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.

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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.

 

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.

Top Ten Words to Keep Out of an Apology

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Almost everyone feels to need to make an apology at one time or another–no one of us is perfect–but surprisingly few of us know how to do it well. A good apology should be direct, sincere and pure. It should contain three elements: (1) a clear and unqualified admission of what I did wrong, (2) an expression of sorrow for what I did to you (including an acknowledgment of the harm I caused you) and (3) a commitment, to the extent it’s possible, to make things right (including a description of my corrective actions). But it’s hard to spit out those words. I want to make myself look good. I want to make my bad choice look not-so-bad. And I want everyone to know that I’m not as big a jerk as my actions make me appear. So I tend to let these ten words sneak into my apology. None has any place there.

10. Apologize. Ironically, the word “apologize” does not belong in a good apology. “I apologize” is a lukewarm substitute for “I’m sorry”. Even worse is its black-sheep cousin: “I want to apologize”. Instead of saying that I want to apologize, why don’t I actually apologize by saying “I’m sorry”? Even worse than “apologize” is yet another close relative …

9. Regret. Just say “I’m sorry”. “Regret” is a weasel word I use when I choke on the word “sorry”. If “sorry” was a beer, then “regret” would be “sorry lite”. “Sorry” means: “I feel bad that I did this to you.” “Regret” means “Gosh, I wish that hadn’t happened.” Which leads me to another blacklisted word …

8. Happen. A poor apology obscures my responsibility for the harm that resulted from my bad choice. “Happen” is my ally in that  effort, as in “I’m just sorry all this had to happen.” Using the word “happen” implies that the harm done to you was the end result of an unavoidable chain of events, not anyone’s fault–bad luck, really. Better to say it this way: “I’m sorry I talked about you behind your back and betrayed our friendship.” Also avoid the use of happen’s good pal: “occur”. And those two bad boys like to hang out with …

7. Incident. This is another good word to add to my avoidance-of-responsibility arsenal. It can be effectively used to mask my thoughtless actions, as in: “I regret the incident.” It helps me evade responsibility by failing to describe what I did and failing to identify me as the culprit. Just an unfortunate series of events. Close by “incident” in the dictionary is yet another word to avoid …

6. Inconvenience. This is a great word to use when I want to minimize the seriousness of the harm I caused you. Businesses are notorious for using it to downplay the impact of their mistakes, as in: “We may have failed to keep your personal financial information safe and secure from hackers. We sincerely regret any inconvenience this may cause our valued customers.” That reminds me of another word never to use …

5. If. When I apologize, it’s not a question of IF I made a bad choice, it’s a question of WHAT bad choice I made and HOW that choice hurt you. “If” is frequently paired with its evil cousin “offend” to come up with this non-apology: “If I offended anyone by saying that NASCAR fans are beer-swilling idiots, I am truly sorry.” Is there anyone on the planet who thinks that statement would provide the least bit of comfort  to stock-car aficionados? It not only repeats the insult but fails to acknowledge its undeniable offensiveness. But the real fault lies in the way it throws the burden back on the victim, saying in fancier language: “If you are so thin-skinned that you took offense at my humorous remark, then I guess I have to apologize.” It reminds of another word that often fouls up an otherwise good apology …

4. Sincere. Or its partner in crime, “truly”. If I have to say that I “sincerely apologize” or am “truly sorry”, then chances are that the apology is not at all sincere and the sorrow is far from true. One cannot make an apology sincere by saying it is so. It is up to the apology’s recipient to decide whether the apology is sincere and the sorrow is true. If I use those words in my apology and then I’m called out on it, I may be tempted to say I …

3. Misspoke. Politicians use this word a lot. I’m not sure what it means, but I think this is it: “I accidentally said what I really think, and it’s landed me in hot water.” If one means to say “cooperate” but says “copulate” instead, that’s a true misspeak. Don’t laugh, I did that. In front of my pastor. Twice in a row. True story. I was tempted to blame someone else for my embarrassing error by using one of these unacceptable words …

2. He, She and They. Third-person pronouns have no place in an apology. It’s about two people only: me and you. Sure, I might not be totally to blame for what was done to you, but an apology is no place to bring that up. It’s a place for me to acknowledge my part in the harm you suffered and to ask forgiveness for it. Those pronouns are often followed by a conjunction, the #1 word that should never be found in an apology …

1. But. Just as apology is no place to introduce third parties who may also be at fault, it is no place for me to introduce extenuating circumstances that might mitigate my fault. “I’m sorry I ran the red light and T-boned your car, but the sun was in my eyes.” Even worse is to use “but” to argue that the recipient of the apology bears some of the blame too. “”I’m sorry I ran the red light and T-boned your car, but you should have known that nobody stops for red lights anymore.”

