A friend told me about the disastrous apology of a business colleague. He said, "I wasn't expecting an apology and didn't even want one. In fact, what he did was very minor, not really worth an apology. All he did was make things worse. I wasn't even angry before, but now I am. Now I want an apology. I deserve an apology."
"What went wrong?" I asked.
"His ‘apology’ is what went wrong. It wasn't an apology at all. His idea of an apology is my idea of a personal attack."
As silly as all that may sound, it is actually not that uncommon. Since none of us are perfect, we had better master the art of making a good apology. More than one apology, so called, has just made things worse, lots worse. If you're perfect, read no further. Otherwise, here are some keys to making a good apology. My suspicion is, unless you live on a deserted island, it’s a skill you'll need before you reach the finish line.
1. Apologize for what you did, not how the other person reacted. "I'm sorry I made you angry," is no apology at all. It just means I find it regrettable that you are so emotionally crippled that you got angry. "I'm sorry I told about the surprise party. What an idiot I am.” Now that's an apology.
This column ends with the report of a college professor who should be severely reprimanded, at the very least, for a new grading policy he has announced. I'm telling you that here at the beginning of this column but I'm withholding the details to the end. His students should rise up as one and demand he reverse the policy he has announce. Their parents should demand it. The university where he works should be outraged. I'll tell you all about him but not now. At the end of this column I'll tell who he is what he is doing to his students.
The term "snowflake" has been frequently used to describe college age Americans, so frequently that it has become hardly more than a pop cliche. It would have been laughable had it not been so sad to behold college students' need for special rooms where they could color and cuddle teddy bears just to live over the horror of seeing Hillary Clinton lose the presidency. Then came the demand for "safe spaces" where they wouldn't have to hear ideas or opinions different from theirs, ideas that would upset or, God forbid, challenge them to actually think.
Two very different events happened on July 31, forty years apart: the first in 1941 and the second in 1981. How strange to me that I was not yet born when the first of these events occurred and I was a married man well into my thirties at the time of the second. The first one seems like ancient history played out by diabolical figures in some kind of horrific and far-fetched movie. The second I remember well as a major news item of my young adult life.
The "huge" and massively-reported event of July 31, 1981 is, by comparison with the 1941 historical moment, so flimsy as to be meaningless. The two events seen in juxtaposition make clear in a quite startling way the difference between famous and important. One event was a secret meeting unknown at the time to any but the attendees. The other was televised, radio-ized, written about, and argued over by talking heads within minutes of its conclusion.
I am fascinated by the story of Moses. His is a story of rags to riches and back to rags and then on to an unimaginable leadership opportunity which was actually an unimaginable leadership burden. This in turn led to a national opportunity, which was tragically missed, followed four decades later by another chance which was seized by a second generation but in which Moses was not allowed to participate. He was born in a slave hovel, raised in a palace, lived in a desert, died in the mountains and is buried in an unmarked grave which is not even in the country with which his name is
Among the most hackneyed leadership proverbs is this one found on a million plaques and bumper stickers: "There is no i in teamwork." While true enough in terms of spelling, the trite little phrase fails at the point of nuance. If no one on the team is self-aware and self-confident, the whole will be less than the sum of the parts. Every member of every team is an I, a capital I, with skills, capabilities and talents unique to themselves. It is poor leadership indeed that hopes to foster teamwork at the expense of the individual pursuit of personal excellence.
Yesterday, still on the runway but strapped into my seat on a flight to Dallas, happy to actually be leaving on time for once, now a novelty in modern air travel, I heard words that sent a chill down my spine. "Hello folks, this is your captain speaking. I'm afraid I have some bad news."
Those words invariably introduce other words bound to disrupt the travel plans of everyone involved. That certainly proved to be true yesterday. We had to taxi back to the gate, deplane, troop to another gate, await another plane, then reload and try again.
This, as I said, is now so common as to hardly bear my reporting on it. In fact, I would never have mentioned it in a blog, nor given it any more thought except for the pilots precise words in announcing the sad abbreviation of our flight.
He said, "I'm sorry to inform you that this plane is broken."
