Gentlemen: A tale of two apologies – UPDATE

Gentlemen: A tale of two apologies – UPDATE January 19, 2011

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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