“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… Continue reading
“NCIS” starring Mark Harmon and an ensemble cast, is the second longest running scripted drama on television at 15 full seasons (trailing only “Law and Order: SVU,” which will apparently continue until Mariska Hargitay drops dead of old age) and the seventh longest running such show since television began. A breezy procedural that records the adventures of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, it depicts a diverse team that demonstrably idolize its leader, the enigmatic and tragic Jethro Gibbs, and support each other like a family.
As with all series that run this long and go into syndication while the show is still being produced ( “Criminal Minds,” “The Simpsons,” “NCIS LA,” and “Blue Bloods” is getting there), I eventually got sick of “NCIS” and hadn’t watched it for several seasons. However, last night’s Red Sox game was so dispiriting that I gave up for an inning or so, and peeked in to see how Gibbs and the gang were doing in Season 16. Almost immediately, I witnessed Harmon’s character planting a kiss on the face of the team’s new forensic specialist, Kasie Hines (Diona Reasonover, who appears to be about 18) just as he had often kissed Hines’s predecessor, Abby Sciuto (now departed Pauley Perrette), as you can see in the clip above. I gathered from Kasie’s reaction that this was the “new kid’s” first kiss from Gibbs, and she behaved as if it was both a surprise and the thrill of a lifetime.
For God’s sake.
A leader, manager, or supervisor should not, cannot, and must not kiss (or hug, or in my view, even touch) subordinates, particularly when the supervisor is male and the subordinate is female. This conduct was never appropriate, but beginning around 1980 the law began flagging it as potentially discriminatory, and once sexual harassment law crystallized—and Joe Biden’s memory to the contrary, that was a long time ago—such kisses, touches and hugs could be actionable. Continue reading
[ Again I am awash in Comments of the Day. There’s no question about it: the comments here are getting better, and more commenters are participating. There are also more comments being made to posts than ever before. 2017, despite a 10% drop in traffic from 2016, set a record for comments. This blog was always designed to be an interactive online colloquy on ethics. More views, links and shares would be nice, but I’ll take more and better comments over volume any day. You all are doing a terrific job. I may have to make “Comment of the Day” a daily rather than an occasional feature. That would be progress.]
The latest Ethics Quiz was about this week’s “NCIS” episode in which the federal agency’s director got all misty eyed and proud to learn that his daughter had accepted the blame (and the charges) for her friend’s shoplifting because her friend was 18 (and a habitual shoplifter) and the offense would end her dream of college. Ethics Alarms readers were asked whether this was a responsible ethics message for Mark Harmon’s long-running procedural to send, especially to any children watching.
The quiz attracted uniformly excellent responses (my take is here).
Here is Greg’s Comment of the Day on the post, Ethics Quiz: “NCIS” Ethics:
I would say that the daughter acted foolishly and the father acted unethically.
The father has a duty to teach and protect his children, which he utterly failed to fulfill in this case. His daughter is showing disastrously poor judgment, placing her future seriously at risk, and he needed to set her straight. He should have lectured her on the enduring truth of the adage, “Lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas.” She should not be spending any time at all with an incorrigible thief. This other girl is big trouble. She has already gotten the daughter arrested once and if the daughter continues to hang out with her, the odds are high that she will do it again. The lesson that the daughter should have learned from this incident is that she needs to shun the company of this supposed friend. Instead, the incident has bound them together even more closely. Continue reading
One of the longest running 15 years!), most popular, and never honored TV procedurals is CBS’s “NCIS,” starring Mark Harmon. The show frequently has ethics themes, and tonight’s was especially provocative.
Jethro Gibbs'(that’s Harmon) boss, NCIS chief Leon Vance, found that his daughter Kayla, a top student who had already been accepted at Georgetown, had been arrested for shoplifting. Vance was troubled by his daughter’s dismissive treatment of the arrest and her crime, as she shrugged it off as a first offense that would likely result in community service because of her age, 17. Her father, played by Rocky Carroll, felt that his daughter’s values has been corrupted because he was a single father with a demanding job.
Then he discovered that daughter Kayla had not really committed the crime. She had taken the rap for her troubled 18-year old friend, who had multiple previous shoplifting arrests, but who wanted to go to college. Rocky realizes that his daughter had accepted blame to help her friend, so she might realize her dream of a college education. “I figure I’ll have to do about 30 hours of public service,” Kayla tells her beaming father between hugs. “I think I’ll help teach some poor kids to read, or maybe help some needy seniors.”
