“Never apologize…It’s a sign of weakness!” is one of John Wayne’s many famous quotes from the characters he portrayed on film, though no one ever wrote a song about it like Buddy Holly did after he watched “The Searchers” and couldn’t get “That’ll be the day!” out of his head.
The line was given renewed life when NCIS leader Jethro Gibbs (Mark Harmon) repeatedly cited it to his team of investigators on the apparently immortal CBS procedural “NCIS,” as he taught them about life, their duties, and ethics. “Never say you’re sorry…It’s a sign of weakness!” is #8 (on some lists, #6) among 36 “Gibbs’ Rules” that include “If it seems like someone is out to get you, they are” (#30) and “Never date a co-worker” (#14).
Once, not very long ago, I regularly referenced #8 in ethics seminars as one of Gibbs’ worst rules when I discussed “Dr. Z’s Rules,” social scientist Philip Zimbardo’s tips for girding oneself against corruption in the workplace. One of the points on that list is,
“Be willing to say “I was wrong,” “I made a mistake,” and “I’ve changed my mind.” Don’t fear honesty, or to accept the consequences of what is already done.“
I would tell my students that Gibbs and the Duke were wrong, that apologizing for wrongdoing is a sign of strength and integrity, signalling to all that you have the courage and humility to admit when you were wrong, and to move forward.
Then came the advent of social media bullying and Twitter lynch mobs, and I saw how I had underestimated the noodle-content of the spines of politicians, celebrities, CEOs, and others…
- Steve Martin apologized for an utterly inoffensive joke because it was called racist by Twitter race-baiters. Then he capitulated to the socoial media mobs again, apologizing for calling Carrie Fisher a “beautiful creature” upon her death.
- Astronaut Scott Kelly apologized for calling Winston Churchill, one of the greatest leaders of modern times, “one of the greatest leaders of modern times.”
- Chelsea Clinton apologized for condemning the anti-Semitism of anti-Semite Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar.
- A series of Major League baseball players were forced to apologize for what they had tweeted in high school to a handful of equally immature friends.
- Clemson’s administrators apologized because two students were “offended” by “Mexican Food Night.”
- D.C. writer Natasha Tynes apologized for being a responsible citizen and alerting the public transit authority that its own employees were violating it rules (in fact, a law) on the subway trains.
- The New York Yankees apologized for playing recordings of Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.”
- Coca-Cola apologized for daring to suggest, on a Delta cocktail napkin, that passengers might benefit from speaking to each other.
- And, though I didn’t make the connection at the time, President Barack Obama traveled the world expressing his regret for the past policies of just about every U.S. President but himself.
With the latest ridiculous example of craven, groveling, pandering apologies, I have reached the tipping point. The Duke and Gibbs were wrong that an apology is never appropriate, but I now agree completely that apologies are often not only signs of weakness, but signs of cowardice and a lack of ethical principles as well.
Calvin Klein apologized for this video yesterday…
Can you guess why?
No, it was not because the ad is pretentious and stupid.
The video showed model Bella Hadid kissing a female robot named Lil Miquela, and Hadid is a heterosexual. Critics argued that an LGBT model could have been used for the video.
No, really. That was the complaint. Never mind that Hadid wasn’t kissing a real woman, and that it might as well have been a wheel of cheese, a box of paper clips, or a gopher, any of which I might kiss if the price were right. Never mind that we have no idea whether the “robot” or whatever Lil Miquela is identifies as female (this point has been made by several online wags.) Never mind that Calvin Klein should have had the sense to say to these political correctness fanatics, “Tell you what, you make your own commercials.” Instead, the company issued this Authentic Frontier Gibberish:
“The concept for our latest #MYCALVINS campaign is to promote freedom of expression for a wide range of identities, including a spectrum of gender and sexual identities. This specific campaign was created to challenge conventional norms and stereotypes in advertising. In this particular video, we explored the blurred lines between reality and imagination. We understand and acknowledge how featuring someone who identifies as heterosexual in a same-sex kiss could be perceived as queer-baiting. As a company with a longstanding tradition of advocating for LGTBQ+ rights, it was certainly not our intention to misrepresent the LGTBQ+ community. We sincerely regret any offense we caused.”
The grovel should have also said, “In this apology, we explore the blurred line between actual offense and contrived nonsense.”
I concede. Apologizing is often not only a sign of weakness, but also a sign fatuousness, expediency, and stupidity.