Friday, March 30, 2012

Apologies


"I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right and I was wrong."
  
                                                                      Abraham Lincoln
                                                                      1809-1865
                                                                      United States President

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After 10 and 15 years, I’m still embarrassed about some of the statements I made to my children in the heat of an argument. Unable to say “I was wrong to yell at you,” I resorted to hotly retorting “I’m sorry I yelled, but you made me so mad when you (fill in the blank)” or “I’m sorry if you were offended” or “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Often, I stomped out of the room and sometimes, I avoided the other party for several hours after the explosion. I know there were many times I didn’t ask for forgiveness nor did I promise to change my behavior or ask how I could make it right.

These are not some of my proud-mama memories.


I’ve been thinking about the act of apologizing for about a month, ever since I ran across the Abraham Lincoln quote. Then, two weeks ago, I listened to an episode of This American Life that was dedicated to the errors the radio show’s producers had uncovered in a previous episode about Apple factories in China, and their subsequent retraction of that particular episode.

The retracted show included a theatrical performance by Mike Daisey (The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs), which he performed to 200 audiences in 18 cities. The second show is a fascinating, albeit heated, exploration of how fiction is used to reveal truth and the distinctions between art and journalism, and a storyteller and a reporter. You can learn more about the first show here and the retraction show here.

Daisey posted an apology on his website. He individually addresses his audiences, his theatre colleagues, journalists, and human rights advocates and ends with this:
I speak about truth because it is what I aspire to. All my stories, even when I’ve fallen short, have been attempts to experience the truth with my audiences.
I am sorry for where I have failed. I will look closer, be more patient, and listen more clearly.
I will be humble before the work.
There’s a difference between regret and remorse -- between a simple statement that apologizes for the consequences of a behavior and the deeper, more personal message that owns up to the mistake and offers to make amends. It’s easy to hear the difference; it’s takes a concentrated effort to be the difference.

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About Abraham Lincoln
Between the time he was elected President (November 6, 1860) and the time he was inaugurated (March 4, 1861), seven states had broken away from the United States and fighting had begun. The Civil War ended six days before he was assassinated.

The quote, above, is taken from a letter he wrote to Ulysses S. Grant on July 13, 1863, congratulating him on the capture of Vicksburg. The full text is: 
I do not remember that you and I have ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did – march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transport and thus go below; and I never had any faith except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo-Pass expedition and the like could succeed. When you got below, and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward, East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right and I was wrong.
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