« Context

Sprinting with Jane »

What happened to saying "I’m sorry", and meaning it when you’re wrong?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who remembers being young and doing something wrong and having my parents say, "Say you’re sorry."

More than once, I responded by setting my jaw and saying "I’m sorry" in such a way that it was clear to everyone that the only thing I was sorry about was that I had to say those stupid words to the stupid person who was really wrong.

There are people who grow up to give the adult version of that apology. When they offend someone they don't pause to empathize with the offended party. They say something like, "I’m sorry you feel that way." They're sorry that the person they offended was so stupid as to be offended by something that was clearly not offensive.

I try to step back and see things through the eyes of the other person.

I don't always succeed.

Even when I don't succeed I can stop to truly feel sorry. I don't say "I’m sorry" unless I really am. I say "I’m sorry a lot."

All of this came up when an online friend of mine tweeted how impressed he was with Brad Stone's apology in Responding to MacKenzie Bezos's One-Star Slapdown. My friend wrote that the article "is a great example for accepting criticism."

I don’t think so. I think Mr. Stone’s article is damage control rather than response.

Let's skip down to the fourth paragraph where Stone writes, "Mrs. Bezos also suggests that there are a handful of factual errors in my account."

That wasn't at all what Mrs. Bezos said. She didn't suggest that there are a handful of errors, she said " Everywhere I can fact check from personal knowledge, I find way too many inaccuracies, and unfortunately that casts doubt over every episode in the book."

Now, to be fair to Mr. Stone, how do you respond to that?

Mrs. Bezos says "I have firsthand knowledge of many of the events. I worked for Jeff (Bezos) at D. E. Shaw, I was there when he wrote the business plan, and I worked with him and many others represented in the converted garage, the basement warehouse closet, the barbecue-scented offices, the Christmas-rush distribution centers, and the door-desk filled conference rooms in the early years of Amazon’s history. Jeff and I have been married for 20 years."

In other words, she was there since before the beginning and says that Stone's book is filled with inaccuracies.

I can't know who's right. I know that Mr. Stone's second paragraph characterizes Mrs. Bezos in such a way that we are encouraged to minimize her complaints. Stone writes "Bezos said that he married MacKenzie after searching for someone tenacious resourceful enough to break him out of a Third World prison. By that standard, I got off easy."(sic)."

There was a night that my wife came home to find our six year old Maggie sitting on the stairs in time out. She'd been there for over an hour. "What's wrong?", Kim asked.

"Dad told me not to come out of time out until I say I'm sorry," Maggie sniffed. "I can say it. I just wouldn't mean it."

I wish Mr. Stone had the understanding of what is required in a genuine apology as my daughter did in first grade.