Back in the ’80s, I had a summer job at a beach hotel, and one morning we were required to attend a seminar with our company’s risk management officer.
She seemed like a nice enough woman, and while most of her lesson has vanished with time from my memory, I remember her relaying one piece of advice that left me feeling conflicted.
After a guest’s accident, she counseled, don’t apologize. It can create liability for the company.
Thankfully, I never faced a situation where a serious enough accident warranted an apology, because I’m not sure how I would have reacted. Would I have followed instructions from risk management, or listened to a conscience that might have urged me to apologize out of a simple sense of decency?
So I’ve realized for some time that apologies can be complicated affairs, even though most kids are taught the cliche that it takes a big person to say they’re sorry. But I’m sorry to see that in the Age of Trump — the president who disdains apologies — simple schoolyard wisdom has become more difficult for our leaders to grasp.
When former Vice President Joe Biden finally apologized July 6 for his insensitive comments about working with segregationists, I was relieved. For weeks, he stubbornly refused to, and it seemed, well ... Trumpian. And then Sen. Kamala Harris challenged him on a debate stage, and his poll numbers plummeted, and he wised up.
Let’s hope Biden — and everyone else in the public arena — learned something from this episode.
Offering apologies doesn’t make us soft, and expecting one doesn’t make us snowflakes. Instead, apologizing shows a willingness to accept responsibility and a certain sense of self-awareness. Who among us is so perfect that we don’t make the occasional mistake?
“Admit when you are wrong. Mean it.” That’s a line from a book my wife and I gave my son for his 10th Christmas. It’s titled “Rules for My Unborn Son,” by Walker Lamond, and it’s full of nuggets of good horse sense from “Don’t date the bartender” to “If you’ve made your point, stop talking.”
Unfortunately my son, who’s now in college, hasn’t spent much time with that book. But we still keep it on a bookshelf in our home, because it’s my hope that eventually he will. I want him to fully grasp the importance of everything from admitting when you’re wrong to, well, not trying to date the bartender.
I don’t pretend to have apologized for every mistake I’ve made. In fact, I imagine there have been times over a 52-year life that I should have apologized for something but didn’t. Admittedly, it’s not always easy. I can only hope that I’ve done the right thing more often than not.
“Donald Trump is not sorry. Ever.” So read a headline from a May story on cnn.com. That headline was a little misleading, though, because our president has offered one notable apology. When, as the 2016 presidential election loomed, Trump was caught on tape admitting that he likes to grab women by the you-know-what, he apparently bit his lip and said, “I said it, I was wrong, and I apologize.”
Other than that, no contrition from our president for his blunders, buffoonery and bad behavior. Yet he’s owed apologies to, among others, Carly Fiorina (for crude comments about her face), the late John McCain (for disrespectful comments about his war record), Megyn Kelly (for tasteless comments about blood coming out of her wherever), civil rights supporters (for ignorant comments about the fine people on both sides at a Charlottesville, Virginia, demonstration) and anyone who respects the truth (for the more than 10,000 lies that fact-checkers have caught him in).
So despite his tough-guy veneer, Trump strikes me as a small man who lacks a moral core, and his attitude toward apologies only supports that thesis.
I suspect Trump formed his philosophy on admitting wrongdoing as a real-estate magnate, because it bears some resemblance to a risk manager’s. To him, an apology must lead to more liability. Or maybe it’s a sign of weakness. Or maybe he lacks self-awareness to such a degree that he’s unable to recognize his mistakes. Whichever, I wish he saw it differently.
I wish he saw a good, simple apology the same as a parent offering guidance to a child — it can help ease someone’s pain after you’ve wronged them, and even help mend your own soul.
Richard Fellinger is an author, former journalist, and writing fellow at Elizabethtown College’s Writing Wing.