balance and meaning in his life after his 38-year marriage unexpectedly implodes?

8. “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” –Margaret Mitchell, Gone With The Wind
Yeah, the book is about war and slavery and Reconstruction, but at its heart one finds Scarlett, her resilience, her resourcefulness, her ruthlessness and her undeniable power over men.

7. “Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” –Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
Isn’t that so, so right? Ooooohhh, if only I could write like that, to cleverly express a truth with a concise and apt metaphor! 

6. “When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake–not a very big one.” –Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
I was hooked as soon as a read the opener to this Pulitzer-Prize winner. What is a blue pig? And pigs eat rattlesnakes? On the porch?? The opening line let me know that I was in for a heckuva read–something different from my daddy’s Louis L’amour westerns–with a surprise in every chapter.

5. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” –Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
What many call the greatest novel ever written is a story about the many ways in which a family can be unhappy: a rejected proposal of marriage, a proposal that would have been accepted if the gentleman had had the courage to offer it, an unfaithful wife, a cold and unforgiving husband and all sorts of other Russian complexities.

4. “All children, except one, grow up.”  –J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan
Is there a more concise, more accurate description of what this wonderful story is all about? I think not. 

3. “Call me Ishmael.” — Herman Melville, Moby Dick
Confession: I’ve never read Moby Dick. But no list of opening lines would be complete without this one.

2. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … ” –Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities
This famous first line foreshadows the duality and tension of the novel’s ending when–SPOILER ALERT!–Sydney Carton arranges to go to the guillotine in Charles Darnay’s place so that his friend could be reunited with Lucie, the woman both men love.

1. “In the beginning, God … “ — God, The Bible
Could there be a more appropriate way to begin the story of God than to let us know that He was already there at the beginning? At the outset, the Bible tells us that at one level, this God thing is easy to understand–He created everything!–but it also signals us that there are deeper, more mysterious aspects to His story and His nature that will take us more than a lifetime to unravel.

Used Cars and Politicians

Does anybody really believe it when a used-car salesperson says: “This baby is in top-notch condition–like new!” Or this: “You want a smooth ride? Slip behind the wheel of this peach.” And have you ever been told this: “Nobody beats our prices. Nobody.”

One would be foolish to take the vague claims of a used-car salesperson literally. In the climax of the 1980 comedy classic Used Cars, a villainous used-car lot was suing the good-guy lot in court for claiming that it had a huge inventory, “a mile of cars!” The heroes had to scramble and assemble a parade of cars literally a mile long in order to defeat the false-claim lawsuit and keep their lot from falling into the hands of the ruthless bad guys. What made it funny was the absurdity of the premise: If a used car lot actually did advertise “A Mile of Cars!”, no one would take the claim literally and it wouldn’t provide the basis for a lawsuit.

I’m not picking on the used-car crowd; people selling other products exaggerate too. There’s even a legal principle that protects them when they do so. It’s basic contract law that a buyer cannot reasonably rely on the imprecise claims a seller makes about a product. The law calls it “puffing”, reasoning that a buyer has got to expect a bit of exaggeration during the sales pitch.

I mean no disrespect to people who sell cars for a living, but doesn’t that principle apply to politicians too? One would be equally foolish if one took a politician’s statements as the gospel-truth or believed all the promises made during the election campaign. Just as buyers must reasonably expect some “puffing” from a seller, so we must expect hyperbole from those seeking our votes. One of the plot lines in Used Cars involves the good-guy used-car salesman (played by Kurt Russell) running for State Senate. He must have thought it would be an easy transition.

But there’s a line that must not be crossed. Whether you sell cars for a living or you’re a politician selling yourself, you shouldn’t lie and you shouldn’t make outright misstatements of fact. This, for example, is one of the fraudulent techniques employed by an ace salesman in Used Cars.

If I’m buying a used car, I should be able to expect that my salesperson won’t lie to me, claiming that I’ve just run over his precious pet dog Toby. And if a politician states a fact, I should be able to expect that the politician is not lying about that “fact” or has at least checked things out enough to be reasonably sure that her factual assertion is correct.

All of this brings me to the Supreme Court’s recent controversial birth-control decision and Nancy Pelosi. In a 5-4 decision, the Court ruled that Hobby Lobby did not have to offer post-conception birth control to its employees under its health-insurance plan because the family members who own the business have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. (Hobby Lobby objected to four things, among them the “morning after” pill and an IUD that prevents implantation of the fertilized egg.) This was Ms. Pelosi’s response: “Really, we should be afraid of this court.  The five guys who start determining what contraceptions are legal. Let’s not even go there.”

