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[guest post] Undigging the Hole: FOFISSAMO

While I continue to recover from what I did to myself to celebrate finishing college, CaitieCat is back with some advice about apologizing.

So you’re in a mess.

You said something in public that might have used a bit more thought, a bit more empathy, and now you’re in a hole. And people being what people are, instead of climbing out of the hole with the help of the people we’ve hurt, many of us will instead turn to digging deeper, insisting that all we have to do is dig a little deeper and then people will get it and think we’re decent people again. Some of us will bring in backhoes to really get down to the dirt.

By digging the hole, I mean frantic excuses, insistences that your best friend is such a person and that you totally let them use your bathroom and everything, screams of “reverse prejudice” and the like. As a public service, then, allow me to offer this simple four-step algorithm for Undigging the Hole. I call it FOFISSAMO, as noted in the title of the post, as a pleasantly pseudo-Italian mnemonic.

FOFISSAMO stands for:

  1. Find Out

  2. Fix It

  3. Say Sorry

  4. And Move On.

Now here’s what I mean, specifically, by each step in undigging the hole you’re in.

Find Out

Finding out. People HATE the finding out step. Ron Lindsay called it being silenced, for instance, ironically while he used a privileged platform, with a  captive audience provided, to make the complaint. So my first step is simple, despite how much people hate the thought: Shut Up And Listen. If someone’s telling you what you did hurt people, the first impulse of the moral person should be “listen to them”, not “deny that you hurt them”, “insist they’re being oversensitive”, calling them any form of Nazi, or any of the frequently-used other responses we see.

Just pay attention. Attend closely to what the person is telling you about why what you did is a problem. Treat them as a human being, worthy of the same amount of attention you expect to receive yourself. Trust that they know what they’re talking about, the way(s) that they’ve been hurt by what you did, and just as you hope your words are taken in a good and gracious light, give them that same respect. There’s a reason the Golden Rule can be found in almost any civilization’s development.

Yes, it will probably be uncomfortable. You will be feeling embarrassed that you hurt someone, embarrassed to be called on it in public, and often defensive. Remember that this is their time; you had yours when you did the hurtful thing.

Once you know what the problem was, and if it’s amenable to this, then the second step is…

Fix It

If there’s a way you can undo the harm you did, do that. If there’s a way to mitigate the knock-on effects, do that too; an example from other circumstances – if your mistake in making a bank deposit causes someone else to incur fees related to their unexpected banking error situation, you offer to cover those fees, right? Same thing here.

Often there’s no way you can actually do much to fix it, so your next important step is…

Say Sorry

This is probably the simplest part, and also the hardest. Apologize. An apology, to be effective, takes the following form (parenthetical parts are optional/situation-dependent):

I am sorry (for having hurt you/run over your dog/dehumanized you/made you feel like crap/used a slur – even unknowingly, telling them that part comes later!)”.

Don’t say, “I’m sorry if I hurt anyone,” because you already know you did. That was what step 1 was for.

Don’t say, “Mistakes were made,”: own your shit. “I made a mistake” is a much stronger and better statement for this.

Stay away from these things.

Just: “I’m sorry (I hurt you).” If you can include a statement here of exactly what you did wrong, preferably specifically and openly addressing your mistake as a way of acknowledging that you’ve learned and will try to not repeat it, you’ll be doing well.

Which brings us to Step 4…

And Move On

By this, I don’t mean “force the other person to drop the subject”, or “ignore them when they try to help you understand how not to do it again”.

I mean, don’t spend your time trying to weaken your apology by offering excuses. If the injured party wants to talk about how you got there, great, do what they want. But don’t spend time trying to make it not have happened, don’t spend effort on pretending you didn’t fuck up. Just follow their lead and leave it behind when they’re ready to.

Remember, when you bring it up again to re-apologize or get them to recognize that you’re really truly a decent person and totally not like those other people who do or say racist/sexist/transphobic/ableist/whateverist things, or whatever your motive is, you’re not putting only yourself back in that spot of shame and unhappiness, you’re reminding the person you hurt that they were hurt by you. That’s not going to make it easier for either of you to move on.

The important part in this step is to remember that you’re not the injured party here. Take your cue from how the injured party reacts. Let them drive the process, if they want to. And if they don’t, drop it when they do.

So there you have it. FOFISSAMO. Find Out, Fix It, Say Sorry, And Move On: Undigging Holes Since 2013.

