apologies

Everyone Apologizes, Even Mister Rogers

In my new book, In the Altogether, I spend a chapter looking at situations we all find ourselves in that require vulnerability. Some times they conversation around the topic can be too general and vague so I wanted to zoom in get specific.

Here are the 5 common vulnerable moments: being wrong, apologizing, confrontation, when it feels like your life is falling apart, and sharing your dreams for the future.

Everyone is wrong some times, everyone has moments where they need to confront someone, everyone faces tragedies, everyone thinks about their future, and everyone needs to apologize from time to time…EVEN MISTER ROGERS!

I love this clip I found the other day of Mister Rogers describing a time when he felt the need to say I’m sorry. What a relief to know that even Mister Rogers can let his frustrations get the better of him. And what a beautiful encouragement to hear him describe how quickly he realized he was in the wrong and apologize. I want to be more like him.

The Courage to be Wrong

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Being wrong takes courage.

I started reading (with a pencil) Alan Jacobs’ How to Think: A Survival Guide for a World at Odds. I’m only two chapters in but I’m already buying all of you a copy for Christmas.

We’re not as good at thinking as we think we are. Jacobs says that “many errors in thinking arise from assumptions people don’t know they’re making.” We assume too much. We’ve got biases locked in that we don’t realize are messing things up and we need the courage to confront them. Because, as Jacobs points out, it’s RISKY to think.

 

“Relatively few people want to think. Thinking troubles us; thinking tires us. Thinking can force us out of familiar, comforting habits; thinking can complicate our lives; thinking can set us at odds, or at least complicate relationships, with those we admire or love or follow. Who needs thinking?”

 

Josh Harris is the perfect example of this. In the 90’s, when Harris was only 21 he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye, an incredibly successful book on Christian relationships. It became a number one best seller and influenced the way youth pastors across the country talked about dating.

There were people loved the book but others had really negative experiences with it. Some would reach out and try to explain to Harris how his book hurt them, screwed up their views on relationships, or was used as a weapon against them. Now Harris has a statement on his website about his book and how his opinion on it is changing.

From his statement:

 

“While I stand by my book’s call to sincerely love others, my thinking has changed significantly in the past twenty years. I no longer agree with its central idea that dating should be avoided. I now think dating can be a healthy part of a person developing relationally and learning the qualities that matter most in a partner.”

 

He goes on to make a real apology, owning what he did wrong.

 

“To those who read my book and were misdirected or unhelpfully influenced by it, I am sincerely sorry. I never intended to hurt you. I know this apology doesn’t change anything for you and it’s coming too late, but I want you to hear that I regret any way that my ideas restricted you, hurt you, or gave you a less-than-biblical view of yourself, your sexuality, your relationships, and God.”

 

At first I thought it must have taken a lot of courage to write something like that but now I think the courage came earlier. By the time he got to the point where he felt the need to say something publicly, the momentum from an earlier act of courage was strong enough to carry him along.

Here’s what Harris said in a TEDX Talk called Strong Enough to be Wrong:

 

“But it was so hard for me to face up to being wrong because it felt like I was saying a big part of my life was wrong. I didn’t have the courage to do that. What helped me to begin to let my guard down was a few years ago I stopped being the pastor of a large church and I went back to school. I went to graduate school and I stopped having to be constantly right about everything and defend all these ideas and I just became a student who was a listening.”

 

It took courage to slow down and listen.

NOTE: I don’t think every pastor needs to leave ministry in order to have mindset. I think ultimately the pastor’s role isn’t necessarily “the one with all the answers." Scripture is supposed to stand as the authority figure and the pastor is the first follower, helping the congregation to see the answers and guidance God’s Word gives. I believe a pastor is allowed to be wrong and I think it could be an incredible example for their congregation if a pastor were to get up and apologize during a service.

In that TEDX Talk Harris says “evolution always involves death.” If we want to grow and change we have to let old habits and old ways of thinking die off to make room for the new. That’s what change is.  We need to create a culture that celebrates the courage it takes to question what in your life needs to change. It has to be a culture that allows the space for people to be open and vulnerable enough to evaluate all the things in their life that may need to die.

