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.


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 Signs of Job Burnout


I dream of being a shoe salesman. How much job stress would I have if I sold shoes for a living?  Sure, I’d have to deal with people’s smelly feet all day; that can’t be pleasant. And maybe some jackass manager would constantly be on my back to meet some unrealistically high sales quota. But, really, how much stress could there be selling shoes? Do you think they bring their work home with them? Wake up in a cold sweat at 3 AM worrying about whether the latest style in men’s wingtips will be a big seller? And have you ever heard of a shoe salesperson with ulcers? Sometimes I dream of being a shoe salesman.

But even the shoe business must have its stressful moments. All jobs worth having involve some stress. Those of us in service jobs have a particular workplace challenge: dealing with people. And you know how they can be.

Do any of these ten burnout signs sound familiar?

10. A short fuse
Not so long ago I could keep a pretty tight lid on my temper; someone would have to push pretty hard for me to blow up in anger. Not so now. Things that I used to let slip by now cause a major eruption.

9. Impatience with those whom I’m supposed to be serving
Have you ever thought this: “My job would be great if I didn’t have to deal with these customers all the time!”  (Instead of “customers”, insert students, clients, litigants, patients, parishioners or whomever your job requires you to serve.) Am I geting angry or frustrated with the people I’m supposed to be serving? Do I avoid returning their phone calls? Do I look for any flimsy reason not to answer their e-mails?

8. “Nothing I do makes any difference.”
Is my head battered, bloody and bruised from beating it against my job’s brick wall? I took this job feeling all eager and optimisitic, but now the situation feels hopeless. I don’t know what more I can do. I feel trapped, backed into a corner.

7. “If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done.”
This place couldn’t get along without me. If I don’t do it, it might get done, but it doesn’t get done right. I’d like to take a few days off, but everything falls apart when I’m not here. So here I am. Every day. And sometimes on weekends.

6. “When I get home I just plop in front of the TV and numb my brain.”
The activities that once brought me joy no longer do so. I used to love Wednesday bowling nights, but who has time for that anymore? I can’t remember the last time I walked to the park with my son. And sex with my husband? Forget about it. Who has the energy?

5. Short cuts
I cut corners. I don’t read the entire report but just scan it quickly and then go to the last page and read the summary. I don’t have time to think much, and so I assume that the quickest solution is the best solution. My analysis is never penetrating or probing; I am eager to embrace simple solutions to complex problems.

4. “Who am I to complain?”
I compare myself to those whom I serve. I have a nice house in the suburbs. I have two great kids. My wife loves me. How can I complain? At least I’m not getting divorced/going to prison/dying of cancer. I need to suck it up, work harder and do more.

3. “I’m always so, so tired!”
I suffer from persistent fatigue. I have trouble falling asleep and then staying asleep when I do. (All too often I wake up in a cold sweat at 2 AM, usually thinking about some problem back at the office.) Even when I do get a good night’s sleep, it doesn’t seem to help much. And I have all these aches and pains I never noticed before. I probably shouldn’t drink so much, but two or three drinks–and sometimes four–at night help me wind down.

2. Diminished shock threshold
When I first started this job I would recoil in horror at some of the things people did–or had done to them. Now? Not so much. I guess I’ve just developed a thick skin. Nothing shocks me much any more. Have I become numb to the suffering of those whom I supposed to be serving?

1. “Are you OK?”
Have I heard this from the people who love me? Do I blow them off with a quick “I’m fine! Don’t worry so much.” When the people who know me best and care for me the most are detecting an unattractive change in me, maybe it’s time to wake up and do something. 

 One of my favorite movies is Harvey, the story of Elwood P. Dowd and his inseparable pal, an invisible six-foot rabbit named Harvey. Elwood is amiability personified. He’s eager to shake your hand, introduce himself and Harvey to you, and then sit and listen–preferrably over a cocktail–to whatever pours out of your heart. Elwood will tell you that as a child his mother informed him he had a choice between being oh-so-smart or oh-so-pleasant. “Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.” He just loves people, any kind of person: “I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.”

Of course that’s not normal. Neither is having an invisible rabbit as your best friend. And so Elwood’s mother loads him into a taxi and takes him to a mental hospital–Chumley’s Rest–to get an injection with medication that will make him normal. Once there, the cab driver discovers the purpose of the visit and refuses to take Elwood and his mother back home. He tells them they can just call another cab; he won’t be the one taking them back to the city.

