Gentlemen: A tale of two apologies – UPDATE

First read the New York Times going through a long, belabored and ultimately lame exercise of excuse-making where a simple “we screwed up, sorry” would have sufficed – as Jerry Wilson ably fisks.

It was hectic in the newsroom with many news reports flowing in as Kathleen McElroy, the day Web news editor, was trying to decide whether The Times was ready to report Giffords’s death. She decided against it and was telling Web producers to hold off reporting it in a news alert when J. David Goodman, who was writing the story, told her he had a few changes he wanted to make.

Don’t you understand? It was hectic! Which never happens at any other workplace.

Read the whole thing. A remarkable amount of tearful, emotive chestbanging for a secular institution. And people make fun of Catholic mea culpa’s!

Then check out a story about an Evangelical pastor who made a mistake and managed to get the job done with simplicity and humility.

Faced with the reality that his video presentation was inaccurate, Rutherford apologized. And he did it boldly. He stared again into a camera, but this time he said that he was “deeply, deeply sorry for any misrepresentation of the original story” and admitted that he had lifted the story, without checking its accuracy, from an unnamed speaker who specialized in presenting Christian views of early American history.

Which leads me to thinking about Lisa Mladinich’s column today, and the whole point of parental (and instructive) discipline, delivered with love: it’s to help us to grow up with the ability to face our mistakes and not torture ourselves or others with explanations that really are not to the point.

“. . .in chaotic environments where adults fail to exercise authority, children suffer from anxiety and act out. Down deep, they know you’re supposed to be in charge and they’re happier when you are.”

None of us are perfect, and mercy does abide. And when grown-ups teach children about boundaries and responsibilities, those they teach grow up to know about boundaries and responsibilities and they impart that confidence on to others.

So when there is a hectic moment–as the NY Times describes so torturously–grown ups may hold sway. And if the is a screw up, they may simply admit it, apologize with sincerity, resolve to do better, and get on with it, already.

Anything more overwrought than that, no matter how sincere, has the stink of insecurity about it. Communicating insecurity in one’s authority or abilities betrays a mental adolescence that never makes anyone feel better; it does not impart a feeling of trustworthiness, either.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, there is a moment where Jem Finch and his sister, Scout, must face up to something difficult before the harrassing Mrs. Dubose. Jem, recalling his father, Atticus, tells Scout, “just hold your head high and be a gentleman.”

Good, if politically incorrect, advice. If we all behaved like gentlemen, the world would be a much more pleasant and less frenzied place.

UPDATE: Sissy Willis recalls a gentlemanly moment in our recent politics.

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  • Kathryn Judson

    In the John Fea article to which you link, regarding the Evangelical pastor who apologized for historical errors, Mr. Fea tosses out a dismissive comment about David Barton (supposedly) using quotes that were undocumented. But if you will follow the link – please, do – ( you will find that the January 2000 “Unconfirmed Quotations” post begins:

    “The following quotations have been seen and heard in numerous books, periodicals, editorials, speeches, etc. In our research, we have not previously used a quote that was not documented to a source in a manner that would be acceptable in a scholarly work or a university text. However, we strongly believe that the debates surrounding the Founders are too important to apply solely an academic standard. Therefore, we unilaterally initiated within our own works a standard of documentation that would exceed the academic standard and instead would conform to the superior legal standard (i.e., relying solely on primary or original sources, using best evidence, rather than relying on the writings of attorneys, professors, or historians).

    It is only in using this much higher standard that we call the following quotes “unconfirmed”: that is, while the quotes below have been documented in a completely acceptable fashion for academic works, they are currently “unconfirmed” if relying solely on original sources or sources contemporaneous to the life of the actual individual Founder. These original sources for these quotes may still surface (for example, a major primary document from James Madison surfaced as late as 1946), and in fact you will note that we have actually located the original sources for some to the quotes below that originally we listed as unconfirmed. However, with the remaining quotes listed below, we recommend that you refrain from using them until such time that an original primary source may be found, notwithstanding the fact that the quotes below may be documented to a number of contemporary sources…”

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