We communications pros like to use words like authenticity, transparency, and honesty. Too often, they’re empty cliches. But every now and then, they jump out at you.
Take the latest public apology to go viral. I don’t know anything about cricket, so when I read that actor Jason Alexander had called the game “gay” in an on-camera conversation with Craig Ferguson, it was confusing and didn’t really mean much at first. In fact, it reminded me of the ancient Seinfeld episode when George Costanza claims he’s homosexual in an obvious and ridiculous bid to bond with a Manhattan coop board member who is himself openly gay….in other words, more self-satire than anything else.
But Alexander’s comedy was met with some hardball criticisms by GLAAD, who saw ugliness in the cricket bit. So Alexander said he was sorry. Not just with a sound bite, or a tweet, or the mealy-mouthed non-apology, “I’m sorry if anyone was offended.” This one was a homerun…or whatever you call it in cricket.
His statement is a terrific example of how a public apology should be executed. And how any public communication around a sensitive issue might be handled, if the individual or corporation really cares enough to do so. It’s thoughtful, sincere, and deeply honest. No defensiveness and no excuses offered… how refreshing! What’s particularly persuasive is that Alexander admits that, at first, he had no idea why the bit was offensive to many gay colleagues and viewers. “I didn’t get it,” he says.
Then he takes us through the evolution of his thinking, realizing that playing into “hurtful assumptions and diminishments” begets ugly, or bullying behavior And he doesn’t let himself off the hook because he’s a comedian by profession; because he has lots of gay friends; or because his schtick is the lovable nerd. Quite the contrary. He realizes he should meet a higher standard because of all those things.
But the most impressive thing about the statement is the insight that gay jokes and other stereotypes are hurtful precisely because we, as a culture, are still battling ignorance and bias.
So, I would like to say – I now get it. And to the extent that these jokes made anyone feel even more isolated or misunderstood or just plain hurt – please know that was not my intention, at all or ever. I hope we will someday live in a society where we are so accepting of each other that we can all laugh at jokes like these and know that there is no malice or diminishment intended.
But we are not there yet.
He’s right, we’re not, not by a long shot. But when it comes to honest communication and reputation repair, I think he is.