The Taxi Driver:“I’ve been driving  this route for 15 years. I’ve brought ’em out here to get that stuff, and I’ve drove ’em home after they had it. It changes them… On the way out here, they sit back and enjoy the ride. They talk to me; sometimes we stop and watch the sunsets, and look at the birds flyin’. Sometimes we stop and watch the birds when there ain’t no birds. And look at the sunsets when its raining. We have a swell time. And I always get a big tip. But afterwards, oh oh…

Mother: “Afterwards, oh oh”? What do you mean, “afterwards, oh oh”?

Taxi Driver: “They crab, crab, crab. They yell at me. Watch the lights. Watch the brakes, Watch the intersections. They scream at me to hurry. They got no faith in me, or my buggy. Yet, it’s the same cab, the same driver, and we’re going back over the very same road. It’s no fun. And no tips… After this he’ll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!”

Like Elwood’s cabbie, anyone whose job entails serving people knows what “stinkers” human beings can be. In order to serve them well we must first care for ourselves. We can’t shift blame for our emotional well-being to someone else. We can’t make excuses for it. We are in charge of–and must accept responsibility for–our own mental health. That means recognizing the signs of burnout and taking steps to correct it. Regular vacation and exercise, attending to spiritual needs, cultivating a supportive group of friends–those are just a few of the things we can do to keep ourselves healthy so we can be oh-so-pleasant at the workplace. And with all due respect to Elwood P.Dowd’s mother, that allows us to be oh-so-effective in the workplace too. Even if you sell shoes for a living.

Watch the theater trailer for Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart:


For more information in much, much more detail, I recommend Trauma Stewardship by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, published in 2009 by Berrett-Koehler Publishing, Inc.  And a big thank you to my daughter, Liz Sharda, for passing that valuable resource on to her dad.

Trapped in Twitter’s Tar Pit


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.

Gray Rape?


Last week’s blog post, Excuses for Rape in Cleveland, explored the specific excuses Ariel Castro made for his decade-long rape of three young women he held captive in his Cleveland home. That led to an exploration of the excuses men have traditionally given–and our culture has traditionally accepted–to shift blame from themselves for their sexual assaults. And the flip side of that coin is that when our culture excuses men’s sexual violence, it places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the women whom they victimized. (Why did you wear such a revealing outfit? Why were you out so late at night? I told you this would happen if you got a reputation for sleeping around.)

Sadly, victim-blaming is not a thing of the past. It’s alive and well, as evidenced by the debate about something called gray rape. The gray-rape argument goes that traditionally–think of Doris Day during her “Pillow Talk” period–good girls waited by the phone for men to ask them for a date, they dressed demurely when they went out with a good-reputation kind of guy, they insisted on being brought home at a decent hour, they refused alcohol of any kind, and they allowed nothing more than a chaste closed-mouth kiss on the first date. Sexual assault, says the gray-rape crowd, was a black and white thing back then. Easy to identify. No shades of gray.

Not so easy to identify now, they say. The Doris Day era is decades in the past. Women are more sexually aggressive. They dress in ways that reveal themselves to their best advantage. They don’t wait to be chased; they pursue. They match the guys drink for drink. And sometimes they opt for casual hook-up sex with men they hardly know and have no intention of seeing again. Suddenly sexual assault is not so clear-cut, they claim. How’s a guy to know when the stop light turns red when all night the lights have been green, green, green?

A 2007 Cosmo article article launched the gray-rape controversy, and the battle has been raging ever since. Author Laura Sessions Stepp defined gray rape as “sex that falls somewhere between consent and denial and is even more confusing than date rape because often both parties are unsure of who wanted what.” She noted: ” … lots of women feel it’s perfectly okay to go out looking for a hookup or to be the aggressor, which may turn out fine for them — unless the signals get mixed or misread.”


But the idea of gray rape is pure baloney. I understand that in the history of male-female sexual encounters there have been times when a woman said “Yes” and then later wished she’d said “No”. There may have even been times when a woman said “Yes” and later denied giving consent because of guilt or shame. But that really has nothing to do with whether rape has any shades of gray. It doesn’t. Black or white. Did or didn’t. Consent or no consent. There is no “somewhere between consent and denial”. It’s one or the other.

Acceptance of the idea that there is such a thing as gray rape makes it more likely that rape victims will not report the assault, will blame themselves and will engage in any number of self-destructive behaviors in an ill-advised attempt to recover from the rape. (Anonymous and dangerous sex, increased drug and alcohol use, and diminished job or school performance are possible reactions.) But just as disturbing as an increase in non-reporting and victim-blaming is gray rape’s tendency to discourage men from taking responsibility for their own sexual behavior. An unnamed college male quoted by Stepp likes the idea of gray rape because it “allows guys to be a**holes”. (I guess by a**hole he means a sexual-assault perpetrator, a rapist.)