The decision, of course, did not make post-conception birth control illegal. The Court’s opinion–signed by those “five guys”–actually states that “women … have a constitutional right to obtain contraceptives”, upholding a 49-year-old precedent. Female employees of Hobby Lobby are free to purchase post-conception birth control on their own. Yes, some of those women won’t be able to do so; getting an IUD can be complicated and expensive. Had the ex-Speaker said “The five guys who start limiting a woman’s access to contraceptions”, then no one could complain: the decision certainly does that.

But she didn’t; she said that those five guys determined “what contraceptions are legal”. Big difference. (And she wasn’t the only politician who misrepresented the Hobby Lobby decision. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column said the Democrat response was “untethered” from the facts.) We should expect Nancy Pelosi to engage in a bit of political bluster and exaggeration. It’s part of her job, after all. But blatant misrepresentations of fact cross the line.

Again, we have a right to expect that a politician has at least checked things out enough to be reasonably sure that her assertion is not a gross misrepresentation of the facts. And if a politician fails to do so, we should expect the politician to accept responsibility, own up to the mistake, apologize for it and set the record straight. Nancy Pelosi didn’t. Instead her spokesman issued a statement that Pelosi “misspoke”. Too tepid. Too little. Not enough.

Would it have been so hard for her to say this:

 I’m sorry. I was so worked up about the Hobby Lobby decision that I didn’t check my facts carefully before I opened my mouth. The points I should have made were that the decision limits a woman’s access to birth control and seems to signal greater limitations from the Court in the future. But that’s not what I said. In mischaracterizing the Court’s opinion, I unnecessarily added fuel to the fire surrounding this topic and misinformed people who have a right to trust that what I say as a public servant is well-researched and true. I’m sorry I let all of you down. I’ll do better in the future.

 

The Laugh Test

This blog is all about accepting responsibility for our poor choices. And, as the blog’s subtitle indicates, part of accepting responsibility is this: no flimsy excuses. But calling an excuse “flimsy” gives some excuses way too much credit. They don’t pass the laugh test. “He couldn’t actually have said this, right?” Well, yes. Yes, he did.

This is where Luis Suarez makes his entrance. A striker on Uruguay’s World Cup team, last week the football star was locked in a fierce battle for position with defender Giorgio Chiellini and proceeded to bite the Italian on his shoulder. Both players fell to the ground, with Chiellini pulling his collar down to reveal obvious teeth marks. None of the four officials on the field saw the incident, but it did not escape the camera’s eye. The bite was referred to FIFA, football’s ruling body, for possible disciplinary action.

And this is where Suarez failed the laugh test. His explanation to FIFA:

In no way it happened how you have described, as a bite or intent to bite. After the impact … I lost my balance, making my body unstable and falling on top of my opponent. At that moment I hit my face against the player leaving a small bruise on my cheek and a strong pain in my teeth.

The 7-member FIFA panel didn’t buy it. Not for a second. “The commission took into account that the offence was made directly against a player while the ball was not in dispute and that the offence was deliberate and intentional and without provocation. He bit the player with the intention of wounding him or at least of destabilising him.” Suarez was kicked out of the World Cup and banned from any FIFA-sanctioned event for four months.

A factor FIFA took into consideration–and one more thing that makes his defense laughable–is this: Suarez is a recidivist biter. He bit opponents on at least two prior occasions, enduring a seven-game suspension by a Dutch league in 2010 and a ten-game suspension by the Premier League–where he is a member of the Liverpool Reds–just last year.

In 1997 Mike Tyson bit off a chunk of Evander Holyfield’s ear during a heavyweight title fight and spit it out on the ring floor. (Curiously, the referee did not stop the fight until the next round when Tyson bit Holyfield’s other ear.) At least Tyson had the decency to admit the bites, claiming he bit Holyfield in retaliation for head-butts from which the referee was not protecting him. Whined Tyson: “Nobody ever has any sympathy or pity for me. In retaliation, I’ll fight back because nobody is fighting for me.”