CaitieCat is a 47-year-old trans bi dyke, outrageously feminist, and is a translator/editor for academics by vocation. She also writes poetry, does standup comedy, acts and directs in community theatre, paints, games, plays and referees soccer, uses a cane daily, writes other stuff, was raised proudly atheist, is both English by birth and Canadian by naturalization, a former foxhole atheist, a mother of four, and a grandmother of four more (so far). Sort of a Renaissance woman (and shaped like a Reubens!).

Comments

  1. Al Dente says

    Don’t say, “I’m sorry if I hurt anyone,”

    This puts the blame on the victim. “If you were hurt then it’s your fault for feeling that way.”

  2. smhll says

    If someone’s telling you what you did hurt people, the first impulse of the moral person should be “listen to them”, not “deny that you hurt them”, “insist they’re being oversensitive”, calling them any form of Nazi, or any of the frequently-used other responses we see.

    I think this is a really good point.

  3. Steersman says

    Your argument might well have some justification and utility in at least some cases of personal interactions of one sort or another. However, considering recent history and your rather oblique or suggestive reference to Ronald Lindsay and his recent speech at the Women in Secularism conference, I would say your whole post is a rather pointed accusation of him, and a demand that he “shut-up and listen”. And that is what needs to be addressed here.

    And relative to which I think you are judging the case of Lindsay’s speech by that stereotype you’ve described in some detail, a stereotype which is not at all applicable in this case. I sort of get the impression that you – and others – think Lindsay has some obligation to not say anything that might offend you or any of the attendees at that conference or who might be interested in the goings-on there. While I’ll readily concede that we shouldn’t be going out of our ways to offend each other, I would also say that the entire modus operandi of many in the battle against religion in general has been a recognition that offending the dogmatic is frequently of some benefit if not a necessity – the Draw Mohammad Day being a case in point. In which case one might argue that it is a little rich for some of those having done so to be complaining that their ox is being gored by, that they are being offended by, some cogent observations about feminism and secularism – which was, if I’m not mistaken, the purpose of that conference.

    But, considering David Silverman’s recent interview with Justin Vacula, you might want to reflect on this statement of his (1), further details here (2):

    It seems to me that people have come up with the idea that they have the right to not be offended.

    While he didn’t explicitly say that they don’t have that right, that seems to be implicit in his statement, and quite explicit in the observations and perspectives of many in the atheist and skeptic movements. In which case, rather than calling for his chastisement and silencing with an air of false aggrievance, those doing so might want to consider doing a little bit of listening of their own.


    1) “_http://skepticallyyours.net/episode-1/”;
    2) “_http://slymepit.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?p=100166#p100166”;

  4. Eristae says

    I’ve never understood why “I’m sorry that I hurt you” is so much harder than “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” What is this “if?” If there needed to be an “if,” you would not be formatting this sentence.

    @3/Steersman

    Maybe at some later point (tomorrow? the next day? never?) I will feel up to responding to what you wrote, but pretty much all I have to say at this point is, “What you just said is inaccurate in regards to pretty much everything. You don’t understand what happened, why people were upset by it, or even the response that they put forth to it.”

    This all makes me so very tired.

    • Steersman says

      Ok. If you manage to make it up off your fainting couch then do let me know.

      However, in the interim, you might want to give some serious thought to the possibility that Lindsay had more than a little justification for what he said. Something which was not outweighed by the prospect of hurt feelings and bruised egos.

      • says

        Oh wow, that’s some nice begging the question you’ve got there. You’re asserting that Eristae has not already thought about that possibility. I’d like to know what magical powers you’ve used to determine what she has or hasn’t considered. Given how long this issue has been being discussed, your assertion is vanishingly (if not laughably) improbable.

        But hey, maybe I’m wrong. Let’s just go ahead and contact James Randi to determine how best to get you that million dollars.

      • Steersman says

        SubMor said (#4.1.1):

        Oh wow, that’s some nice begging the question you’ve got there. You’re asserting that Eristae has not already thought about that possibility.

        Sorry, don’t think so. I suggested that she “might want to give some serious thought to the possibility ….” And the definitions (1) of “might” include “used to express tentative possibility”, and “used to indicate a possibility or probability that is weaker than may”. A conjecture or hypothesis, then. But I don’t see anything there about asserting anything, apart maybe from the conjecture itself which hardly counts. However, maybe AtheismPlus has their own dictionary published which I haven’t seen yet.