There may be a time and a place to discuss others who may be at fault. And perhaps at a later date the victim of my poor choice might be interested in hearing how I came to make such a choice and why I’m not really the heartless human being that my current conduct seems to indicate. Just maybe the recipient of my apology might be generous enough to initiate discussion of his or her part in the entire incident. But when making my apology, I need to set those aside. It’s about me, what I did to you, how sorry I am, and what I am going to do for you to try to set things right. Don’t diminish the quality of an apology–and thereby diminish its potential to effect reconciliation–by cluttering it up with any of these ten words.

Telling Her Story

Only two people know what really happened between Woody Allen and his seven-year-old daughter 22 years ago. The prosecutor opted not to charge Allen with child molesting way back then even though he said there was “probable cause” to do so. This is America, after all, and Allen is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But an adult Dylan Farrow felt the need to tell her story as she saw Hollywood shower accolade after accolade on her father and hear star after star sing his praises.

So she told that story in an open letter published in Saturday’s New York Times. Readers of this blog will find her story all too familiar; it is remarkably similar to the stories written by childhood sexual assault victims and published in this blog’s Voice of Violence series. Justin, Christine, Lisa and Pauline all had the courage to write their stories and give me permission to publish them in 2012.

Those Voice of Violence stories are a reminder to us that child victims of sexual assault can suffer profound harm. Ms. Farrow says:

 That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself.

They are also a reminder of the harm that can be done to a child just by being caught up in the court system:

I … didn’t know the firestorm it would trigger. I didn’t know that my father would use his sexual relationship with my sister to cover up the abuse he inflicted on me. I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of planting the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defending me. I didn’t know that I would be made to recount my story over and over again, to doctor after doctor, pushed to see if I’d admit I was lying as part of a legal battle I couldn’t possibly understand. At one point, my mother sat me down and told me that I wouldn’t be in trouble if I was lying – that I could take it all back. I couldn’t. It was all true. But sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily. There were experts willing to attack my credibility. There were doctors willing to gaslight an abused child.

The final reminder these stories provide is how important it is to protect our children and treat them as the vulnerable and valuable creatures they are. We teach our kids not to talk to or get in the car with a stranger, but the truth is that most child sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the child’s parent thinks he or she can trust: a sibling, a stepparent, a coach, a cousin, a youth pastor, the next-door neighbor. They may eventually learn to cope with past abuse but unless they are among the most fortunate they will neither forget nor fully recover from it. Just ask Justin, Christine, Lisa, and Pauline. And perhaps Dylan Farrow would like you to ask her too.

Obamacare: Part Two

Last week’s blog post dealt with the remarkable reluctance of anyone connected with the Obamacare website failure to take any responsibility for it. Federal contractors. Government bureaucrats. The White House. When countless frustrated citizens–people whom the government was requiring to buy health-care insurance–asked why they couldn’t log on to a website set up to comply with the health-insurance mandate, no one was willing to step up and say “It was my fault”. Like siblings standing in the shards of what used to be Mom’s favorite table lamp, finger-pointing was the order of the day.

Since then there’s been some progress. No, the website is not up and running smoothly; the feds tell us–promise us!–that by the end of November healthcare.gov will be tuned up and running as smoothly as Jimmie Johnson’s Chevy coming out of the pits at Talladega. (That’s a full two months after Uncle Sam told us the website would be ready and a scant one month before health-insurance polices expire for millions of Americans.)

Since then, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius testifed before a congressional committee and apologized to the American people. NBC News reports that her testimony included this statement: “You deserve better. I apologize.” I do applaud the federal government’s step in the right acceptance-of-responsibility direction. Apologies are good. But with the hope that Secretary Sebelius might want to make further progress, let me offer these observations:

  • When making an apology for one’s failure, it’s best not to minimize the failure. Using the word “flawed” to describe the website’s launch is like calling the Titanic’s maiden voyage “disappointing”. It’s best to accurately own up to what it was–a disastrous failure–if you want your apology to be well received. (Madame Secretary, you share this problem with somebody who works for you. CNN reports that Marilyn Tavenner, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in her congressional apology that “the website does not work as well as it should.”)
  • Apologies are no time to minimize the problem or to find what you perceive to be a silver lining to the cloud for which you’re apologizing. So, pointing out that the website never actually “crashed”–it was just unreliabe and slow–doesn’t enhance the quality of your apology. (Ms. Tavenner is no stranger to the silver-lining approach either, claiming that it was actually an ecouraging sign that the website buckled under the weight of so many people trying to access it. It shows that the government is offering a good people: scads of citizens want to buy it. Pssst to Ms. Tavenner: The government is requiring people to buy health insurance.)
  • Don’t feel so bad, Secretary Sebelius; lots of people miss this next point. Saying “I apologize” is a weak, weasely way to make an apology. (Even weaker: “I want to apologize.”) Grow a spine and spit out these two simple words: “I’m sorry.” It puzzles me and makes me sad that so many people find it so hard to say those two little words. They make one’s apology powerful and credible.
  • I understand your reluctance to throw your boss under the bus, but when asked if President Obama is ultimately responsible for the website fiasco, your first reponse could have been better than: ““You clearly, uh — whatever, yes.” To your credit you recovered quickly and did concede that President Obama “is responsible for government programs.”

