09.30.13 By Lauren
I’m thrilled to announce that a new edition of my book, Art of the Apology, will be released by Fine & Kahn Publishing in January. In anticipation of the new edition, we’ve set up an author site where you can watch videos, follow me on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads, get updated on my speaking and book signing engagements and, of course, continue to read my blog. Here’s the new site:
I’ll keep this page up for a few more weeks to make it easy for my readers to transition. Many thanks to everyone who’s visited and commented on this blog over the years. I look forward to our future conversations!
09.27.13 By Lauren
Italian pasta maker Barilla Company is suddenly in as much hot water as its popular spaghetti. The company’s chairman, Guido Barilla, sparked outrage among gay rights activists, consumers and some Italian politicians when he stated in a radio interview on Wednesday that he would not consider using a gay family to advertise Barilla pasta. News reports quote Mr. Barilla as saying that, “for us, the concept of the sacred family remains one of the basic values of the company. I would not do it but not out of a lack of respect for homosexuals who have the right to do what they want without bothering others … [but] I think the family that we speak to is a classic family.”
Candidly, I think Mr. Barilla is a troglodyte. Nonetheless, he has a right to his opinions, however antiquated and silly, and he deserves some credit for admitting when challenged that people who don’t share his bigoted point of view will probably buy their pasta from somebody else. He’s right on that score – efforts to boycott Barilla pasta are in full swing, and I fully intend to join them.
Still, I owe Mr. Barilla my thanks for presenting me with a profoundly teachable moment. Recognizing belatedly that his comments might not be met with universal enthusiasm, the pasta king reportedly tried to apologize by saying, ”I apologize if my words generated misunderstandings or arguments, or if they offended the sensibilities of some people.”
Gee, Mr. Barilla, what was your first clue?
An apology that’s loaded up with “ifs” is nothing if not conditional, and is bound to fail. Of course people were offended – they wouldn’t be organizing an international pasta boycott if they weren’t. It’s time for Mr. Barilla just to say “spiacente” – that’s “sorry” for all you English speakers – and hush up while his company’s PR team cleans up his marinara’ed mess.
09.25.13 By Lauren
Last week’s shooting at the D.C. Navy Yard has raised a whole lot of questions – again – about how to keep workers safe from colleagues who “go postal.” According to news reports, the alleged shooter, Aaron Alexis, had a history of mental illness, gun violence and encounters with police that somehow was never fully disclosed. Despite his problems, Alexis was able to get a secret clearance that permitted him to work as a contractor for the Navy. With that clearance, he was able to bring a shotgun to work and kill twelve people before he himself was shot down.
In my view, the most heartbreaking part of this sad episode is that plenty of people knew that Alexis was troubled, and he himself supposedly asked for psychological help that he didn’t receive. I’m not questioning how his problems went unreported; the second-guessing on that will go on in other venues for many months to come. Instead, I’m wrestling with a different question. How can employers ethically deal with potentially dangerous employees without unfairly discriminating against them?
Full disclosure: I’ve had several close friends and business associates over the years, all indisputably wonderful people, who struggled with mental and emotional health issues. It would be a downright disgrace for those folks to be barred from meaningful work simply because someone, somewhere was concerned that they might pose some future threat to co-workers or customers. At the same time, though, other people should have the right to come to work without fearing that their lives might be put at risk by a troubled co-worker with access to a gun.
It seems to me that the best way to avoid future disasters like the Navy Yard shooting may be to make it safer for everyone involved to talk openly about the situation when employees suffer from psychological problems. If someone like Aaron Alexis knows he’ll be unable to find work if he tells the truth about his mental condition, he’ll have every incentive to lie – far better if he could tell the truth and get help without stigma. People who observe co-workers acting oddly should be able to factually report their observations without fear of disbelief or reprisal. Employers should be able to ask employees to submit to evaluation when troubling behaviors are observed without fear of being sued. And, with due apologies to the NRA, guns should be banned from the workplace unless their presence is absolutely essential. It’s time we stopped whispering about mental and emotional illness, and let transparency and compassion guide us instead.