We’re all wrong about at least one thing. We can’t all be right about everything all the time. So there’s got to be at least one thing you believe that isn’t right.

This isn’t just about political opinions. It could be priorities, how you handle your anger, opinions on relationships, biases about other cultures, theology, and a million other things. We’ve got to be willing to examine these things.

When we belong to a community of people we truly believe care for us and want the best for us, it’ll be easier to have the courage to slow down, listen, evaluate, and be convinced that something needs to change.

Do you have that now? Are you contributing that sense of security to the people in your community?

We need it. Now more than ever.

What is a real apology?

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Up until a few years ago most people thought Domino’s pizza was garbage. The company was losing business, closing stores, and failing fast.

Then they did something risky. They admitted how much they sucked. They ran an ad campaign that basically said “Hey, we know everyone hates our pizza! We know you think the crust tastes like cardboard! We hear you and we’re fixing it. We’ve entirely changed how we make our pizza because we don’t want to suck anymore.”

It worked. Two days after the commercial started airing their sales were already growing. By week three they were running out of pepperoni. IT WAS A HUGE HIT.

Why did this work so well?

Domino’s CEO, J. Patrick Doyle, put it this way:

 
If somebody is going to convince you they’re going to change it has to start with them absolutely owning the problem in the first place.
 

Shout out to the CHANGE AGENT podcast for telling this story about Domino's.

True repentance starts with owning the thing you’re needing to change.

Over the last several months we’ve seen a LOT of men in Hollywood giving some pretty bogus “apologies” for sexual misconduct. They deny, they downplay, they blame the culture, they point fingers. It always feels like their main goal in responding to accusations is to save their own neck.

Except for Dan Harmon, creator of Community and Rick & Morty. Everyone needs to learn from Domino’s and Dan Harmon (this is a weird sentence I never thought I’d write).

In January Harmon was accused of sexually harassing one of his employees while working on Community. He addressed it on his own podcast that week and spent 7 minutes OWNING THE PROBLEM.

Here’s an excerpt:

 
And I lied to myself the entire time about it. And I lost my job. I ruined my show. I betrayed the audience. I destroyed everything and I damaged her internal compass. And I moved on. I’ve never done it before and I will never do it again, but I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it if I had any respect for women. On a fundamental level, I was thinking about them as different creatures. I was thinking about the ones that I liked as having some special role in my life and I did it all by not thinking about it. So, I just want to say, in addition to obviously being sorry, but that’s really not the important thing, I want to say I did it by not thinking about it and I got away with it by not thinking about it. And if she hadn’t mentioned something on Twitter, I would have continued to not have to not think about it, although I did walk around with my stomach in knots about it, but I wouldn’t have had to talk about it.
 

Read the whole thing here

It was a real apology. It wasn’t a PR move. And it was effective. After listening to the episode, the writer who accused him tweeted:

His apology brought healing and change because of Dan Harmon chose to be vulnerable.

Andy Savage is a pastor in Tennessee who addressed his own past sexual misconduct during a Sunday morning service. The New York Times did a HEARTBREAKING video with the woman Savage took advantage of back when she was just a teenager and he was her pastor. They get her reaction to his apology and it makes you realize how weak it really is. 

WATCH THE VIDEO (I’ll warn you that there’s one line in the video that is pretty graphic)

At first I just wanted to write about the church in general. I wanted to write "we need to be better at this" over and over and over. I wanted to question if we were setting a culture where people respond in church with quick PR statements to make themselves feel better or if true repentance was the norm. I wanted to write stuff like "if we understand the gospel and how crazy grace really is" and so on and so on.

But then I realized I wanted to focus on that because I didn’t want to have to examine myself. I’ve hurt people with my words and the stuff I’ve done. I’ve been selfish and stupid. I’ve sinned. BIG sins. How do I talk about them with myself, my closest friends, with God, or with the people I’ve hurt?

Have I made real apologies? Am I owning the problem so I can make a real change? Am I willing to be messy and seek forgiveness?

Do I need to be better at this? Do I need to be better at this?

Is a pizza company better at seeking forgiveness than a Christian?