Broken. I was somewhat taken back by that terminology, though I'm sure it is common among pilots and others in the airline industry sub-culture. I think of toys as being broken. Gadgets get broken. Airplanes? Really? I had the mental image of our massive airplane having been dropped by some petulant child and its wings snapped off. Broken is a very final-sounding word to me.
At any rate, it set me to thinking about broken people, broken lives, minds and marriages. Which in turn led me to thinking of brokenness and the difference between the two, broken and brokenness, that is.
Everybody imagines that at some moment of great struggle they will heroically rise to the occasion and be that shining champion so adored by the masses, tipping their hat to the cheering throng. Every one of us has fantasized of stepping to the plate and "jacking one out of the park" in an All-Star game. Perhaps not in baseball, but in ballet or business or some endeavor or another. No one daydreams of striking out. The Leaders' Notebook today is not for the untarnished winners. Today's blog is dedicated to all those who have ever failed at anything. Anything. Which of us has never swung and missed? Which of us has never, ever embarrassed himself? Which of us has never wept alone filled with regret and the terrible sinking feeling that this time I've blown it for good? My earnest prayer is that this edition of The Leaders' Notebook will somehow encourage someone out there who, filled with self-recrimination, doubts that he will ever get to bat again. Today's column is not for the All-Stars. Today's column is for:
Everybody loves to laugh at the proverbial idiot who, while painting a floor, works away from the door instead of toward it. At last he finds himself trapped in a corner and in a terrible dilemma. Shall he stay there until the paint dries or tiptoe out, messing up his work and his shoes at the same time, to say nothing of his pride?
Painting oneself into a corner is always embarrassing. Nobody likes to look up from their work and realize they're trapped. I have struggled to understand certain bizarre inconsistencies in some areas of contemporary left wing political and cultural thought. I now believe the explanation is as simple as this. They have painted themselves into a corner and are emotionally unable to deal with that reality.
Here is Exhibit A. The thought roller coaster you are about to ride is a wild one so hang on. It goes like this:
In light of current events, we wanted to repost a previous entry that we felt would be relevant. Here is Dr. Rutland's article from May 2016.
The Portland Public School Board recently voted to ban from all its schools any book, magazine, pamphlet or other material that expresses any doubt about climate change. Students at DePaul University invaded a speech by conservative speaker, Milo Yiannopolous, threatened violence and shut the event down, claiming that they simply should not be subjected to such outlandish ideas as his nor should he be allowed to speak on the campus.
When I think of American neo-fascists, I envision semi-literate, camo-clad thugs at secret forest camps training toddlers to shoot uzis. Certainly they do exist. Nutcase skin heads are certainly out there and they are dangerous. I do not deny that. However, as sad as they are, they are hardly surprising.
The real shocker, is finding fascists in respectable colleges, in libraries and on boards of education. I rather expect neo-fascists to be jack-booted neanderthals who cannot spell. I am surprised to discover that in modern America they are more likely to be 19-year-old sophomores studying the humanities at some of America's most liberal universities. I am hardly shocked when I read of neo-fascists who are bearded ex-cons toting automatic weapons around clandestine guerrilla training camps. I am amazed to behold the modern phenomenon of professorial fascists toting Ph. D's around Ivy League campuses.
"Oh, no," she moaned as if she were staring at the gallows.
"What?" I asked. "What's wrong?"
We were fellow teachers at a small, elite, private academy in Washington, D.C. Not yet credentialed, still in college in fact, I was part-time and therefore free of all the extra duties and committees required of the full-time faculty. She was easily my mother's age, perhaps older. I'm sure she saw me more as another student than as the "colleague" I fancied myself.
"Oh, it's another meeting. The principal has called another meeting of a committee I serve on. I'm thinking of faking a migraine. Will you back me up?"
"Is it as horrible as all that?"
"It's worse! It's excruciating. They go on and on and on and they accomplish nothing. He just enjoys being the center of attention. I'd rather actually HAVE a migraine."
It was years later, many meetings later, many excruciating meetings later before I understood both her pain and the real problem. When people say meetings are horrible what they really mean is horrible meetings are horrible. I have sat through meetings where I ached to scream. I have also been in meetings that were efficiently conducted, yielded results and proved crucial to setting and meeting team goals. Actually after such meetings I have sensed, not anger and frustration, but enthusiasm, good humor and esprit de corps.