        Given how long this issue has been being discussed, your assertion is vanishingly (if not laughably) improbable.

        And my impression from the many open letters from FftB-land is that they have been uniformly critical of Lindsay and his speech. And considering Eristae’s “what you’ve just said is inaccurate in regards to pretty much everything”, it seems and seemed quite likely that her opinion on those topics was likely to hew to that Party line. In which case it seemed rather unlikely that she had given any really serious thought to the possibility that there was some justification for Lindsay’s remarks. And which was entirely consistent with a previous conversation I’d had with her on Crommunist’s blog where she had also shown a rather remarkable inability to consider any hypotheticals that conflicted with her preconceived notions. Hence my suggestion of that conjecture.

        —–
        1) “_http://www.thefreedictionary.com/might”;

        • says

          Do you actually believe you’ve written a coherent reply to my criticism, or are you just struggling in a vain attempt to avoid losing face? Your attempt to shift the focus away from your bad argumentation has not gone unnoticed. Neither has the fact that you’ve followed up your question begging with a “no true serious-thought” plea.

          If I watch you paint a fence, I don’t say “you might want to paint that fence” after you’ve finished. Since you have already painted the fence, I might say “you might want to paint it again” if I think you’ve done a poor job, but if I omit that final word, it is no longer an appropriate thing to say.

          Do this. = You have not done it.
          Do this again. = Revisit your effort.

          Citing a dictionary definition of “might” does not change this. It is a clear non sequitur.

        • says

          And my impression from the many open letters from FftB-land is that they have been uniformly critical of Lindsay and his speech. And considering Eristae’s “what you’ve just said is inaccurate in regards to pretty much everything”, it seems and seemed quite likely that her opinion on those topics was likely to hew to that Party line. In which case it seemed rather unlikely that she had given any really serious thought to the possibility that there was some justification for Lindsay’s remarks.

          Steersman, were you at WiS2? Because if you weren’t, then you’d be forgiven for not hearing all the conversations and debates we had about this at the conference. Many of us tried so damn hard to be charitable. I personally disliked the opening remarks but gave very little thought to them until Lindsay doubled down by comparing Rebecca Watson to North Korea, and until he made it clear that all the feminist writers who were “silencing” men were…men. (Not that this makes their opinions invalid; rather, it suggests that the only people Lindsay takes seriously enough to critique without comparing to North Korea are men.)

          Further, while I can’t speak for everyone who has ever expressed an opinion about Lindsay’s talk, my main issue with it, as I discussed in my own open letter, was not his opinion itself but where, when, and how he chose to express it. I disagree with it, sure, but whatever, I disagree with a lot of things. Just as it would not be appropriate to open a conference on mental health with the remark that sometimes people with mental illnesses make people without mental illnesses uncomfortable, it is not appropriate to open a conference on women’s activism with the remark that it has been taken “too far.” These are subjects for internal discussions, not opening remarks at conferences.

          Anyway, the fact that people have strong opinions and agree with each other is not in and of itself evidence that alternative opinions were never considered. I’m sorry that we don’t publish records of our private conversations, Facebook exchanges, and emails for you to peruse, but it’s uncharitable to assume that just because you don’t have written evidence that we’ve “given serious thought” to other opinions, that means that we haven’t. When I write a blog post, I write it like a finished product. I don’t include within it all the internal debates I had with myself while writing it.

        • Steersman says

          SubMor said (#4.1.2.1):

          Do you actually believe you’ve written a coherent reply to my criticism ….

          I’d kind of thought so. But I guess the more obtuse or dogmatic require extra effort.

          If I watch you paint a fence, I don’t say “you might want to paint that fence” after you’ve finished.

          Category error (1): comparing apples and unicorns. One – the fence painting, to be clear for the particularly obtuse – is manifest and objective; the other – giving thought to particular arguments – is obscure and subjective. Seems hardly unreasonable to hypothesisze that individuals who haven’t provided any manifest, objective evidence of having given any thought to a particular proposition have not, in actual fact, done so. Hence the suggestion, the stated hypothesis.