If one wants to be a real man, one must step up and understand that it is his responsibility to be sure that he has his partner’s consent before he initiates any sex act. This means, at a minimum:

–He must get a clear “Yes” before he proceeds.

–He must not assume that consent to one type of sexual activity means consent to another.

–He must understand that if there is any question about a woman’s ability to give consent, he must stop. Even if it was her choice to get drunk. Even if she said yes when she was sober.

–He must not presume consent from a woman’s manner of dress or the number and nature of her previous sexual encounters, even her encounters with him.

–She can say no at any time. That means stop.

–There is no gray area. There is no somewhere between consent and denial. No consent = denial.

–He must respect and appreciate women enough to understand that they are not his sexual playthings, not toys created for a man’s sexual gratification.

–He understands that engaging only in consensual safe sex is not just something men do for women; it’s for his benefit and protection too.

–He must understand that sex with a woman is a big deal and can be a beautiful thing. He should treat it that way.

Excuses for Rape in Cleveland

I try not to pick low-hanging fruit. Sometimes the lessons to be learned from a failure to accept responsibility are so easy to detect, so simple to discern that I decide readers have no need for my comment or analysis. I decide that it would be an insult to the intelligence of the followers of this blog to point out the obvious responsibility-acceptance shortcomings in some statements. Like an Anthony Weiner press conference. I try to reach for the tall branches of the tree.

But sometimes I can’t ignore the low-hanging fruit. Sometimes there’s a good reason to state the obvious. So it is with the outrageous comments that Cleveland kidnapper Ariel Castro made at his recent sentencing.

Castro abducted three women off the streets of Cleveland’s west side starting in 2002. They were 21, 16 and 14 years old. He kept them locked in separate bedrooms in his home, repeatedly raping them vaginally, orally and anally. He got one of the women pregmant and forced a second to act as the midwife to deliver the child. He then kept his own daughter captive, forcing her to live in the same locked room as her mother. Castro made sure other pregnancies were terminated. He used terror, brutal beatings and the threat of more violence to keep them compliant. Among Castro’s tactics: frequently displaying a gun and forcing the women to play Russian Roulette. When the women were finally rescued in May afer a decade of captivity, they were pale, under-nourished and dehydrated.

Castro snapped up a plea deal that saved him from the death penalty. After pleading guilty to 937 counts, he received a sentence of life in prison–plus 1,000 years. (My advice: a low-fat diet, no smoking and plenty of exercise. Who knows how many of those years he could knock down?)

Every defendant has the right to allocute before sentencing. (That’s a fancy 50-cent lawyer/judge word that has a 10-cent meaning: defendant gets to make comments to the judge before getting sentenced.) Castro made the most of his allocution opportunity. His comments included:
–The sex was consensual; in fact they asked him for it.
–His was “a happy household” marked by “harmony”.
–None of the three were virgins when he abducted and began raping them.
–He was not actually a criminal, just a victim. He can’t be responsible for something he can’t control: his disease of sex addiction.
–“I’m not a violent person. I simply kept them there so they couldn’t leave.”
–He pleaded guilty only to save the three women further trauma.

The outrageous nature of these statements is obvious. This fruit is low on the tree. But what makes it important to pick this low-hanging fruit is that Castro’s comments are not at all uncommon. When men commit sex crimes and other crimes of violence against women, it is not unusual for them to engage in all sorts of twisted thinking to justify and minimize their behavior.
–She was asking for it.
–Let me tell you how she was dressed. What else was I to think?
–It’s not like this was the first time for her.
–At first she said yes. Then when she said no, I couldn’t stop myself. And I didn’t really think she meant it.
–She’s the one who chose to get drunk.
–She was out by herself at night. What did she think was going to happen?
–She didn’t even fight back.
–She was flirting with me all night. What else did she expect me to do?
–I’m not getting any at home.
–It wasn’t really rape, just a hookup that went too far I guess.

What makes the Castro case blog-worthy is that it vividly illustrates the need for men to step up and acknowledge their own responsibility to avoid sexual assault. Learn what rape is. Learn how to ask for consent. Accept that “No” really means “No”. Understand that women are people–not just objects for your sexual gratification–and begin to treat them like people. Realize that casual, no-strings sex is a myth; it’s a big deal with possible long-lasting emotional consequences for both partners. Learn how to be a real man, one who enjoys consensual, passionate, powerful sex with a committed partner.