Vance beams. He is so proud. Kayla did the right thing.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is..
Is this the right ethics message for “NCIS” to promote?
I know my answer to this one, and maybe you know me well enough to guess it. But I’ll let readers weigh in first.
Jethro Gibbs, the hero of CBS’s long-running hit procedural drama NCIS, enlightens his charges with “Gibbs’ Rules.” As I have mentioned before, I like Gibbs’ Rules, but one of them is almost always dead wrong. The most cited of the rules is #6: “Never apologize — It’s a sign of weakness,” a rule that Gibbs and the show’s writers borrowed from John Wayne’s character in “She Wore A Yellow Ribbon.” ( “Never apologize, mister, it. It’s a sign of weakness.”). Sincerely apologizing for genuine harm, mistakes or misconduct is not weakness, but a sign of character, accountability, honesty, courage, respect and fairness.
Hillary Clinton doesn’t believe in accountability, honesty, courage, respect and fairness, so it’s not surprising that she never apologizes. Neither does Donald Trump. It’s a clanging, earsplitting ethics alarm for anyone seeking a leader, for this means that they do not have the integrity or decency to admit genuine wrongdoing, and seek instead to maintain the illusion that they are infallible. It is even possible that they are in the throes of Rationalization #14, Self-validating Virtue, the mark of narcissists. Refusing to apologize is a terrible sign for a leader, a manager, even a friend.
Out of this ominous character flaw has come one of the most remarkable non-apologies in decades. When prompted by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell to apologize for her mishandling—her intentional mishandling, remember— of the e-mails she sent and received while Secretary of State, the Remarkable, Astounding, Ethics-Defying Candidate Hillary Clinton told her…
“At the end of the day, I am sorry that this has been confusing to people and has raised a lot of questions, but there are answers to all these questions.And I take responsibility, and it wasn’t the best choice.”
Sound the trumpets and summon the sculptors! That is an unethical non apology for the ages: Continue reading
Sam Rubin is no Jethro Gibbs. Unfortunately.
Samuel Jackson’s reckless and unjustified attack on KTLA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin (which, incredibly, continues to be misrepresented by most of the news media, internet and social media) is an excellent example of how relatively trivial incidents can teach important ethics lessons. One of those lessons I did not discuss in the previous post about this episode involves the phenomenon of the gratuitous or needless apology.
To briefly recap: Rubin’s celebrity guest, Samuel L. Jackson, falsely and obnoxiously accused Rubin of confusing him with another black actor, Laurence Fishburne, thus asserting that Rubin 1) thought all blacks looked alike 2) was impliedly a bigot or racist as a result, 3) was unprepared for the interview, and 4) was unprofessional and should lose his job. Rubin apologized twice, first during Jackson’s unprovoked rant (for Rubin had not confused him with Fishburne, and it was Jackson who was confused and unprepared for the interview), and later, to everyone else, after headlines that his “racist mistake” had justly provoked Jackson were being repeated everywhere. Rubin said:
“We start right now with the beauty and the occasional pain of live television. First and foremost, I do know who Samuel L. Jackson is. I’ve interviewed him several times over the years, but never quite like the conversation we just had. I indicated to Samuel that I’d seen him during the Super Bowl, and he thought that I had confused him with the commercial Laurence Fishburne had done for a car company. Of course a “Captain America” ad had also run during the Super Bowl, but I immediately felt so dumb, I didn’t bring that up — and he gave me the shellacking that was well deserved. I pride myself on the fact — that unlike a lot of people who do this kind of work — more often than not, I really do know what I’m talking about. But I didn’t 30 minutes ago, and I’m really embarrassed about it, and I very much apologize to Samuel L. Jackson and anyone else who was offended for what was a very amateur mistake.”
This kind of apology, a coerced, false apology for conduct that warrants no apology, regret or forgiveness at all, does not appear on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale, because while it looks and sounds like an apology, it is something else entirely. The Apology Scale ranks the intent, sincerity, honesty and effectiveness of apologies for actual wrongdoing or harm. The coerced and false apology is wrongdoing that causes harm, and is the product of wrongdoing itself. Continue reading