09.19.13 By Lauren
One of the first lessons law schools teach students who want to become litigators is this: never ask a witness a question on the stand unless you already know the answer. President Obama appeared to have forgotten that lesson when he started for a military strike to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for allegedly using chemical weapons against his own people in a deadly attack … last month. Even our closest ally in the region, Great Britain, couldn’t get behind a retaliatory attack on Syria. The U.N. essentially punted, Russia belatedly offered a suggestion to have Syria relinquish its chemical weapons that’s apparently moving forward at the speed of cold molasses. As for Congress and the American people? Let’s just say that our President seems to have overestimated the United States’ collective willingness to serve as the world’s policeman when he expressed a public desire to send al-Assad a stern message.
The weeks of collective international dithering have sent al-Assad a message, all right. Unfortunately, that message seems to be that the world really doesn’t care if al-Assad gasses his own people. Actually, that may not be entirely fair — as a friend more precisely put it, “we’d rather he didn’t, but don’t care enough to do anything about it.”
To be candid, I don’t love the idea of attacking Syria for a variety of reasons. Warfare seems to me to be a pretty uncivilized way of solving problems, we’d risk inflicting harm on blameless people who are already under fire, the U.S. military is already stretched to the breaking point and, to hear the politicians tell it, even if we succeeded in driving al-Assad out of power, whoever replaced him might be even worse. Also, I don’t entirely understand why we’re so eager to punish al-Assad for using chemical weapons but downright laissez faire about his murdering tens of thousands of people by more conventional means and, along the way, converting more than a million innocent children into homeless refugees.
The heartbreaking situation in Syria holds up a mirror to the rest of the world, and the picture it reflects isn’t pretty. If you believe, as I do, that we’re all each other’s keepers, the rest of the world should have intervened to stop the slaughter long ago. I can understand the collective reluctance to intervene militarily in an apparent civil war, but surely there’s something else that could have been done. To my mind, one of the most fundamental ethical principles is that the strong should do their utmost to protect the weak. That principle is violated when we see the citizens of Syria brutally slaughtered by their putatitve leader and elect to do nothing.
09.04.13 By Lauren
It’s fashionable these days to treat ethical principles as somewhat debatable, dependent on circumstances and personal proclivities. As someone who thinks and writes about ethics, I’ll admit that situations that present conflicting values can sometimes be somewhat ambiguous. However, there are certain ethical principles that, in my opinion, have to be upheld in any remotely civilized society. One of those principles is that children should be protected, never violated, by the adult authority figures in their lives.
Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh savaged that principle when he sentenced a former high school teacher to a mere thirty days in jail for repeatedly having sex with a troubled fourteen-year-old student. (The girl’s mother testified at trial that the rape was a major factor in her daughter’s subsequent suicide.) The judge compounded his horrendous mistake when he indulged in gratuitious observations that the relationship between the then-48-year-old teacher and his underage victim “wasn’t this forcible, beat-up rape,” opining that the child in question was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as her teacher. So perhaps it should come as a surprise to no one that Judge Baugh’s so-called “apology” for his appalling comments was self-serving, inarticulate and clearly delivered without so much as a hint of remorse. Someone must have told him to apologize – he certainly doesn’t seem himself to appreciate how horribly he’s behaved.
Judge Baugh’s actions – blaming a child for being molested by a teacher, then punishing the perpetrator with a sentence so short that it can’t even be called a slap on the wrist – reflect the worst judicial judgment I have ever seen in more than twenty years of practicing law. He reportedly continues to defend his decision, saying that he intends to file an addendum to his decision to “hopefully better explain the sentence.” He might as well save his time and ink. There is absolutely nothing he could say that could justify making light of a teacher’s sexual abuse of a minor student. The fact that he even thinks such justification possible proves that he doesn’t begin to understand what he did wrong. Without that understanding, his apology is nothing more than a meaningless nod to social convention, patently insincere and positively insulting to the victim of this crime and her family.
Pressure is mounting for Judge Baugh to resign. The sooner he does so, the better. The judge’s bizarre notions about rape and child molestation have no place on the bench, and neither does his apparent prediliction for blaming the victims of horrendous crimes. His decisions betray him, and so does his pitiful attempt to apologize. Until he takes responsibility for his actions and accepts their consequences, no apology he attempts to make should be accepted by anyone.
09.03.13 By Lauren
Before I begin this post, let me confess that Bill O’Reilly has never been one of my favorites. Further, as anyone who’s read this blog more than once knows, our politics couldn’t be much more divergent. Nonetheless, I want to commend him for publicly apologizing after he angrily asserted on camera that “no Republican or conservative was invited” to last week’s 50th anniversary commemoration of Dr. King’s historic march on Washington. Mr. O’Reilly was infuriated by the perceived snub — turns out, he was also wrong.