          —–
          1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category_error”;

          • says

            Wait, your position is now that a person who has told you essentially “what you are saying about this is wrong” has not given “any manifest, objective evidence of having given any thought to [that] particular proposition?”

            lol

          • Steersman says

            SubMor said (#4.1.2.3.1):

            So, your position is now that some fundamentalist telling you that what you’re saying about evolution is wrong should be taken at face value, without any demands for evidence? Awesomely skeptical of you.

            Lol, indeed.

        • Steersman says

          Miri said (#4.1.2.2):

          Steersman, were you at WiS2?

          No, sorry to say I wasn’t. Although I had followed some of the drama leading up to it, as well as more of the recent stuff.

          Many of us tried so damn hard to be charitable.

          Well then you’re to be commended for whatever you managed, although that tends to be rather subjective. But my impression was that more than a few others were decidedly less so, at least relative to Justin Vacula’s pending presence there – “histrionic” and “the sky’s falling” might be other more applicable terms. An attitude that I expect hasn’t added much to subsequent discussions and arguments.

          … until Lindsay doubled down by comparing Rebecca Watson to North Korea

          You say po-tat-o, I say po-ta-to. Apropos of which, something from Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain (highly recommended):

          As we saw in the previous chapter, politics is filled with self-justifying rationalizations. Democrats see the world through liberal-tinted glasses, while Republicans filter it through conservative shaded glasses. When you listen to both “conservative talk radio” and “progressive talk radio” you will hear current events interpreted in ways that are 180 degrees out of phase. So incongruent are the interpretations of even the simplest goings-on in the daily news that you wonder if they can possibly be talking about the same event. [my emphasis]

          I think many of these “contretemps”, not to say tempests-in-teapots, won’t really be resolved until more people start to ask themselves why that is the case.

          However, more specifically and as a case in point, you said Lindsay was “guilty” of “comparing Rebecca Watson to North Korea”, but all he said was that her post “may be the most intellectually dishonest piece of writing since the last communique issued by North Korea”. Rather different kettles of fish if not species from entirely different biological phyla. Your statement, which looks like a bit of egregious propaganda, suggests that Lindsay was laying all of the sins of the North Korean regime at Watson’s doorstep when, in fact, all he was doing was comparing her post – by itself – to that communique.

          Not helping to unfairly demonize the opposition to make your own arguments and positions more credible. Tends to backfire too.

          … and until he made it clear that all the feminist writers who were “silencing” men were…men.

          If you’re referring to Lindsay’s A Few Examples of “Shut Up and Listen” post (1) then that is all it was: a few examples. And if that is the case then my impression is that, of the three examples given, only two of them were men. But, in any case, that seems to be a rather thin pretext for trying to throw Lindsay under the bus, particularly as there seems to be any number of cases where that trope is implicit if not referred to explicitly (2). Although it is of course moot whether it is used unfairly or not in any given case.

          However, in any case, what irks me in particular about that concept is a somewhat implicit assumption that whatever the supposedly less privileged individual has to say about their experiences is necessarily a true and accurate representation of reality. Or more so than the perceptions of anyone or everyone else. But it doesn’t take much thought or effort to find many cases where an individual’s description of their experiences frequently bears little resemblance to what most would consider objective reality – religious fundamentalists for example.

          … my main issue with it [was] … it is not appropriate to open a conference on women’s activism with the remark that it has been taken “too far.”

          Ok, but that is only your particular and individual opinion, not necessarily one that he or CFI are obliged to consider as outweighing all of the other issues and factors and opinions that they might have considered before taking that step. Seems to me quite likely that this was part of a plan that they’ve had in mind for some time – at least from Lindsay’s initiative broaching (3) the subject in January of this year where he explicitly asked for input on how “the appropriate understanding of feminism and how feminism (however defined) should influence the practices and mission of secular organizations”. Given that I can well see that they might have figured that the opening speech at that conference was the most effective method of disseminating those perspectives to the widest possible audience for further discussion.

          … but it’s uncharitable to assume that just because you don’t have written evidence that we’ve “given serious thought” to other opinions, that means that we haven’t ….

          Ok, maybe you personally have done so, although that comment of mine that you quoted was directed at Eristae. However, one might suggest that the meaning and implications and ramifications of “serious” are decidedly moot. Considering that you and many others have apparently rejected those other opinions in spite of a rather broad range and spectrum of them, and in spite of some significant if not acrimonious and fractious “divisions among true feminists”, one might suggest that your “serious thought” is little more than having gone a couple of rounds in some well-worn grooves without at all letting any outside influences temper or modify your perspectives.