CNN article about Castro’s sentencing comments:

Apologizing Makes Me Feel Bad

Why is it so hard to apologize? Why am I reluctant to admit I was wrong? When a politician is brought down by scandal, why is it so often the cover-up that does the guy in? When it’s readily apparent to everyone else in the world that a full confession and a sincere apology are the right and the smart things to do, why does the wrongdoer turn instead to denials, excuses and finger-pointing? Why is acceptance of responsibility so difficult?

Trying to weasel out of a tough spot is not some new development in human history; it’s as old as time itself. When God was lonely and created a man and woman to keep Him company in the Garden of Eden, He had only one rule for them: don’t eat the forbidden fruit. Of course they ate anyway. And of course He caught them. (He is God after all.)  Any idiot would at that instant have realized that with fruit juice still dripping from my chin, the smart thing to do would be to confess and beg forgiveness. They didn’t. Adam blamed God for creating the woman and blamed the woman for giving him the fruit. Eve said the devil made her do it. God didn’t buy either story and banished them both from the Garden. Why is acceptance of responsibility so difficult?


An Australian study recently published in the European Journal of Social Psychology tries to answer that question. They found that well-crafted apologies confer a psychological benefit to the apologizer, but paradoxically, a refusal to apologize results in psychological benefit too. In its summary the authors of the study say:

Why would a harm-doer refuse to apologize even when it is clear that such an apology will reduce culpability and elicit (possibly unearned) forgiveness? Because the act of refusal results in greater feelings of power/control, value integrity, and self-worth (at least in the short-term), it is reasonable to predict an individual’s decision to withhold an apology may be partly motivated by basic psychological needs for autonomy  and consistency. [Citations omitted.]

Is this what the study’s authors are trying to say in plain English?

  • Refusing to apologize preserves the illusion that I’m in control.
  • Refusing to apologize continues what I perceive to be my dominance over victims of my actions.
  • Refusing to apologize is consistent with an I-make-my-own-rules attitude.
  • Refusing to apologize preserves my sense of self-worth.
  • Refusing to apologize permits me to think that I’m better than ordinary mortals who make mistakes.
  • Refusing to apologize means I can avoid the unpleasant and difficult process of making changes to my life.
  • Refusing to apologize allows me to ignore the existence of a higher power, the rules of whom I must obey.
  • Refusing to apologize increases the chance that I won’t have to face consequences for my poor choice.
  • Refusing to apologize avoids the nasty truth that my actions do not always match my values.

And please note the two most important words in the paragraph quoted above: “short-term”. Anyone who has spent time with a four-year-old knows that they are all about the short-term. With his hand stuck in the cookie jar and chocolate chip smudged all over his face, he’ll loudly proclaim: “I didn’t do it!” The four-year-old wants to do what she wants to do when she wants to do it. The four-year-old is not eager to apologize. Acceptance of responsibility is not a trait that comes naturally to us. (Remember Adam and Eve?) But one hopes that as we grow we begin to realize that although apologizing–and otherwise accepting responsibility–is hard short-term, there are real and substantial long-range benefits to owning up to one’s failings. The psychological benefits of failure to accept responsibility are indeed brief.

For those of us who are not four years old, we should realize that apologizing actually improves our self-esteem in the long-term by allowing us to come to terms with who we really are: flawed human beings who try to do the right thing but often fall short. We benefit by releasing the I’m-just-fine-as-I-am attitude and doing the hard work needed to make positive changes in our lives. Acknowledging that we must bend to the will of a higher power is good too. He’s smarter than we are, and those ten rules He has in place are there for our own good. And, most importantly, accepting responsibility is just the right thing to do.

So, suck it up. Be brave. Do better than a four-year-old. Practice saying these three things: I did it. I’m sorry. How can I make things right?

NPR article about the study: http://www.npr.org/2013/04/01/175714511/why-not-apologizing-makes-you-feel-better

Link to the study itself: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ejsp.1901/full

The Buck Stops Where?

The IRS and the President have been much in the news lately.

In light of these developments, here’s a little acceptance-of-responsibility humor from Andy Borowitz’ blog in The New Yorker:

President Obama used his weekly radio address on Saturday to reassure the American people that he has “played no role whatsoever” in the U.S. government over the past four years.

“Right now, many of you are angry at the government, and no one is angrier than I am,” he said. “Quite frankly, I am glad that I have had no involvement in such an organization.”

The President’s outrage only increased, he said, when he “recently became aware of a part of that government called the Department of Justice.”

“The more I learn about the activities of these individuals, the more certain I am that I would not want to be associated with them,” he said. “They sound like bad news.”

Mr. Obama closed his address by indicating that beginning next week he would enforce what he called a “zero tolerance policy on governing.”