Our mayor, Sam Katz, is in hot water for making idiotic, sexist statements at a ceremony meant to honour our city’s Olympic champions, who all happen to be female. He made a variety of comments, calling them “beautiful girls” and “special ladies”, but the one that tops them all off is when, standing on the stage with them, he said he felt like Hugh Hefner. Now, I don’t think I have to explain why that is completely inappropriate, patronizing, and sexist.
What really bugs me though, is the fact that Katz won’t apologize for his statements. He says that people should just “get over it”. Clearly, he hasn’t tried to understand how patronizing his comments sounded. To compare gifted athletes to playboy bunnies is just… well, I hardly have the words to say how idiotic it is.
Getting back to my point though, sometimes an apology can be a powerful thing. If Katz owned up to his mistake, accepted the criticism, and made a public apology to the athletes and to all women in this city (especially those young girls in the crowd who showed up to see their athletic heroes, and had to be subjected to one more example of sexism), I suspect that most women would be much quicker to “get over it”. As it is now, there are people calling for his resignation. I guess next time you should think twice about revealing your fantasy of lounging in a bathrobe next to a pool full of buxom babes, Mr. Katz.
I read a couple of things lately that reminded me of the power of an apology. First of all, I read Don Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. At one point, he was one of only a handful of Christians on a very secular campus. There was a big annual party planned for the campus, and that party was known for its extreme hedonism and “anything goes” atmosphere. The group of Christian students were contemplating what they should do during the party, and Don, rather jokingly, said they should put up a confessional in the middle of the campus. Much to Don’s horror, one of his friends took him seriously, and went with the idea. But he had a different twist on it – instead of taking confession from party goers, when people entered the booth the CHRISTIANS would be the ones to make confession. So they did it. When people showed up, they apologized for many of the past and current sins of Christianity – judgementalism, racism, sexism, causing wars, etc. – and they apologized for their own sins too. Wow. Powerful stuff.
Another thing I read was a piece about Tom Fox, the member of the Christian Peacemaker Teams who was executed in Iraq. Once, at a meeting of the Langley Hill Friends, Tom Fox was asked, “What do you think the U.S. should do? (about Iraq)” He was quiet for a moment and then said, “I think we should apologize.” Again – a powerful thought – the superpowers of the world apologizing to the people they’d bullied. Can you imagine George Bush walking into the home of an Iraqi peasant family who’d lost their children and their livelihood to the American invasion and said, simply, “I’m sorry”?
In a twelve step program, one of the steps is to make an account of the wrongs you’ve done, and another one is to make amends where appropriate. Without following these steps, they believe that you can’t fully overcome your compulsive, damaging behaviour. An apology is not only powerful for the person receiving it, but for the person humble enough to give it.
Apologizing can be the hardest thing in the world to do, but it can also be the most beautiful. I’m not very good at it, I confess. I spend a lot of time trying to justify my own actions rather than own up to them and apologize for them. I wish I were better, but pride gets in the way. Plus I think empty apologies can be more damaging than none, so I’m reluctant to do something unless I really mean it.
Sometimes, I’ve gotten it right, though, and most of the time, the rewards outweigh the pain. More than once, I’ve apologized to friends or family, and found that by doing so, it deepened my relationship with them, and brought us to a new place of honesty. Once I had to learn a hard lesson in apology. I was speaking in church about relationships, and I knew that I couldn’t stand up in front of people and be honest if I didn’t resolve one of the relationships in my life that had gone wrong. I made a very difficult decision to phone a friend I hadn’t spoken to in ten years and I apologized for my part in the dismantling of our relationship. I hated it, but I’m glad I did it. She said she was blown away by my call. She responded with her own apology.
I’m trying to get better at it especially in my marriage and my home. It’s especially hard to apologize to my children, but it’s probably the best example I can give them.
If only Sam Katz would recognize the power of a genuine apology, I think he’d be a better mayor. I’m afraid it’s too late though. Anything he does now will only be seen as a political back-step.