          In addition, one might reasonably argue that the set of open letters from various FT blogs, among others, constitutes a rather cavalier rejection of those other opinions and voices, in effect telling them, those other groups of both women and men, to shut and listen to – and heed, forthwith! – the far-fewer voices of the supposedly less privileged group advancing those letters. And in that event that group is in effect proving Lindsay’s point (4) that that “shut-up and listen” trope is being used in an effort to silence the many critics of the style and type of feminism being advanced by FTB and company. And in so doing is seeking to rob those other voices of their humanity.

          Considering that CFI and, presumably, the various other secular organization which were party to that January initiative, have obviously made very extensive and far reaching efforts to actually “listen to the women”, it seems rather boorish, to say the least, for many of those invited to that conference to get up on their high horses, sulk off to their tents, and insist that no other voices can be heard, that only their perspectives have any value and credibility.

          —-
          1) “_http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/a_few_examples_of_shut_up_and_listen/”;
          2) “_http://atheismplus.com/forums/search.php?keywords=%22shut+up+and+listen%22&sid=e3bb6098d6bc51f2512f89d7b60b33c3”;
          3) “_http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/the_heads_meeting_your_input_requested/P50/”;
          4) “_http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/show/my_talk_at_wis2/P50”;

          • says

            That quote that you posted sounds exactly like Ron Lindsay comparing Rebecca Watson to North Korea… Arguing otherwise seems rather silly.

          • Steersman says

            Some serious conflation there, I think, to go from an explicit and limited comparison between two documents from two sources to a comparison between the sources themselves. The most one might argue is that Watson and North Korea are somewhat analogous, but only to the extent of, as Lindsay put it, the common element of intellectual dishonesty in creating those documents.

            You might take a look at the Wikipedia article on analogies for further details (1). It emphasizes the fact that analogies entail both similarities and differences as well as similar relationships between the similar elements.

            —–
            1) “_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Analogy#Identity_of_relation”;

  5. CaitieCat says

    This all makes me so very tired.

    Oh, you and me both.

    I mean, if I hurt someone by using a slur or something, I find that to be embarrassing, in the same way that, say, walking out of the bathroom with my skirt tucked in my panties is embarrassing.

    And if I did the latter, I don’t think I’d respond to someone saying ‘Hey, your ass is showing” with “YOU’RE JUST A NUDITY NAZI AND I WANTED IT THAT WAY AND ANYWAY SOME OF MY BEST FRIENDS ARE NUDISTS AND ALSO YOU DID IT TOO ONCE!”

    I’m more inclined to say, “Whoa, thanks for letting me know, that could have been WAY more embarrassing without your help. Sorry to show you my ass there.”

    *shrug* different strokage for different folkage, I guess.

    • Steersman says

      I mean, if I hurt someone by using a slur or something, I find that to be embarrassing ….

      Or something. Not being particular or suggestive or anything like that. But in such a case – purely hypothetical, of course – one would, if one was a true skeptic, want to ask oneself what the context was, what were the circumstances that led up to that “crime”. And if the precursor was a quite explicit and rather nasty effort by the party of the first part to hurt the party of the second part then purely rational and skeptical individuals would likely conclude that the party of the first part had sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind. And that those who live in glass houses should probably be a little more circumspect about throwing stones ….

  6. rilian says

    I told someone I can’t forgive him until he understands that he did something wrong, apologizes, tries to make up for it, and resolves never to do it again. (If you’re planning on doing it again, it’s not a real apology.) It seems like pretty much the same as yours.

  7. fmcp says

    I want to ask a question about this, because I’ve been wrestling with it for a while now.

    First of all, some perspective: I think Ron Lindsay screwed up really, really badly. I also, however, want to know what his actual end goal was – did it have any validity? Was he trying to accomplish something but doesn’t understand people well enough to do it well? (A few people who were upset by his speech suggested he could have asked for a panel to discuss the calls “shut up and listen”, and ask to be on it himself – that seems sensible.) Anyway, I’m not defending his rather strange move – I’m using it as an example because it’s being discussed here.

