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On apologizing for your mistakes

December 8, 2009

Let me start off with an analogy. Of course, like most analogies, this is a carefully constructed analogy to get you to agree with me. *evil laugh* that’s the power of being the one doing the writing. I do think it’s apt though.
Say we’re walking along and I step on your foot. You say "OW" and limp a step. I don’t apologize.
Wouldn’t you be upset with me? I hurt you, you made me aware of that by saying "ow", and I didn’t apologize. So say you call me out on it. My response: "I didn’t mean to. I was distracted by a bird. But since I didn’t mean to I shouldn’t have to apologize."
Well….no. I still hurt you. But lets say I’m more of a twit. "I didn’t mean to, so it shouldn’t hurt you. It shouldn’t count as pain because my intention was not to step on you."
Well now instead of my being rude, I’m being crazy. Of course it still hurts. And I am no judge of how much pain it caused you…I’m not you.
But lets make it a step worse. Actually several steps worse. Instead of saying "OW", what you said was this "OMW OWWWW! I have a giant cut on my foot because I got stepped on by someone wearing knife shoes yesterday and you just split that open!" And I tell you it didn’t hurt because I didn’t mean for it to hurt you. And then tomorrow we go walking again and I step on your foot again. And still refuse to apologize or acknowledge the pain I’ve caused you.
Aren’t I an ass? At this point I’m aware that you’re foot is particularly sensative. Any decent person would have apologize in the first place, and of course I should try to be careful the next day because I know you have a cut. What a jerk I am. But, to be clear, knowing you have a cut on your foot shouldn’t really change my behavior. I ought to not step on people’s feet all the time anyway. That’s just basic courtesy.

So where am I going with this?

When something happens that insults people, particularly advocates for marginalized groups like women or blacks, those insulted are called hysterical and hypersensitive if they, you know, respond. When someone does something that is racist, even if they have the best of intentions, if they are called out on it then the minority (or their white advocate) is accused of *gasp* looking for racism. Same with sexism. As if you have to look for sexism (or racism, for that matter). As if sexism isn’t blatantly present in our lives, our tv, our politics, and our jobs.
You know what you can do? Apologize for your mistakes. Not "I’m sorry you were insulted", but "I’m sorry I said something that hurt you. I did not intend it to be that way, but I will try better in the future to not say such things." It’s really not that hard. I’m looking at you, Mark Shuttleworth, I’m looking at you Motorola/Verizion, and as of today, I’m looking at you, AdAge.
I understand that at least some of these people weren’t trying to be asshats. Well, the AdAge people maybe were. But I will totally give Mark Shuttleworth the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t intend to insult me. Thing is, he did. And people do every day. These comments are made, these ads are aired, every day. Lack of intent does not erase an insult. If I step on your foot, I should apologize, even if I didn’t step on your foot. In fact, wouldn’t you think that I’d be more likely to apologize if I didn’t mean to? If I intended to step on your foot, why would I be sorry? A person who is actually honestly working for women (or any other un-privileged group) will be sorry that they hurt women, no matter the intent. I don’t hate people who accidentally say sexist stuff. If I did, I wouldn’t have any friends and would hate myself. Shit happens; that’s the culture we have today. I don’t hate people who say it. I hate people who deny it when it’s pointed out, and then insult me again by accusing me of being hysterical or over-sensitive. I hate people who refuse to grow, to admit they could be wrong and attempt to change. Those are people that I really start to mistrust; those are companies who I think twice before buying from.

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