According to news reports, here’s what really happened. All of the former Presidents and every member of Congress were invited to attend. Both presidents Bush sent their regrets for health reasons. Speaker of the House John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor declined to attend, citing scheduling conflicts - Rep. Cantor reportedly had a meeting with oil lobbyists, and Speaker Boehner was scheduled to address a Congressional event. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Senator John McCain also declined, though I don’t know why, and I haven’t yet learned why other Republican Senators and Members of Congress decided not to participate. (It was raining, after all, but still … )
One can’t really blame Mr. O’Reilly for jumping to the erroneous conclusion that his side of the aisle had been intentionally excluded from the ceremony. After all, wouldn’t you expect every political leader in Washington to make that historic celebration a top priority? At a time when the GOP is reportedly scrambling to woo minority voters, it’s mind-boggling that nobody bothered to show up at such an important event. Maybe each and every Republican member of Congress independently decided not to attend, but their collective absence certainly sends a hurtful and unfortunate message to any American voter who cares about justice and social equality.
“The mistake? Entirely on me,” Mr. O’Reilly said, adding “I simply assumed … Republicans were excluded.” While Mr. O’Reilly did, in fact, make a mistaken assumption, it seems to me that the mistake was far less his than it was an enormous Republican blunder. It was gracious of Mr. O’Reilly to apologize for his mistake. Now, let’s see how long it takes the Republican leadership to apologize for theirs.
08.28.13 By Lauren
Fifty years ago today, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered one of the most famous speeches in history. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Dr. King galvanized an audience of almost a quarter of a million people with his dream of a just and united America. Fifty years later, his words remain as important and relevant, his dream as beautiful and poignant, as they were then.
I wonder, though, if we haven’t become too cynical as a society to really appreciate the value of a dream. Self-reliance has always been an important element of our national character, but I sometimes think we’ve gone so far toward requiring everyone to be completely self-sufficient that we’ve lost sight of the simple fact that people do better together than they do alone. For that matter, we’ve become so certain that the sole purpose of business is to raise money that I often think we’ve forgotten that the primary purposes of business include first, providing trustworthy goods and services to customers and, second, giving paid employment to qualified workers, allowing them to live with dignity and self-respect. Yes, businesses should make reasonable profits, but not at the expense of their workers, their clientele or their communities.
Dr. King had a dream, and so do I. My dream is that, someday soon, American companies will wake up to the fact that they’ll be more successful if their customers can safely depend on them. They’ll understand that honesty, transparency and reliability are better drivers of lasting success than quarterly profitability. They’ll acknowledge that their employees are more than just easily replaced “human resources,” and that efficiency and profitability need to be balanced against fairness and human dignity. They’ll recognize that the Earth’s resources, while bountiful, aren’t infinite, and redesign their business models to be more ecologically responsible. They’ll respect the idea that power comes with responsibility, and that the privilege of doing business in a community should be earned by good corporate citizenship and contribution to the greater good. Finally, it’s my deepest dream that American business will put aside the self-seeking avarice that has done so much damage to people around the world, recognizng that greed isn’t good and that we profit best when no one is excluded from the American dream.
Dream on, America – dream on.
08.26.13 By Lauren
It’s been a couple of weeks now since Oprah Winfrey made headlines when a salesclerk in Switzerland reportedly refused to show her an uber-expensive handbag. The immediate supposition, widely reported in the press, was that the clerk didn’t recognize her famous customer and assumed that a woman of color couldn’t afford such a pricey accessory. The clerk’s gaffe sparked a media whirlwind, becoming such a ruckus that the government of Switzerland formally apologized to Ms. Winfrey. Never one to pass up a teachable moment (one of her best qualities, in my opinion), Ms. Winfrey used the incident to speak publicly about how hurtful racism has always been to her. She also graciously went on record saying that she hadn’t wanted the incident to become such a fuss and that no apology was really necessary.
