Ron Lindsay Apologizes: A Small Step in the Right Direction

Ron Lindsay Apologizes: A Small Step in the Right Direction June 23, 2013

When I wrote about the CFI board’s disappointing non-statement addressing the blowup at Women in Secularism 2, I thought that would be the last thing I’d have to say about this. That statement gave no hint that any further action was being contemplated, so I assumed the board’s plan was to hunker down and wait for this all to go away.

To my surprise, there’s been a new development: Ron Lindsay has apologized for his remarks that touched off the controversy. His statement is short enough for me to reprint it in full:

It has been a few weeks since I have said anything in public about the controversy over my remarks at the Women in Secularism 2 conference. As CFI announced via Twitter, this pause was to enable the board to have time to consider the matter. The board has issued its statement. It is now an appropriate time for me to make some remarks.

I am sorry that I caused offense with my talk. I am also sorry I made some people feel unwelcome as a result of my talk. From the letters sent to me and the board, I have a better understanding of the objections to the talk.

I am also sorry that my talk and my actions subjected my colleagues and the organization to which I am devoted to criticism.

Please accept my apologies.

OK, so first let me say what I like about this: It’s a real apology, not a passive-voice “mistakes were made” or an “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” nonpology, and that’s really all anyone was asking for. It could have been better, as I’ll explain, but it’s a start, and even small steps in the right direction deserve credit.

That said: I don’t want to be unfair, but when I first read this, my initial impression was that it has “grudging” stamped all over it. The curtness, if nothing else, makes me suspect that it was written under duress. Good apologies are convincing in their contrition; this one… isn’t.

Lindsay says he now has a better understanding of why people objected to his talk. If that’s true, that should be the point in your apology where you demonstrate that improved understanding by explaining in your own words why your behavior was wrong or offensive, and what you’ll do differently in the future. This apology makes no attempt to do those things. I’m not saying that Lindsay’s claim to have a better understanding is false – just that he hasn’t proved it.

If you want an example of a pitch-perfect apology, look at Kickstarter. Despite a flood of complaints over a so-called “seduction manual” project that advocated sexual assault, they refused to pull the entry, saying that they found it “abhorrent” but that it wasn’t in violation of their policy. Kickstarter later published an apology, We were wrong, in which they concluded belatedly that the project did violate their guidelines and should have been canceled. They explained why they made this mistake, promised to prohibit similar projects in the future, and pledged $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization. That’s what a convincing apology looks like. (See also this post on how to apologize online.)

Realistically, I don’t think any apology from CFI could restore all the lost trust in one stroke. But I think this one is sufficiently encouraging to make further conversation possible. (It’s certainly an improvement over other atheist leaders, like Michael Shermer or Richard Dawkins, who’ve never apologized for grossly sexist comments.) As I said, I haven’t yet seen proof that either Lindsay or the CFI board truly has taken a lesson from this and will do better in the future. I’d like to see that proof.

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