I have been able to identify five keys to conducting a productive and, dare I say it, enjoyable meeting.
King David was one of those larger-than-life personalities that simply would not be squeezed into our evangelical view of what a "Bible hero" should be. Joseph was. Daniel was. The Virgin Mary surely was. Not David. The problem is we want a "Christian" David, and he just was not a Christian. He was a Jewish warlord living in the cusp between the Bronze and Iron Age.
We cannot impose on David a contemporary Judeo-Christian ethos. We want the oh-so-cute and curly headed child with a slingshot who fit so nicely on VBS felt boards. The problem is the real David won't fit on felt boards or in the modern world. He was a sometimes an outlaw who ran what could legitimately be called a protection racket. He sold his sword to become a mercenary for an enemy of his own people. He was despised by his own father-in-law and ridiculed by one of his wives, one of his many wives, by the way. He also had a vast harem of concubines. He was feared by his enemies, envied by some, admired to the point of idolatry by a desperately dangerous private army, desired by women and hated by one of his own sons.
David committed adultery and conspired to have a faithful follower murdered to cover it up. He was rebuked publicly by a prophet, caused untold suffering among his people with an ill-advised act of hubris and on his death bed, like a mafia don, he ordered the execution of enemies.
David was also a Spirit-led poet with prophetic and Messianic insights that reached beyond the millennia. He was a consummate musician whose melodies soothed the demonic, a man of unwavering loyalty and the founder of Israel's eternal capital, Jerusalem. The problem with David is actually the problem with the Bible. It's just so darned complicated. There are parts of it that don't even seem Christian. That is because they aren't, but all together it is.
If we try to make David into a New Testament saint we will miss one of the truly magnificent complexities of Bible, the REAL Bible, that is. If we dismiss him as a legend like some kind of Jewish King Arthur, we deny the authority of the Bible. How can we reconcile this complicated and often conflicted genius with the we what we know to be true of God?
Last week I was in Washington, D.C. at the invitation of International Christian Concern to speak at their one-day Summit Conference. Though ICC and all the speakers and I are burdened for persecuted Christians everywhere, the specific topic of this summit was North Korea.
Two congressmen spoke including Rep. Chris Smith from New Jersey. Rep. Smith is a congressional leader on issues of international religious freedom. Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. James Lankford also spoke and they proved to be knowledgeable and moving speakers.
A North Korean escapee gave a harrowing account of his miraculous deliverance from the reign of terror now prevailing in that poor country.
I also spoke. Each speaker was asked to speak for ten minutes. I thought my readers might like to see this brief message. After you watch this video, I hope you will spend some time in prayer for suffering believers around the world. Last year some 90,000 Christians died for their faith. Several hundred thousand more worship under constant threat of discovery, imprisonment, torture and death. Please pray for the suffering church.
Here then is my address at the ICC summit on the persecuted church. This event was held last week in the House of Representatives Sam Rayburn building.
I was raised by an army officer. He thought like an officer, a good one by the way, and he taught me much. I heard tag lines from Officer’s Candidate School at the breakfast table. That combined with my year of birth made a difference in the way I think about life and leadership. Year of birth? Yes, I am what is known as a baby boomer, that is people born in the era around 1947-1962. In fact I am the quintessential "early boomer," born as I was in 1947.
Because I was born at the beginning of the boom I tend to think more like my father's generation, the so-called builders, than I do like those born at the end of my own generation. Take, for example, my inner understanding of authority. Chain of command is a phrase I grew up with. It sounds alien and angry to gen-xers, and incomprehensible to every born since Woodstock.
As she sobbed pathetically on one end of the couch her husband scowled on the other, only the length of the sofa between them, and yet light years apart.
"I hate it when she cries like that." His face was a mask of anger, perhaps even rage. "I can't stand her emotionalism."
Apart from the fact that he himself was at least as emotional as his wife, he was guilty of a common and unfortunate misnomer. He had confused at least two and perhaps three words which are frequently confused and misused in a way that actually causes problems in leadership as well as relationships.