It’s taken me this long to write about the handbag debacle because the whole situation strikes me as more complicated than it initially seemed. For one thing, the salesclerk asserts that she didn’t actually refuse to show Ms. Winfrey the bag, nor was she motivated by racism. The clerk says she simply thought the bag was ridiculously expensive (and at $38,000, I’m inclined to agree with her) and that some of the shop’s other merchandise was a better deal. English not being her first language, she says she didn’t explain herself well, and she might just be telling the truth. Then, there’s the public apology from the Swiss government. Nothing is more vile than racism, but I can’t help wondering whether the government would have scrambled so fast to apologize to a non-celebrity who’d suffered a similar insult. I’d love to believe otherwise, but experience suggests that Ms. Winfrey received the apology not because the Swiss government was mortified so much as because she’s one of the biggest names on the planet and someone that even national governments fear to offend.
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s historic march on Washington, I think there is, indeed an apology owed, but not by the Swiss government. Had Oprah Winfrey not grown up in a nation with a shameful history of racism, she wouldn’t have been predisposed to wonder if the salesclerk was a bigot, and neither would we. It’s been four years since the U.S. Congress passed a resolution apologizing for slavery (one that disclaimed liability for damages, so just how sincere was it?), but no one in the U.S. government has ever apologized, to my knowledge, for the institutional discrimination that black Americans have suffered for centuries and continue to suffer today. Yes, we’ve made progress in some respects, but we still have a long way to go. When that apology issues, it’ll truly be time to rejoice.
07.25.13 By Lauren
Frequent readers of this blog know I’m not a big fan of the fitness and weight loss industry. Business ethics are my “thing,” after all, and I think one of the most fundamental elements of ethics in business is to provide products that actually produce results. For some reason, however, weight loss and fitness companies seem to consider themselves immune from that basic obligation, content to promise the moon while undercutting those promises in print so fine an ant couldn’t read it even as they charge desperate customers billions of dollars for products that work less often than not.
That’s why I was particularly interested in Andrew Dixon’s blog, “Seduced by the Illusion: The Truth About Transformation Photos” in the Huffington Post today. Mr. Dixon, a certified personal trainer, decided to see for himself whether those ”before and after” shots in the weight loss ads were valid. With a few lighting adjustments and a little flexing, Mr. Dixon was able to pose for pictures that made him look as if he’d lost a lot of weight and rebuilt his physique. Interestingly, though, the pictures were taken in only an hour or so, meaning that Mr. Dixon had experienced no physical transformation at all.
Andrew Dixon’s experiment doesn’t prove that all of the “before and after” shots in weight loss and fitness ads are bogus, but it certainly demonstrates that they could be. Personally, I have to question the ethics of any company that sells a product by using photos that purport to show amazing results while cautioning that those results aren’t “typical” when the product is used as intended. Obesity is a growing health concern in this country, and people who struggle with their weight deserve real help. They don’t deserve to have their problems compounded by manipulative ads featuring false promises and deceptive photographs.
To read Andrew Dixon’s blog, click http://www.huffingtonpost.com/andrew-dixon/weight-loss-secrets_b_3643898.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular.
07.24.13 By Lauren
Every once in a while, life surpasses art in its ability to generate disbelieving laughter. When former Congressman Anthony Weiner resigned from his post two years ago over a “sexting” incident, late night comedians went wild with glee, generating one unfortunate pun on his last name after another. Nonetheless, Weiner apologized to his constituents, left the public stage promising to seek treatment and change his behavior, and might reasonably have been expected never to be heard from again.
Not so fast, folks.
Anthony Weiner recently announced his candidacy for Mayor of New York, apparently convinced that he’d stayed on the sidelines long enough for people to forget what drove him from office in the first place (not likely in this Internet age, but one has to admire his optimism). It seemed that New Yorkers might be open-minded enough to give him another chance, at least until yesterday. Word leaked out that the former Congressman had continued to send sexual images and texts to women for more than a year after his resignation from Congress. His long-suffering and astonishingly tolerant wife claims to have forgiven him. The question remains, though, whether New York voters will do the same.
Personally, I doubt it. For an apology to succeed it has to be sincere, and nothing undercuts the sincerity of an apology like blatant disingenuousness paired with the failure to do better thereafter. When he resigned in disgrace the first time, Anthony Weiner led voters to believe that he was done with “sexting” and would get professional help, but then continued his nasty ways. He subsequently presented himself back to the public as if he’d immediately cleaned up his act when, apparently, that wasn’t true. Even as he tries to apologize yet again, New Yorkers will have every reason to doubt his sincerity, question his integrity, and pick a more credible candidate for Mayor. You should have told the whole truth the first time, Mr. Weiner – it would have made you a whole lot more trustworthy now.