    So here’s my question – how do we articulate the difference between genuinely offensive, hurtful remarks that require an apology, and the kind of “hurt” that comes from the “Find Out” stage of FOFISSAMO? Because I think Lindsay (and others) lashed out at least in part because of the discomfort you allude to, and that kind feel a lot like hurt. I think it’s key to parse this, which (aside from anything else) would avoid the tendency of the original offender to claim high ground as a defense mechanism. I hope this is clear – I’d really like to hear others’ thoughts.

  8. Pen says

    Steersman @3 – So everything’s about Ron Lindsay now? Oh. And just the other day I was commenting that it would be nice if people talked about this very subject because the issue seems to come up so often. Reading this post, I was thinking wow, this blog is super-responsive to my interests!! But it’s actually all about Lindsay… (sense of flatness and disappointment)

    OK – /sarcasm and back to the subject at hand??

    I think we could use some examples of people doing it well as opposed to badly and maybe some analysis of the different types of circumstances. It’s different to:

    a) use a slur without even knowing it’s a slur (shit happens) – that’s a skirt in panties moment,
    b) repeated a stereotype without really even noticing you were doing it, and it’s peripheral to your point anyway but someone else is bothered by it,
    c) use a slur because you lost your rag and temporarily intend to hurt people by saying things you’re deeply embarrassed about having said later,
    d) never had imagined what you were saying could be an issue for someone and possibly,
    d2) still aren’t sure it is for anyone except that individual,
    e) hold a view that’s unpopular and/or feels threatening to some people but you think it’s defensible anyway,
    e2) expressed such a view at an inappropriate time and place (there you go Steersman, it’s about Lindsay again…),
    f) other…

    • says

      For what it’s worth, I don’t understand why anyone thinks this post is solely about Lindsay. If it were solely about Lindsay, then that would be the only example mentioned in it. I’m guessing (although she can clarify when she sees this) that CaitieCat included that example simply because it’s still timely and relevant to many of the people who are reading this, and it’s a great example of a situation in which a sincere apology could do a lot of good.

      • CaitieCat says

        Cowseye on the first shot. Lindsay in this case serves only as a recent and well-known example.

        You can find other examples all over the site, of people making stupid choices, being called on it, apologizing, and getting on with their day. I can think of at least four interactions of this type I’ve been involved in this week alone on the site. Three of them went like clockwork: call out with assumption of good faith error, recognition of same with apology, apology accepted, end of situation.

        The other started off really aggressively defensive, but then didn’t respond after I pointed out how moderately I had actually said it, and that all I really wanted was a recognition that something bad happened, and that the person who did it knew that it had been a bad thing.

        NOT that they were a bad person. That they had done something hurtful. Just as Mandela (RIP) could step on someone’s toes accidentally, without being discarded as a great human being for it.

        I used to tell my kids: Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone. What matters is what you do next.

        I reserve that on blogs for people who insistently and disingenuously troll around looking for people to piss off, or who hire a backhoe when the hole gets too deep to chuck the dirt out by shovel.

        • Steersman says

          Curious how so many people subscribe to the view that sauce for the gander isn’t sauce for the goose.

          And, just en passant, it seems that I might reasonably ask for an apology from you for your insults of me (1).

          —-
          1) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/brutereason/2013/06/11/guest-post-dictionary-arguments-and-why-they-suck/#comment-9352”;

      • Steersman says

        Miri said (#8.1):

        … and it’s a great example of a situation in which a sincere apology could do a lot of good.

        Yes, that might well be the case. If you, and others, had actually made a credible case that an apology was required. Which I, and others, have yet to see.

        And absent which many are likely to quite reasonably conclude that the demand for said apology more or less proves Lindsay’s argument about the misuse of the “shut up and listen” tactic. A response which, if Ophelia Benson’s recent efforts (1) on the rationalization front are any accurate measure, “lots of people” are thinking is “excessive”. Considering that, and the fact that CFI, among others, have made very significant efforts to “listen to the women”, maybe it is those writing those rather critical and intemperate if not draconian open letters to the CFI who should be tendering an apology, and doing a little “shutting up and listening” themselves.

        —–
        1) “_http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2013/06/a-failure-to-communicate/”;

  9. Ariel says

    The OP contains some good advice, no doubt. Apologizing is an art indeed and sometimes a demanding task. As Caitie stated, it can be embarassing, uncomfortable, and difficult. Quite correct, and I have no real quarrel with what she said.