Near the end of the movie Tombstone, Wyatt Earp tells his friend Doc Holiday that he just wants a "normal life." Holiday's response is classic.
"There's no such thing as normal life. There's just life."
I have come to believe, that as unlikely as it seems for wisdom to come from such a source, Doc Holiday may have been right. What I think people mostly mean by "normal life" is actually calm, even, unchallenged life with neither great victories nor disappointing defeats. The seductive charm of such normality, so called, is evenness. Such dreamt-of unthreatening continuity, despite its plasticity, has few hurts or frights or failures. It also wants challenge, opportunity and the delight of victory.
The problem with talking about gifts and giftedness is that the entire conversation is different depending on with whom you speak. Some consider only natural gifts, as in Kevin Durant is a gifted basketball player. He certainly is. Just as certainly, he has also worked hard to hone his skills. I am absolutely certain there was a raw gift there way before his first practice, before his first step or even his first breath. Beyond that, 6’ 9” and 215 pounds has a certain enviable gift quality about it as well. There are gifted performers, speakers, athletes and artists whose best efforts to perfect their skills would have been futile without their natural gifts. I sense intuitively that had I worked even harder than Durant I just might not, at 5' 8 1/2", have ever been an All-Star in the NBA. Of course, that's just a wild guess, and now we will never know for sure. Voice lessons would never have made me into Bruno Mars, and unable to color inside the lines since kindergarten, I'm guessing that I may never give Renoir a run for it.
If you start losing teeth at fifty-five it's a crisis. If you start losing them at five it’s progress. What makes a crisis a crisis depends in part on the context. But there are life crises which irrespective of context are universally understood. I find it absolutely remarkable that so much in King David's life and leadership is so easily applicable to my own. He lived three-thousand years ago. An Iron Age warrior, an outlaw, a poet, a musician and a king. None of these, especially the musician part, have any remote similarity to my life, yet every time I study David, I identify.
I suppose David's life could be accurately described as one unceasing crisis. Many might think of their own lives that way, but there are actually long periods in even the most tumultuous life which are lived in relative calm. We just don't memorialize those. Likewise, the writer of the books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles surely felt no need to say, "For the next five years everything was pretty much ok."
Having said all that, I have identified three specific crises in the life of this desert warrior which are profoundly relevant to the modern family and leader.
The teenager who wants to borrow her mother's car needs to learn not to ask in the moments just following her mom's long and harrowing commute home from work. The employee who wants a raise should never ask right after the boss has announced that the company is in a cash flow crunch and everyone needs to tighten their belts. Timing may not be everything but it ranks right up there.
The Leader's Notebook wants to give you some questions to ask yourself on timing that may help your appeal, request or proposal enjoy a greater likelihood of success. None of these are fool proof and even if your answers are right on all of them, you may still hit a wall, but at least you will know it probably wasn't because your timing was bad.
One tends to think of the Christian life in terms of softness, of words such as love and grace and peace. Those words are real to be sure. Yet there are are other words in the walk of Christ - tough, rugged words - words that are hard to hear, hard to say and harder still to live. This part of the vocabulary of The Faith is replete with angular words, sharp words with none of the corners rounded off or sanded down.
The cross is just such a word. Pain, horrific and humiliating pain, and all the rest of the human nightmare of abandonment and betrayal are in that one word. I passed a jewelry store window in which were displayed some of the most gorgeous, bejeweled crosses I've ever seen. In the midst of them was this sign:
THESE CROSSES ON EASY TERMS
A TV sportscaster was interviewing a retired Olympic runner just before one race at a big track and field event. One runner they were discussing was the favorite but evidently a strong competitor was in the lane beside him.
“What do you think he needs to do to win today?” the interviewer asked.
“He just needs to run his own race,” was his answer.
Frankly that seemed a bit on the obvious side. How could he run anyone else’s race? The more I’ve thought about it, however, the more taken I find myself with this advice. At first glance it may seem a consummate example of overstating the obvious, but it is more nuanced than one might think. It is also good advice for life and leadership.
Paul said “I have finished my course,” II Timothy 4:6.