In the second episode of the 3rd season of The West Wing, the story built towards the senior staff members’ slow simmering resentment that they did not realise they had towards the POTUS because they weren’t given much earlier notice about the President’s multiple sclerosis situation. I thought that the point was nicely built up over a few episodes and was given smokescreen by a few incidents which did not seem correlated at all (at least to me). There were quite a few interesting points to note about the opening episodes of the 3rd season, but a particular one struck a chord.
Towards the tail end of the episode, the President addressed the situation briefly but sincerely to the senior staff members regarding the chaos that they were in. At the end, he apologised. He didn’t need to go on and on about what was his mistake, but just a simple “I am sorry”.
He/the writers@Aaron Sorkin made it seem so easy and logical. Yes, it is possible for a person in power to say they are sorry. And here is one arguably as having one of the most on planet Earth…. Or the much-touted ‘Free World’, whatever that is supposed to mean. Yes, it is fine to feel certain negative feelings. Emotions are expected, as well as your undying professionalism to keep them at bay. But yes, it is still fine to acknowledge that this will happen, and the leadership or management should do their best to manage this.
He left the senior staff briefing to walk towards the podium to meet the huge crowd waiting for his address with the air of a powerful man confident in his skin. And the quiet but resolute commitment and trust of his senior staff members.
It made me think about a closer reality.
Why is it so actually hard for people in higher positions to say that they are sorry? Aren’t they just human beings, susceptible to slip-ups just like the rest of us? Granted, the extent of leeway given for the types of mistakes allowed differs. But that is not the point. The point is that : if there is a mistake, what is so wrong about apologising when it is appropriate?
And then we can all move on.
But sure, you may argue that “don’t be naive lah. Of course they won’t apologise, because they will look weak!”
I think it looks weaker if you pretend that there was never any mistake, even when it is so clear that that is. I think it looks weak if you let your subordinates be your private punching bag, just so you don’t have to own up. I think it looks weak and insecure.
The act of apologising when done by itself without any rambling explanation is actually quite powerful. It shows that you are in control of yourself and of the situation. Apologising is an action of strength and intelligence.
Ah, if only truth mimics fiction just a little bit more. But for now, let me just come down to reality get back to worrying only the things that I can control.