    Just one addition: accepting apologies is an art too. This is most clearly visible in political contexts, when the offended party is not an individual, but a group realizing its own political agenda, sometimes very vocal, sometimes quite powerful. There is a temptation to disregard any apology which is not perfect by the group’s standard, which is not ideal up to the exact shape of words and the exact angle of the required knee bending. Quite often it’s accompanied by claims that anything else will be „unproductive”. And not so rarely it brings the subject not just embarassment and discomfort, but humiliation and anguish.

    An extreme example would be a demand for a full samokritika. Although the literal meaning of this Russian word is „self-criticism”, it refers to the stalinist apology ritual in which the subject was required to prostrate herself before the party, affirm the party position as absolutely correct and accept without a trace of reservation the judgment of her peers and superiors. Although in contemporary life it takes less extreme forms, I would consider it very naive to think that this particular ugliness is past us.

    I usually observe demands for public apologies, even the most justified ones, with some degree of uneasiness. How will both parties handle it? Will the person apologize and how? And if the apology is not perfect, will the offended party accept it? Or will the situation degenerate into a cruel ritual, with nothing short of full prostration being acceptable? I don’t know.

    A good OP on accepting apologies, anyone?

    • says

      I think the most important thing I could say about accepting apologies is that once you feel that the person has apologized sufficiently, you have to move on, too. That doesn’t mean you have to forgive them or forget that it ever happened, but it does mean that you should no longer bring up this incident as though they never apologized. This is a mistake people often make in relationships, which is why fights between couples often degenerate into a Referendum On Every Mistake Ever Made by each person, even though they may have already apologized sufficiently for those mistakes.

      A good OP on accepting apologies, anyone?

      Feel free to guest-write one for this blog!

      • Ariel says

        Thanks Miri, much appreciated. But given the CFI statement, such an OP would sound now like a joke (a rather tasteless one). But thanks anyway!

  10. MrFancyPants says

    I think it’s useful to recognize that we all screw up and occasionally need to apologize. It’s part of the human condition. Too often online, it seems like people feel the need to double down and not just stop and apologize, because (I think) they think it looks like an admission of weakness or ignorance. And nobody wants to look weak or ignorant. But recognizing that that person you’re apologizing to has also in the past had to apologize to someone else (and that we both will again, in the future, to other people) helps to remind us that it’s okay not to be perfect. (Well, for me, anyway.)

  11. says

    This seems like really good advice for a situation like Ron Lindsay, where what he said was clearly inappropriate (if not downright incorrect). I don’t think I can quite sign on, however, as I think there’s another step required.

    After “find out,” but before “fix it,” I would add something like “critically evaluate.” That is, once you find out who is hurt and why, and really make an effort to understand the other person’s perspective, I think any skeptic then has to critically examine their behavior to decide if they actually made a mistake.

    We know that sometimes, speaking the truth hurts people, and that’s ok. Sometimes, a little pain, especially the pain of hearing a difficult truth, is a good and justified thing. The problem with FOFISSAMO is that it doesn’t really make room for that. It seems to be encouraging a knee-jerk “hurt = bad” reaction, and doesn’t leave room for the possibility that the hurtful thing needed to be said.

    • CaitieCat says

      I’m not sure I see “doesn’t take into account that people might have no empathy or give a shit about hurting people in ways they’re already systematically hurt” as much of a flaw, in the same way as saying “you should apologize if you step on someone’s toe” isn’t held to account for “but what if you meant to do it?”

      If people are intentionally being jerks, I don’t see how that has any relevance to a set of ideas about how people who don’t want to be jerks would go about reasonably and effectively apologizing.

      Your complaint is of the form, “Yes, this article about Peruvian football goalies is fascinating, but why doesn’t it talk about the importance of bauxite mining in Jamaica?”

      • says

        I think I may be misunderstanding what’s being advocated, although I can’t find anything in the OP to suggest so. It sounded like you were advocating this approach any time that someone said something hurtful. If that’s not the case, I apologize.

        I take offense, though, at your seeming suggestion that knowingly saying something hurtful = being a jerk. Your OP didn’t say anything limiting its application to statements that hurt people in ways they’re already systematically hurt. If that’s what you meant, then I misunderstood, but I don’t think that was very clear at all from the OP.

        Unless you’re arguing that every time someone’s speech causes pain, the speaker is at fault, then there must be some way of separating the justifiably hurtful statements from the unjustified.

