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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Art of an Apology: A Modest Essay on Councilman Doug Martin

In life we all have...moments. How could we not? We spend the majority of our time sleep deprived, waiting in lines, over-caffeinated, malnourished, overweight, pissed about our childhoods, hating our jobs, wishing we were somewhere else, and just barely clinging to the will not to stab in the nipple the next anonymous person who asks us a meaningless question like "how are you today?"

To add insult to injury, we are a species cursed to cleave to social norms. We desperately grasp at social cues and behavioral expectations like a two year old to a blanky. "How are you?" is met with "fine", "So sorry for your loss" is met with "Thank you for your concern", and "Lovely weather we've been having" is clearly understood to mean "do not ask me about politics, religion, or my mother issues". If I get on the bus and there is only one other person boarded, I know to go to the furthest seat away from that individual, and I fully expect the next person to board to extend me the same courtesy. It's how we successfully navigate our precariously high strung daily lives without spooking the sheep.

Sheep are cute and furry. But not when hundreds of their cloven hooves are flaying the flesh from your torso.

We have entire branches of psychology and sociology devoted to social normatives, and, yet, to understand them or even simply be aware of them cannot elevate anyone above them. They happen organically, over hundreds of years, with millions of cultural variables influencing them and somehow amidst that chaos we all fully agree on what they are.

Like this:

Local politicians should not scream obscenities at private citizens or members of the press when people are watching.

And this:

If they do, and more than one person saw them do it, they have to apologize.

Ahhhh, proscriptive social norms.  Magical little things aren't they?

But, again, in life we all have...moments.  Those unexpected times when all the facade and expectations of appropriateness and excruciating effort to suppress the primal urge to shred the veil of trite and politically correct oratory evaporate, and we find ourselves bitch slapping our fellow man in the face with awe inspiring behavior in the name of "telling it like it is".

I've been known to have a moment or two.  Once, I found myself calling a man on a scooter an asshole in the produce aisle, because I didn't like the tone he was taking with his wife.  On another occasion, I loudly told a customer service representative at a security system call center that if his security system was the only thing standing between me and a terrorist attack I STILL wouldn't pay for his product.  And these are just a few examples I am willing to commit to print.

Breaking our agreed upon rules for keeping things peaceful and orderly in the face of a tremendous amount of doucheyness on the part of society is seen in different ways depending on a number of factors, including but not limited to the following: how much money you have, how much power you have, your agreed upon role in our society, and how funny you look doing it.  In some cases you might be considered a visionary.  In other cases a radical.  In some cases, perhaps even an artist.  But, more often than not, you are just perceived as a frightened, insecure, stubborn asshat.

Enter Doug Martin.

The mayor-appointed 10th district representative on the Lexington City Council had.... a moment.

Let's look at what we know to be true:
  1. There was a council meeting.
  2. During said meeting, local political blogger Joe Sonka referred to Doug as a "clown" on Twitter.
  3. The Lexington Herald Leader reported that "The committee voted to adjourn, but Martin returned to the conference room and directed a string of obscenities at Joe Sonka".
  4. Doug declined to comment on the incident.
  5. The incident went viral on Twitter.
  6. Natasha Collier, a local Transy student and active volunteer at several downtown Lexington historical buildings, retweeted someone else's tweet regarding the incident and was subsequently direct messaged by Doug Martin asserting that there was more to the story.
  7. Ms. Collier asked Doug for his side of the story, to which he replied that he could not give her the full story because to repeat what Sonka had said to him would require him to use too much offensive language.
  8. Ms. Collier sent this line of DMing to Joe Sonka for further explanation and Joe posted the Direct Message screen shot on his blog.
  9. Doug blocked Ms. Collier on Twitter (as he has done with countless other concerned Lexingtonians that he doesn't agree with)
  10. After giving councilman plenty of time to consider the incident (10 days in fact), Doug's opponent Kevin Williams called for an apology for his behavior.
  11. Doug issued a statement Tuesday night that read: "[Joe Sonka's] account of our conversation on July 1st is grossly exaggerated and offensive. As to Mr. Williams, I would certainly have been surprised if he hadn’t wanted to make a little political hay with this story.”
Let me be clear about my position.  I am not angry that Doug Martin subjected Joe Sonka to a fuckyouapalooza.  1) I collect public figure outbursts of actual humanity the way some people collect stamps and 2) Barefoot and Progressive is a very loud, very opinionated blog and there are probably a line of people who'd like to do more to Joe's face than scream "fuck you" at it (Sorry, Joe).  I do not share in the belief that Doug's...ahem.....moment...jeopardizes the sanctity of our local political system.  Our local political system does that enough all on it's own.  I also don't believe that even politicians are not allowed momentary lapses in oral judgment in situations that warrant it.  War time.  Unwarranted attacks on one's family.  Victimization of people who cannot defend themselves.

Being called a "clown"?  Not so much.  I've called my grandmother worse than that.  To her face.

No, what I am angry about is having the type of person serving on the council, not even elected to the position, who is so egotistical, stubborn, self righteous, and smug that he thinks he is ABOVE apologizing.  It is Doug's JOB to apologize.  Doug is a city councilperson.  He is representing people who may not even want him representing them.  It is his duty to obey social norms AND oblige the consequences when he breaks them.

Furthermore, there is a mysterious and wondrous language known as Public Relations.  Having spent the last 8 years working in Public Relations, I am willing to set aside my feelings about the cocky councilman and give him FREE advice.  Here is how you reattach the torn veil, calm the frightened sheep, and (here comes the "wondrous" part) make yourself LOOK GOOD:

"I would like to sincerely apologize to the city of Lexington for my behavior at the July 1st council meeting.  I have very strong feelings about the importance of the work we do as a council, and when I felt my dedication and commitment was being questioned, I let my emotions get the better of me.  Even though I am human and make mistakes, it is always my intention to act professionally and courteously and with grace under fire."

What?  Still not comfortable with admitting you were wrong?  Don't you worry, my friend.  There is more PR juju where that came from:

"I sincerely apologize if anything I did on July 1st caused people to question my dedication or commitment to the city of Lexington.  Lexington deserves council people who are passionate about what they do.  I am ready to put this incident behind us and move forward."

See?  Not really admitting you did anything wrong, but enough of an apology that no one can say you "didn't apologize."  It also makes your opponent look like he's playing politics if he keeps bringing up.

See.  Magic.

Unfortunately, I am profoundly certain that Doug Martin believes he was not in the wrong.  I also come from a family of judges and lawyers and know that admitting a mistake is not in Doug Martin's job description in his private life as an attorney.

But we are not talking about that life.  We are talking about the Councilman life.  The one where you aren't allowed to be drunk in public, have an affair, get caught with drugs or prostitutes, raise your voice, or direct "a string of obscenities" at a private citizen or member of the press.  Maybe that's unfair, but those are the rules we've all agreed to.  We endow you with power.  You follow the rules.  Simple as that.  Doug's unwillingness to apologize tells me he thinks he is better than the position in which he is serving, but more importantly that he thinks he is better than me or Ms. Collier or any of the other Lexingtonians that have voiced concern or outrage over his behavior.

He believes that he is simply above it.  And us.

Here's hoping I don't run into Doug Martin near the bananas.

1 comment :

Media Czech said...

I find this post grossly exaggerated and offensive. :)