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Associated Press
President Barack Obama apologized – unconvincingly – about the health care law’s rollout.

The sorry state of apologies

We have recently witnessed a master class in How Not to Apologize.

First, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. Then President Barack Obama. Wilson came under fire after saying that “some women’s bodies just actually don’t work” for his pants. (Seriously? Their bodies don’t work? I thought the pants were designed to fit the person, not vice versa. What are these, Procrustean Pants? “It’s about the rubbing through the thighs,” he added, putting the creepy cherry on the Regrettable Statements sundae. No, pants don’t fit people. People fit pants. What?)

Fortunately, the pants are generally more forgiving than Wilson is.

The whole point of yoga pants is that, while some alarmingly fit people do wear them to do All Their Activities, which you discover when they bustle past you with large armfuls of kale, for the rest of us they are what you wear on your way to becoming alarmingly fit, or maybe just on your way to sit down with a good book, because they are quite comfortable and have spandex in all the critical areas.

Look, if the company’s founder is going to try to discourage people from wearing Lululemon pants, far be it for me to stop him. Maybe he’s trying to sabotage his own industry, just for kicks. My biggest objection to Lululemon yoga pants is that some are less “pants” than “ leggings worn as pants.” But we don’t need to get into that.

After noticing that everyone was upset, Wilson emerged with a classic Paula Deen-style apology, the kind where he stood in front of a white wall, teared up and didn’t actually apologize.

“I’d like to talk to you today about the last few days of media that’s occurred around the Bloomberg interview,” he said. “I’m sad. I’m really sad. I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions.

“I’m sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about, that have really had to face the brunt of, of my actions. I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact it has had on you. I’m sorry to have put you all through this.

“For all of you that have made Lululemon what it is today, I ask you to stay in the conversation that is above the fray. I ask you to prove that the culture that you have built cannot be chipped away. Thank you.”

Pretty much everything about this apology is terrible. He might as well have said: “I am sorry you are not happy with the thing that I said. Please, stop being angry now.”

You take responsibility for what you said? What does that mean? Of course you’re responsible for it. You said it.

No one was standing in front of the classroom in an inverted posture gently urging you, “Now say something about how it’s the people, not the pants, that are the problem.” This isn’t a grown person’s apology. This is a child’s pose! (I have, at best, a dim understanding of yoga.)

“I’m sorry you are so angry” is not apologizing. “I’m sorry. What I said was wrong” is.

If you don’t feel comfortable saying that, then don’t call it an apology.

I could say that the thing I am doing in my yoga pants with one leg in the air where I teeter gently from side to side is a Warrior Pose, but that does not make it so.

President Barack Obama made similar mistakes in stumbling through an apology that, loosely translated, was:

“I am sorry that the health insurance website has not worked and that I made some big, unrealistic promises. I promise that from now on my big, unrealistic promises will come true. For instance, the website will start working.”

“And, you know,” the president said, “that’s on me. I mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health care law. There are a whole bunch of things about it that are working really well, which people didn’t notice.”

This is always a great way to apologize.

Why are you complaining about the things that went wrong? Why aren’t you complimenting me on the things that went right? There is nothing like saying “I am responsible” over and over again without actually saying “I was wrong.”

Please stop.

Apologies are about expressing regret that you said or did the thing that made people upset, not just regretting that they’re upset. If you can’t do that, I’m not sure why you’re bothering, except possibly so you can check off the “apology” box. But it seems pretty transparent. Speaking of Lululemon pants.

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