        Ron Lindsay didn’t even get that far. He got defensive and hyperbolic instead of listening and understanding. FOFISSAMO would likely have worked very well for him, and for anyone else who didn’t check their privilege or make a good faith effort to understand the perspective of others, particularly marginalized people. But it only works if the speaker is at fault.

        If I say “there are no Gods” to a group of Christians, that’s a hurtful thing to say. I could listen and truly understand their perspective, realize that what I said was hurtful, and feel real empathy. But I won’t apologize for saying it, and that’s where FOFISSAMO doesn’t seem to have an answer.

        If FOFISSAMO presupposes that the speaker is in the wrong, it’s not a very useful system. Realizing that you’re wrong is the hard part. If you’re advocating “if your statements were unjustified, then FOFISSAMO,” that’s unobjectionable, but not very useful. Most people will readily apologize if they know they’re in the wrong.

        The thing is that the “find out” step should be done by everyone who has said something hurtful, not just people who are in the wrong. Even if what you said was totally justified, it still makes sense to listen and understand the perspective of those you hurt. Listening with an empathic ear is the best way to figure out if you made a mistake.

        But the next step isn’t to reflexively apologize and/or make amends. It’s to decide if an apology is warranted. It’s only after that step that one should attempt to “fix it.” Ron Lindsay should have taken that step, but my hypothetical blasphemer should not.

        I’m sorry if my comment came off as nitpicky or technical, but I truly feel as though the “critically examine” step is hugely important, and your OP seemed not to acknowledge the need for any such thing.

        • CaitieCat says

          I quote me, and not even from comments, but from the OP:

          You said something in public that might have used a bit more thought, a bit more empathy, and now you’re in a hole.

          By digging the hole, I mean frantic excuses, insistences that your best friend is such a person and that you totally let them use your bathroom and everything, screams of “reverse prejudice” and the like.

          “I am sorry (for having hurt you/run over your dog/dehumanized you/made you feel like crap/used a slur

          Now, in light of that, in what way exactly was I ambiguous about what situations I’m applying this to? It seemed fairly clear to me – and evidently to nearly everyone else who’s commented – that I was talking about someone who had caused unwarranted and unwanted pain to someone who gets more than their share. That specifically, it would be an error where “a bit more empathy” would have helped.

          I really don’t see how that’s unclear.

          And if you’re suggesting that I need to consider how important it is to worry about the case where someone is being hurtful on purpose, and decides to go on doing so, then they’re clearly not in the situation I laid out, are they?

          And thus I say: great Peruvian goalie article, sucks about forgetting the important Jamaican bauxite thing.

          • says

            The word “might” suggests that it applies to situations where there is some doubt about which party is in the wrong.

          • CaitieCat says

            Or it might be (see that?) I speak a sociolect in which indirectness and use of the subjunctive is considered more polite, and that this is my writing style, particularly when making guest posts on someone else’s blog. In much the same way that one puts on their best manners for having dinner at someone else’s house, no?

            Or you could, as you’ve done, believe that this is sign of a bad-faith ignoring of those important people who need to be able to hear they’ve hurt someone and still be able to shrug and feel moral.

            Me, I don’t feel those people’s considerations are important, which is why I didn’t write about them.

            If you have a sad about that, you might (there’s that word again) consider looking up wordpress.com, which apparently has fine blogging software available with which you can make your case for people who think empathy is overrated. But more likely, you’ll continue hanging around trying to argue about that crucial Jamaican bauxite.

          • says

            Sure, but if that’s the case, the OP was, at the very least, ambiguous. One of the reasons I interpreted it the way I did was that the system you seem to be advocating would not have fixed the situation at all for a situation like Ron Lindsay, your principle example.

            Lindsay’s protestations following his being called out showed that his main mistake was believing that his statements were necessary and justified. Any system which proposes to solve that problem will fail unless it includes a method by which he could see that his statements were not warranted.

            “Or you could, as you’ve done, believe that this is sign of a bad-faith ignoring of those important people who need to be able to hear they’ve hurt someone and still be able to shrug and feel moral.”

            You did write about those people. Your only example was Ron Lindsay. He is one of those people.

          • says

            Also, I’m glad to see you’re interested in reading my blog, as it’s one of which your host has spoken highly in the past. I blog at polyskeptic.com (clicking my name will take you there). Ironically, it’s hosted by WordPress.

  12. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Wise words. Hard to follow but wise.

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