As an unsolicited service to Suarez, let me suggest the following if–when he is called on to answer for any future bites–he wants to upgrade his response from laughable to flimsy:

  • “I was locked in the grip of an irresistible impulse.”
  • “I have lingering oral-fixation issues from being bottle-fed as an infant.”
  • “Is biting against the rules? I thought it was one of those gray areas subject to interpretation.”
  • “I have a weakness for Italian food.”
  • “It’s a sickness, really. “
  • “Have I told you lately about my charity work with underprivileged kids?”

But if Suarez really wants to upgrade, if he wants to genuinely accept responsibility for outrageous behavior by making a sincere apology, he can try this on for size:

 Mr. Chiellini , I’m sorry I bit your shoulder. Football is a difficult, rough-and-tumble sport in which opponents compete forcefully and intensely. But it has rules. And, more than that, it has a code of honor among competitors. I violated all of those and brought dishonor on the match, my team, my country, the World Cup, the entire sport. There is no excuse for my behavior.

And since I mentioned my team and my country, let me apologize to them too. Playing on the Uruguayan national team is an honor that is dreamed of by many but afforded to few. Because of that, I owed a duty to my teammates, my coaches and my country to play aggressively to the best of my ability–but within the rules. I violated the trust you all placed in me, and as a result I won’t be available to do the job you gave me the privilege to perform. I’m sorry. I’m sorry I let all of you down.

I Refuse to Apologize

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In a memorable New Yorker cartoon, a chicken blessed with a rainbow of feathers indignantly confronts an outraged bird arrayed only in plain white: “I refuse to apologize for having plumage!”

An Internet, Twitter  or Facebook search reveals no shortage of unfeathered creatures who also refuse to apologize:

In what may be the ultimate apology refusal, an FB page called “Legalize Freedom!” resists remorse for eight full paragraphs. The post begins: “I refuse to apologize for believing in America and all that she stands for: freedom, democracy, equality.” He’s equally unrepentant about many other things, refusing to apologize “for teaching my children right from wrong”, “for my racial and ethnic heritage”, and “for believing that every man, woman and child are born with equal opportunity”.

Today schools have those white dry-erase boards, but if you remember chalkboards then you remember the sound of fingernails scratching down a chalkboard.  Inside my head, these I-refuse-to-apologize statements make that same sound. Why?

First, no one’s asking these people to apologize. Is there a long line of people demanding an apology from you because you’re an attractive woman who looks good in a short skirt? Are there hordes of people clamoring for a retraction after you say “God bless America” or “Merry Christmas”? Are people texting you at all hours demanding that you show remorse for daring to call yourself a liberal? And is a massive swath of the populace outraged that you believe in America with liberty and justice for all? No! So, stop trying to enhance your position by wrapping yourself in false victimhood. In doing so, you not only detract from the quality of your argument but you do a disservice to real victims: people who suffer real harm and deserve a real apology.

Second, a bellicose refusal to apologize carries with it the not-so-subtle message that apologies are for weaklings. To the contrary, an acknowledgment of one’s mistake, an expression of sorrow to the victim of that mistake and a pledge to make things right are acts of real courage.

Third, an I-make-no-apology statement is merely a clumsy way of utilizing what’s known as the Straw Man Fallacy. Politicians just adore straw men! If you had to be in a fight, wouldn’t it be great to build your opponent yourself? You’d build him weak and you’d know where to land a punch so that he’d tumble over like, well, a straw man. So, when some guy says “I refuse to apologize for”, look carefully at what comes next. That’s the straw man. Some examples:

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s libertarian manifesto,  Hank Rearden refuses to apologize for his entrepreneurial success:

 I refuse to accept as guilt … the fact that my work is of greater value than the work of my neighbors and that more men are willing to pay me. I refuse to apologize for my ability – I refuse to apologize for my success – I refuse to apologize for my money.

Hank, no one demands an apology from capitalists for their work ethic and the innovative ideas that make their businesses a success (and our lives more pleasant). But sometimes an apology is in order for damage a business does to the environment in producing its product, for working conditions in its factories, and for predatory or fraudulent marketing practices.

President Obama is currently the subject of much criticism for swapping an American POW for five Guantanamo terrorist commanders. His response:

I make absolutely no apologies for making sure we get back a young man to his parents and that the American people understand that this is somebody’s child and that we don’t condition whether or not we make the effort to try to get them back, …

Mr. President, everybody understands that a soldier “is somebody’s child” and no one opposes trying to “get back a young man to his parents”. What is up for debate is the wisdom of trading five hard-core, unrehabilitated terrorists for that soldier and for apparently violating the law that requires you to give Congress 30 days notice before you do so. (To be fair, the use of straw men is bipartisan. Mitt Romney’s 2010 book, written in the hope of taking the president’s job, bears the title of No Apology: Believe in America. Really, Mitt? Just who was demanding that you apologize for believing in America??)

