On why I accepted the apology and on the role of apologies in general

So, Sean Fodera apologized and I accepted it.

In the vein of continuing to use this experience as a representative example, I’m going to address things I’ve seen floating around the internet.

“Why would you accept it?”

I think he was sincere.

If it had been a fauxpology, then, no. But, again, I think it was sincere. Was it a perfect apology? Well… no. But if you’re grading apologies on their technical merit, then there are very, very few perfect apologies. It’s like getting a perfect score in figure-skating. Sometimes, people try to apologize and trip over the same things, even though they are totally sincere about the apology.

“There was still [problematic language/defensiveness/points missed].”

It is hard to step back. Expecting someone to step back from a mistake, magically learn everything about the issue before they apologize — including high level discussion about embedded societal problems — incorporate all of that, and admit fault without screwing something up, is unrealistic. My mentor back in my puppetry days used to say, shoot for 100%, learn to be happy with 80%. His point was that it’s easy to beat yourself up about the things you got wrong. But 80% right? That’s still good. So what I look for in an apology is the direction it indicates. Did the person step back from the mistake, even if it’s not 100% back? Then good.

The other thing is that, if the topic is controversial and highly visible, there are probably people who are quietly emailing the person and saying, “Hey. Sorry they bullied you into apologizing,” or actively angry that the apology happened.

So what happens is that the person who screwed up gets slammed by both sides. Now, you might say, “Good. They screwed up.” But…

But there’s this thing I talk to my writing students about. Every line  exists to drive the narrative and shape the audience experience. So when an apology is offered, what narrative do I want to participate in? The one where the step back is a first step or the one where the person is so burned they never participate again?  Thank you, I’ll take the first step.

And that means accepting the apology.

 

“But he was forced to make the apology.”

We don’t actually know that, but for the sake of argument, let’s say that he was. There are many, many different forms a wake-up call can take. It does not matter if that call takes the form of the HR department sitting you down, or the internet falling on your head, or your best friend taking you out to drinks and saying, “Dude, WTF?” What matters is that the wakeup calls comes and you step back from the mistake.

I mean…what you want next is a lot of introspection and learning, but the first thing is that step back. Mistakes like this has been the crux point for a lot of people, where they’ve taken the first step into becoming an informed ally. More importantly, there are people watching this who have probably made the exact same mistake, just not so visibly. It’d be unfortunate if one of the things they learned was that apologizing is pointless.

Now, this isn’t to say that people shouldn’t have conversation about problems with an apology. Particularly when it involves something that is really deeply embedded in the societal structure.  Those conversations should absolutely occur, because that’s the way we unpack the problems, so the next person who screws up doesn’t have so far back to step.

And you know that there will be a next person. So refer back to this representative example the next time something happens and look at how we shaped the narrative from here.

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19 Responses

  1. JT the Girl (@Jalyth)

    I really really like this. I believe that too often apologies go ignored or unaccepted, and that public forgiveness should be more of a thing. Speaking generally here, I have only just heard of the two of you (but checking out a book of yours, too, sounds up my alley).

  2. Sally

    That is indeed a gracious apology, providing reasons without trying to use them as excuses. Perhaps he should give seminars to politicians and pundits who specialize in the non-pology. I do think it was incomplete, but what it covered was completely covered.

    You come out of this (as usual) looking like the bigger, better person.

    (I don’t care what his lawyer buddies say, he really doesn’t have a case against the Daily Dot. In the US, you can’t libel someone if all you do is quote them accurately. If he and TDD were in Britain, sure, but he’s not. I’m glad he’s smart enough not to waste all that time and money.)

  3. momk

    From a very long distance, it appears the ‘attack’ was simply generated by ENVY, which sin is a back handed complement in a way.

  4. JDF

    I just think it’s sad that, two years after you left your SFWA position, you are still some folks’ bête noire. Though it does serve as a backhanded compliment about your effectiveness in bringing change.

  5. Jeff S.

    I would hope that more people take your response to this apology as a “representative example” of we all should do in a similar situation.

    I read the apology as a sincerely good effort wherever it was generated from. I have been on both ends of the “Dude WTF” conversation and hope that I recognize when it’s needed both giving and taking.

    NIce thoughts on an unpleasant situation and how to resolve the loose ends.

    My daughter pointed out that not forgiving or accepting an apology lets the incident live rent free in your brain and rot it. I don’t know if it’s original to her or attribution if it’s not but it makes sense to me.

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