But, hey, I’m a glass-half-full kind of a guy. Any step in the right acceptance-of-responsibility direction is worth a applauding. Kudos to you, Secretary Sebelius for taking those first few baby steps in the right direction. Let’s wait and see what November 30 brings.

Check out Jon Stewart’s R-rated commentary:

Trapped in Twitter’s Tar Pit

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The new social media bring new acceptance-of-responsibility rules along with them. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter–all have evolved their own rules of etiquette. And users mercilessly enforce those rules. They have no pity on dinosaurs who wander into the tar pits of the new media, say something dumb or offensive and then have no idea how to extract themselves from the gooey mess that’s binding them forever to their bad choice of words.

Dr. Phil found himself stuck in the social-media tar pit this week. He was trying to generate discussion about sexual assault and thereby generate interest in an upcoming show on that topic. He reportedly planned to focus on a highly publicized Ohio case in which high-school students, including local Friday-night heroes, were charged with repeatedly raping a high school student who had passed out at a party. Others at the party made light of the assault and publicized it in real time using YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. The victim could remember nothing the next day.

Dr. Phil was doing what Dr. Phil does. He was investigating a serious and timely cultural issue: when is it OK to have sex with a woman who’s been drinking? (A recent blog post of mine–Gray Rape–explores similar territory.) A man may not have sex with a woman who doesn’t consent to the sex, and a woman can be so incapacitated by alcohol consumption that she can’t consent. The unconscious Ohio victim clearly was incapable of consent. But even one drink impairs one’s judgment.  Does that one drink cast doubt on a woman’s ability to freely and knowingly consent? What about much more than one? Is a woman who’s under the influence free to make a poor choice to have sex–a choice she would never have made sober–as long as she is alert and aware enough to knowingly make that choice and is making it freely and voluntarily?

So far so good. Dr. Phil was doing what Dr. Phil does. That’s when he wandered straight into the tar pits. Someone posted this tweet from his Twitter account:

If a girl is drunk, is it okay to have sex with her? Reply yes or no to @drphil #teensaccused

I’ll give Dr. Phil the benefit of the doubt. His intentions were good, but his technique was clumsy. And less than carefully phrased. He didn’t mean to imply that casual sex with an obviously intoxicated woman is sometimes “okay”, but one could certainly get that impression from his poorly-worded tweet. And many did. The Twitter universe exploded with outrage. The Washington Post reported that one of his Twitter followers responded: “If Dr. Phil is drunk, is it okay for him to tweet”. Another asked if it was “okay” to refer to misogynists as Dr. Phil from now on.

And then Dr. Phil made the mistake that so many dinosaurs made in the tar pits. In struggling to extract himself from the pit, he became further mired in the tar. He deleted the tweet. The Twitter storm became a Twitter hurricane. “Hey, @DrPhil, if someone deletes his tweet, is it okay to post a screenshot of it?”, asked a tweetster who of course attached a screenshot of the now deleted–but not forgotten–tweet.  Another called him “a bloody coward”. To use a 21st-Century term, Dr.Phil got “flamed”.

Again, I’ll give Dr. Phil the benefit of the doubt. His intentions were good, but his technique was once again clumsy. He may have thought that in deleting his offensive tweet, he was apologizing and making amends for it. But under the social-media rules followed by users of Twitter, one accepts responsibility for a bad tweet by leaving it posted and receiving the negative tweets about it. One must sit there and experience the consequences of one’s offensive tweet. Deleting the tweet was seen as an avoidance of responsibility.

The Washington Post story mentioned above included the opinion of digital-etiquette expert Steven Petrow, who confirmed Dr. Phil’s faux pas. “Deleting a tweet is not an apology.” If one wants to apologize for a tweet, one should tweet an apology. As readers of this blog know, a good apology has three parts: “I did it. I’m sorry. I’ll try to make it right.” A Twitter apology should follow those same rules. Removing a tweet does none of those things. “It’s not atoning; it’s removing,” said Petrow.

If a dinosaur is going to wander into the new social media, the dinosaur had better know the rules of the tar pit for acceptance of responsibility and follow them scrupulously. Dr. Phil didn’t. He’s still trying to pull himself out of that black, sticky mess.

Postscript: The answer to Dr. Phil’s tweet is “No”. Hook-up sex with a woman who’s drunk is not “okay”. If a man is going to have sex with a woman and have some assurance that she’s doing it freely and voluntarily, he must know the woman well enough to know that she’s giving him the green light and that she’s sober enough to give that signal freely and knowingly. That can’t be done in a hook-up. A man must accept the responsibility to have sex only when he’s sure he has the free, knowing and clearly-communicated consent of his prospective partner. Otherwise, it’s not sex. The law–and plain human decency–call it something else.