So, please. Don’t be like the brightly-feathered chicken. No one is asking you to apologize for your plumage. You’re right; those feathers are gorgeous. But maybe you should consider apologizing for strutting around the barnyard like a pompous egotistical peacock. You’re a chicken.

 

A Call to Christian Men (and to Decent Human Beings)

I am privileged to welcome my friend Erica to Accepting Responsibility for a guest blog post. The Isla Vista mass murders resulted in a vigorous discussion about femicide, misogyny, and the persistent disrespect that–according to the #YesAllWomen tweets–men show to just about every woman on the planet. Erica is a devoted follower of Christ and a student at a college known nationwide for its traditional conservative values. Her words are courageous, perceptive and show a wisdom beyond her years.

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 You might remember the blog entry I wrote, telling women they are not responsible for how men think of them and reminding men that they cannot hide behind the excuse of “boys will be boys.” I find myself going back to those thoughts now, in the wake of the Isla Vista shooting and the number of articles, tumblr posts, and #yesallwomen tweets I’ve read recently.

So, Christian men, listen up. I am addressing you, not all men ever, because you have a responsibility here that I would like very much for you to think about.

As a Christian man (and, honestly, as a decent human being), you have a responsibility to call out any maltreatment of women around you. When you are out, you have a responsibility to watch out for the women around you. I don’t know where you spend your days, but I can tell you it’s not only at bars and parties that women are made uncomfortable by men. I was riding my bike to the library a summer or two ago and at least one man whistled at me, possibly because I was wearing shorts. That is not a compliment. If you try to tell me I should take the jeering of men as a compliment, we are going to quarrel. Because I was not complimented. I was scared. I was scared, and this was in the middle of the day, in the middle of town. It was unlikely that the man who whistled at me would have done anything else, and perhaps he truly thought he was complimenting me.

But here is why he was not: There is a really high chance he was bigger and physically stronger than I am. I was also on a bike, and I was stopped at the train station because there was a train coming. I could not go forward, and he was behind me in a car, so I could not go back. If he had really wanted to, he could have forced me into his car and I would probably have been able to do very little.

Yes, that is an unlikely scenario, especially considering it was the middle of the day. Yes, I understand that not all men are like that. The point, however, is that I was scared, I was uncomfortable, and if you are a Christian man and you ever catcall, whistle, or make any kind of remark about a woman’s body, you are not behaving in a Christ-like manner at all. Furthermore, if you see someone doing that and you do nothing, you are validating and normalizing that behavior. (As a side note, here is an excellent article called What Men Can Do to Stop Street Harassment, which, as stated, tells you four things men can do to help stop street harassment. There’s a comic included that has some language, so watch out for that.)

The other thing I need to point out is that you have the responsibility to look after women because you, as a man, are much less like to get raped or killed or physically/verbally abused for standing up for a woman than a woman is for standing up for herself, and the man doing the harassing is much more likely to respect you, a fellow man. (I can’t find any research for that, though I’ve looked extensively, but… it’s the truth. Saying “I’m not interested” somehow translates to “Please try harder,” while “I have a boyfriend/I’m married” translates to an actual “no.” Here is an article that further explains this phenomenon.)

Also, if you need another reason, Jesus’s ministry was startling positive towards women, especially considering the times. You’ll note, I hope, from His treatment of women that He thinks them worthy of protecting even when society says they are not (John 8:1-11).

And before anyone says it, it is not my fault for getting whistled at. Do not ask me how short my shorts were. In the first place, I was biking four miles from my house in June or July; was I supposed to wear pants? But the greater point is, of course, that while yes, less is more and all that, no woman gets dressed with the hope that they will be made uncomfortable by a man/men in any way, shape, or form. I was wearing the clothing I was wearing because it was the most practical, and not for any other reason.

Women are not to blame for the bad behavior of men. Men are responsible for their own behavior. Yes, I understand it is harder for you, men, to maintain purity of thought when women show off their bodies. I don’t think that, as a girl, I can understand exactly how difficult it is for you, and I’m sorry for the times I’ve made it more difficult than it already is. But I have not caused you to sin. Your sin is on your own head, just as mine is (James 4:17). We will all stand alone on Judgement Day, and God will hold us accountable for our thoughts and our actions (Romans 14:12). God will not allow you to place blame on another person for your conduct.

