In these last few months of 2017, we have endured a number of apology inducing news stories. Herds of influencers, politicians and celebrities have bombarded us with their iPhone notes apologies, and we have struggled to accept them. However, the news seems to be getting worse, while the apologies maintain a consistent level of trained and scripted sincerity. But in this new age of vigilant political correctness, how do we know that we’re getting it right when it comes to the protocols of apologizing?
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Know what you’re apologizing for.
Frequently, when people in positions of power or influence have “effed up,” they traditionally put out a general apology templet. It goes a little something like this:
Dear fanbase/general public/people who give me their money,
Over the past few (measurement of time) you’ve been bullying me online, and my publicist keeps emailing me about it. I now realize that I am receiving/am going to receive less of your money and support, and that worries me and makes me sad. So for all the people reading this on your television, as it is being broadcasted on all news outlets, I just want you to know:
I hear you.
I have had time to reflect on my actions while in my private car to an expensive restaurant, and I now realize that there is no way to get out of this. I have exhausted all of my token minority friends on the subject to gage how long you all should be mad at me. That did not go well. So I will tell you that I’ve learned my lesson, and in the future I will try to not let you find out that I’m still being the worst. I would like to remind you that I am a person who makes mistakes, in hopes that that will invalidate your anger and cause you to feel bad. Please accept this apology that my assistant wrote, and start supporting me again with your money (and stop bullying me on Twitter).
Quote from a person prevalent to the community I offended. Or…like…Mother Teresa.
The problem with the template is its existence. The notion that all issues are the same and that we can generate a statement that serves every need is atrocious. What we need most is for someone to accept responsibility for their actions and to know that they know exactly what they did wrong. We need to know they’re on the same page. So if you, people in various positions of power or influence, don’t actually care, or you haven’t learned your lesson, don’t apologize. You’ll inevitably do it again.
2. We’re not as dumb as you think we are.
Willam Belli, popular drag queen and actor who has been cast in many shows as a trans person, made some questionable comments on his Fullscreen show Suck Less. The show and namesake of his recent book is a weekly call-in video series where Willam gives advice (often to children) on an array of topics such as relationships, making friends and fellatio.
On a recent episode with his friend, the genderqueer drag queen Courtney Act, one fan emailed asking for some advice on what to do about their boyfriend who they recently discovered was trans. As Courtney tried to answer the question after saying that she could probably give a more “helpful” and “less transphobic” answer, Willam made some statements to prove just that. Some of his statements included “just because someone says they’re a boy doesn’t make them a boy,” as well as “if they haven’t had the science yet they ain’t a boy” and other wildly transphobic hate speech.
When the episode aired, Willam became a target of some Twitter hate from users that did not approve of the things he had said on the show, and he thought an apology was in order. After arguing with fans, trans people and other 13-year-olds that give him money, Willam finally apologized in a video posted to his channel.
The video consisted of all of his friends that have known him for years including his AAA bandmates Courtney and Alaska going through clips from the show and telling him which parts were wrong and why, while Willam sat wide-eyed and dumbfounded at all of the new information. At the end of the video, Willam spoke to his friends on the phone and apologized for his comments about the community he is a part of. He also promised (with gusto) that he would take responsibility for his actions and be more careful with what he said to his fan base that he — prior to apologizing — knew nothing about.
Here’s the problem with Willam’s apology and apologies like it:
We, and the internet, were not born yesterday or far out of your reach. We live in a time where the information available to provide us with correct language and conduct is right in the palm of our hands. Communities are growing, views are changing and there are more think pieces (including this one) than one could need or care to find. There is no excuse for being misinformed, especially if you are in a position where you do not have to worry about your bills and most information is just handed to you by way of proximity. If we know, you should know.
Most people can agree that this is sometimes taken to the extreme, and it is impossible to know everything. But there is no excuse for being completely out of the loop, and likewise, it is impossible to not be in a place where you are not aware of human decency and politeness. Having trouble understanding the whirlwind that is this new wave of exploration is OK; choosing to be ignorant is not.
3. It’s not that hard to not be terrible.
As Kayla Chadwick said in an article on Huffington Post, “Our disagreement is not merely political, but a fundamental divide on what it means to live in a society, how to be a good person and why any of that matters.” When it comes down to it, we have a responsibility to take care of each other in whatever way we can. We are taught when we’re young to be nice to our neighbors and treat each other how we would like to be treated. It’s really not that hard to be nice to people. If someone is not hurting or bothering you, you have no right to. It comes down to the basic human emotion of empathy.
We as a people need to grow up, stop thinking only of ourselves and realize that there are other people on this earth that are different from us, and that is OK.
That is the only way we can truly be sincere with each other and not continue to make the same mistakes over and over again until everyone is gone.
4. Give us time.
Just because you’ve apologized, it doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten everything. Many times, after someone has done something terrible, the public that called them out on it becomes the enemy. Almost immediately after we get an apology, we also are bombarded with “give them a break!” posts and the pressure to fix the “too sensitive” world. We need not only to give time to learn, but time for us to heal. No matter the severity of an action, there is still an effect. And no matter how much the person may have grown, it is naive to think that what they have done will be forgotten.
We need to fall out of the routine of fake sincerity and thinking that by just going through the motions we have done enough. It is detrimental to our society and any chance we have of growing and improving.
So no, your apology is not enough, and you know that.