Never complain. Never explain. Never apologize.

There is merit in this muscular piece of human relations advice. There are valid reasons to complain, when you want to correct a defect, for example. Valid reasons to explain might be so another person understands what he needs to do and why. You should apologize, when you have made an obvious error and you plan to correct it. But besides explaining factually and social lubricant apologies, these things should be done sparingly.

Apolgies
Apologizing is the most abused. Apologizing is appropriate if some negative thing happened because of your OWN behavior AND you intend to make amends OR it is just some social thing. If these conditions are not met, an no apology is appropriate. Having government or corporate officials apologize for things that happened before they were in office or even were born is something the craven do and the weak-minded demand.

Apologies become a crutch for losers. We all know people who feel guilty all the time. They keep on doing the same stupid things that cause trouble. Then they apologize again and feel guiltier. I have come to understand that this is their life adaptation. They don't intend to ever do better. They think feeling guilty is sufficient compensation.

There is a lot of talk of historical apologies, but here the problem (besides that of actual responsibility) is history. I recall the case of an Irish family that so hated the English because an English officer had killed their great-grandfather. Well, somebody did the genealogy and found that the English officer WAS their great grandfather. They got the family legend backwards. My ancestors are Polish and German. My family has been killing, raping and burning "our" property for a thousand years. I carry the genes of both the perpetrators and the victims (in addition to those of Mongols, Turks and others who just passed through and left a little of themselves). Given the way people in close proximity promiscuously mate, so does everyone else.

Explaining
We don't mean explaining how to build a cabinet or find your way to the shopping mall. The explaining that is offensive is the self-justification. After a screw up, everyone wants to explain why its not their fault. Just don't do it. Nobody cares. If you fail at something, you have failed at something. Explanations are in order only if there is a process you want to study to avoid similar mistakes in future.

Complaining
This is the most annoying as well as most pernicious to the person doing the complaining. Complainers eventually convince themselves that they have a reason to complain and complaining becomes an end in itself (as apologizing). If you have something to complain about all the time, and you have not made some adjustments or adaptations to remedy the situation, what does that say about you? Let me give you a hint. It begins will "L". If you are not (or cannot) doing anything to fix the problem, stop bothering everyone else and making yourself crazy.

To relate this to politics.

Howard Dean - The things he says are outrageous, but he seems to believe them and he is not going to change. He should not apologize. He might try to explain why he hates all Republicans and present data to show that most of them have never earned an honest living, but I would not accept an apology from Howling Howard and I would like him even less if he proffered one.

Karl Rove - He hurt Dem's feeling and committed the historical fallacy of projecting today's liberal attitudes onto an earlier period. He should make a limited apology for the historical fallacy and explain what he meant. And Dems should think of how their current attitudes on enforcing laws would have helped prevent 9/11 (or not).

Dick Durbin - He was just plain stupid. His comments demonstrated a lack of understanding of history and a vindictiveness unbecoming a Senator. He should not apologize, but he should promise to read some books by Alexander Solzenitzen or Elie Weisel so he won't make the same mistake again.

Let me go international, the Japanese should not apologize any more to the Chinese (several thousand times is enough), but they should set up some kind of scholarship fund to study the historical period. The Chinese killing 30-50 million of their own people during the Great Leap Forward could also do with a little historical perspective.

I apologize for going over my 500-word limit and will stop now.

Posted by Jack at June 25, 2005 11:25 AM