Obviously, you are also not responsible for the conduct of other men. But I am asking you, as a sister in Christ, as a female, and as a person who is so tired of being afraid of men until they prove me wrong, to point out to other men their hurtful and harmful behavior, to listen when women say no and have compassion for their fears, and to show me and every other women with your actions that it is, in fact, not all men.

I should add that men also face street harassment, abuse, rape, etc., and I do not intend to belittle their pain in order to bring attention to the pain of women. Perhaps I should say as a close, then, that where we can safely do so, we should call out harassment and abuse for what it is and help the victim. Where we cannot safely do so, we should notify the proper authorities. We should always, always, always provide support to the victim, because it is never their fault. We should also teach our children, especially, (but also as many others as we can) to respect other people and other people’s bodies: “Just because I move through a public space does not mean my body is a public space.” Which is to say, please be a decent human being and encourage others to do the same.

Click here to see Erica’s original blog post

For a related Accepting Responsibility post, see a piece I wrote a couple of years ago called My Lust, My Fault.

We Are Not Responsible

not responsible

We were driving down the Interstate at 70 MPH. (OK, maybe it was 72 or 73.) Just ahead of us was a dump truck with a big sign on the back. I pulled a bit closer so I could read it, assuming that if a sign was posted on the back of a truck, the sign contained important information for anyone following the truck. This is what the sign said:

Not responsible for objects falling from truck

I immediately slowed, trying to put some distance between us and the truck. But not fast enough. A clump of dirt landed with a thud on the windshield. Thankfully, it caused no damage.

First, I caught my breath and tried to will my heart down to my normal 65 beats a minute. Then I considered the irony of the sign’s placement: one could read the sign disclaiming responsibility for falling objects only if one got close enough to be at risk of damage from debris sailing out of the truck’s bed. Finally, I wondered if the truck owner’s attempt to absolve himself of liability for careless conduct would catch on and become a trend. I considered the possibilities.

Is there anyone who hasn’t seen their share of those we-are-not-responsible signs posted in retail establishments across the country. How about this sign in a restaurant: “Watch your hat and coat! We are not responsible for stolen or damaged clothing.” Or this sign at the dry cleaners: “Not responsible for damage to suede or leather.” How about this sign at a motel pool: “Swim at your own risk.”

It’s bad enough that stores turn somersaults trying to lure you inside to take your money and then once you’re inside they engage in even more contortions to avoid liability for any bad thing that might happen to you while they’ve got you inside. I suppose once I finally get a thumbs-up from the restaurant hostess that she can seat me and my wife, I can turn around and walk right out once I see the sign telling me that the place assumes no responsibility to care for my personal items while I’m paying them big money for a meal. I suppose I also have a choice to pack up my family and check out of a motel–a motel that lured us in with the promise of a swimming pool–once the kids and I are about to jump in the pool and I see that the place is assuming no responsibility for our safety while we use the pool that they built and maintain. It’s not much of a choice, but I guess I do have a choice.

But what about that dump truck? Do I really have the ability to make a choice to avoid harm from the truck owner’s failure to cover the load and protect me and other motorists from falling-object damage? Not really. Can one free oneself from the duty to take reasonable care to protect others from a danger one creates simply by posting a sign that disclaims any such duty?

So, will the truck owner’s attempt to absolve himself of liability for careless conduct catch on? If the attempt to extend the we-are-not-responsible principle becomes a trend, I can see all sorts of avoidance-of-responsibility possibilities. Maybe I can get a sign myself and attach it to the rear of my car:

Not responsible for careless, reckless or drunken driving

If that works I may get another sign and attach it to the back of my shirt:

Not responsible for thoughtless, hurtful or slanderous remarks

And perhaps my Facebook page could announce to all the world:

Not responsible for unwise, ill-considered or malicious choices

I’m not sure what those signs would do for those people who are forced to come in contact with me in the course of a day, but it sure would make my life a whole lot easier.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? When I post a sign on the back of my dump truck telling the world I’m not responsible for any damage to you or your car from junk flying out of the back of my truck, it makes my life easier. I no long have to buy a tarp to cover the load. I no long have to train my driver to firmly secure the tarp to the truck bed. My life gets easier–and less expensive too! But it exposes the public to a danger which it cannot reasonably avoid. Life gets a little harder, a little more dangerous for everyone but me.

