An international airline with computer troubles was compelled to cancel hundreds of flights for thousands of passengers, but it apologized.
“We apologize to our customers for any inconvenience,” the airline said. It didn’t say, “We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience.” The airline spokesman said, “for any inconvenience,” suggesting the weasel-worded possibility that none of the thousands of passengers was inconvenienced by being delayed for hours.
You hear such wobbly, half-sincere apologies constantly in business and in politics. Especially in politics. It’s usually something like, “If I have offended anyone by calling the senator a typical California nut job, I apologize.”
That is not an unqualified apology. It is an attempt to shift some of the blame to the hyper-sensitivity of Californians who are so unreasonable as to resent being categorized as nut jobs.
The magic word is “if” – “if I have offended anyone.”
Of course, you have offended someone, you twit. You have suggested that all Californians are nut jobs. And some of them aren’t.
To spot the insincerity of a public apology, look for the weasel words. For instance, “I apologize to anyone who may have been insulted by my calling the president an admitted lawyer.”
The key words in that alleged apology are “who may have been” – as if nobody would really mind being called an admitted lawyer.
And speaking of the president (who is, in fact, a lawyer and might as well admit it), he was recently required to issue an apology. He was praising Attorney General California Kamala Harris, (who is also an admitted lawyer), for her intelligence and toughness. And then he went a compliment too far in an era of gender equality. He said she is also the most attractive attorney general in the nation.
His inner college boy escaped for a moment.
The incident carries mixed messages. For instance, deep down, few among us mind being told we are good looking. (I know I never tire of it.) But we have not yet come so far as to dare dwell on the undeniable appearance of the best-looking attorney general in America.
That does tend to suggest that there is more to what some admitted male lawyers like about admitted female lawyers than their briefs.
So the president picked up the phone and apologized to the best-looking attorney general in America. He did that because he was chagrined and probably because the first lady (also an admitted lawyer) had given him a few sharp jabs with her attractive elbows.
Timid, half-baked apologies defeat the purpose and the effectiveness of an apology. If you put your foot in your mouth, which is more likely to get you out of trouble?
“If I might possibly have offended anyone by calling the AARP a gang of washed-up spongers on the public purse, then I am inclined to apologize.”
“I apologize for saying such a stupid thing about the elderly. I was wrong, wrong, wrong!”
This is another example of how often in politics and in business the right thing and the smart thing are the same thing.
After all, public apologies are a variation on what most people learned in their childhood. You get in more trouble with your parents for lying about stealing a cookie than you do for stealing the cookie, especially when you have crumbs on your shirt while denying what you did.
Politicians get in more trouble with the voters for lying about accepting graft than they do for the bribe itself. Bribes also tend to leave crumbs on your shirt, even if you are an admitted lawyer.Bill Hall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501