In the aftermath of the revelations of Mitt Romney's behavior back in prep school, folks on twitter wondered about the relevance of such stuff. People change, lots of folks were douche-bags in high school. Yep and yep. My snarky reply was this: "my guy's statute of limitations is yesterday; yours is pre-birth." We will tend to emphasize the sins, no matter how distant, of those we dislike, and we will focus on the circumstances that explain away the mistakes of those people we like (see Mercer's book on Reputation and IR). This is not just me--this is basic social psychology... a.k.a. the fundamental attribution error (there is a band with this as its name)!
Anyhow, the key is not that Romney was a bully and homophobe long ago. It is his behavior now that matters. So, when asked about this story, he said this: “Back in high school, I did some dumb things and if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize for that.”
I hate, hate, hate when people apologize half-heartedly by making it seem like the victim was over-sensitive. "I am sorry that you are so sensitive as to be offended by my douche-baggery." That is how it sounds to me. Romney is not the one who makes this move of "if anyone was offended." No, the way to apologize is to say: "what I did was wrong, and I am sorry. I am sorry that I did something so offensive, so hurtful. I will never do it again and will try to make up for what I have done."
My family apologizes too much for things that are not their fault. I really just want my kid not to do x again, whether that x is spilling something, yelling at me, or whatever. But she is a kid. When she is a grownup, I certainly hope that she would worry not about whether someone is sensitive to offense and worry more about doing things that are objectively wrong.
And if you are offended by this post, then I am sorry.
Update: See this piece for a more eloquent and well-researched statement on this topic. [Oops, screwed up the link, now fixed.]
Well said. Though, it's very post-modern to link to a "more eloquent" statement that is the exact same page. Its like Inception.
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