Hear the words of one of the great philosophers of our age:

A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.
–Winnie the Pooh

If, instead of looking for ways to avoid responsibility for our conduct, we take reasonable care to protect others, the world becomes not only a safer place but also a friendlier and more civilized place. That makes all the difference.

Mistakes in the Land of the Supreme Leader

Being Supreme Leader is not a bad gig. North Korea’s Kim Jong Un got the job after his father, Kim Jong Il, died two years ago. Dad had been Supreme Leader for 18 years, getting the job after his father, Kim Il Sung, passed away after 46 years at the helm. A Kim has been the totalitarian state’s Supreme Leader ever since the Korean Peninsula was split into North and South after World War II. It’s great to be Supreme Leader. Your picture is plastered all over the country. School children sing your praises daily. The country is always throwing parades and declaring holidays in your honor.

No, Supreme Leader is not a bad job at all. Except when things go terribly, tragically wrong. There’s no good way to explain mistakes in the land of a Supreme Leader because Supreme Leaders do not make mistakes. But under the communist rule of the Worker’s Party of Korea (WPK), there is no shortage of bad news. Two years ago a United Nations report generated a boatload of bad news. It found that under the Supreme Leader’s watch:

  • “[S]ystematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. In many instances, the violations found entailed crimes against humanity based on State policies.”
  • “The State has used food as a means of control over the population. It has prioritized those whom the authorities believe to be crucial in maintaining the regime over those deemed expendable.”
  • “Military spending – predominantly on hardware and the development of weapons systems and the nuclear programme – has always been prioritized, even during periods of mass starvation.”
  • “The key to the political system is the vast political and security apparatus that strategically uses surveillance, coercion, fear and punishment to preclude the expression of any dissent. Public executions and enforced disappearance to political prison camps serve as the ultimate means to terrorize the population into submission.”

There are two ways that Supreme Leaders deal with bad news: (1) Ignore or (2) Deny. Except that last week there appeared a third option: Apologize. An apartment house under construction in the capital city of Pyongyang collapsed. For some reason, more than 90 families were already living in the partially-constructed building. In what may win the award for 2014 Understatement of the Year, the official North Korean news release revealed: “The accident claimed casualties.” 90 families. A North Korean family typically numbers four. Do the math.

Uncharacteristically, a parade of highly-placed North Korean officials stepped up and apologized.

  • Minister of People’s Security Choe Pu Il “said the responsibility for the accident rests with him as he failed to uphold well the [WPK’s] policy of love for the people. He repented of himself, saying that he failed to find out factors that can put at risk the lives and properties of the people and to take thorough-going measures, thereby causing an unimaginable accident.”
  • General Officer of the Korean People’s Internal Security Forces Sonu Hyong Chol insisted that it was he who “was chiefly to blame for the accident as he was in charge of the construction. He expressed heart-felt consolation and sympathy to the victims and the bereaved families and said he was making an apology, his head bent, to other Pyongyang citizens who were greatly shocked by the recent accident.”
  • Chairman of the Pyongyang City People’s Committee Cha Hui Rim “said that the party has always called on the officials to become genuine and faithful servants of the people but he failed to have the proper control over the construction of the apartment houses as a man responsible for the living of the citizens of the capital city, thereby causing such a serious accident.”
  • Chief Secretary of Phyongchon District Committee of the WPK Ri Yong Sik “said that seeing for himself the victims in the scene of the accident, he felt as if his heart were falling apart and was too shocked to cry. He added that he could not raise his head for his guilty conscience as he failed to protect the precious lives of the people so much valued and loved by the party.”

As admirable as it was to acknowledge the tragedy and accept responsibility for it, note what these officials did NOT do: Blame either the Communist Party or its Supreme Leader who together have held North Korea in their iron grip for more than six decades. To the contrary, the government news release began with this assertion:

It is the consistent stand of the Workers’ Party of Korea and the state to prioritize the interests and conveniences of the people and hold them absolute and protect their lives and properties.

And the Supreme Leader himself? The news release assured the world that Kim Jong Un “sat up all night, feeling painful after being told about the accident … .” President Harry Truman famously had a sign on his Oval-Office desk that read: “The Buck Stops Here”.  My guess is that no such sign has found its way to the Supreme Leader’s desk. Supreme Leaders do not make mistakes. And they don’t apologize.