My Turn: Sorry seems to be the hardest word

For the Monitor
Published: 2/13/2019 12:10:39 AM

While many among us were up in arms a few weeks ago about the New Hampshire House vote to ban guns in Representatives Hall, something equally interesting went less noticed. During the same House session, almost a quarter of our state representatives voted against mandatory sexual harassment training.

What’s with that?

Why would members vote against being better educated and more in tune with what constitutes harassment? Why did 92 of our legislators vote no on learning how to be more sensitive to potential trouble spots in the workplace?

Some opponents of the rule said that making the training mandatory would render it meaningless. That’s an odd position to take considering we are mandated to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of every session. Does that make it meaningless?

The most vociferous arguments against the training bubbled up from simmering resentments among members who apparently felt wrongly accused in the past. The press has reported on these incidents over the last couple of years. The men accused – yes, the older white men – felt they were declared guilty without recourse to due process. It’s understandable that members involved in the complaints are still angry, but that doesn’t negate the value of the training. In fact, it validates it.

We all recoil at the prospect of anyone being wrongly accused, or worse, wrongly convicted of a crime. Miscarriages of justice of all kinds go against the grain of what we as a people believe ourselves to be. That is, we are a nation always in pursuit of a more perfect union. We believe America to be a place where one person wrongly accused and wrongly convicted is one too many. It takes nothing away from the validity of sexual harassment claims to acknowledge that to men accused of sex harassment and found guilty, if only in the court of public opinion, it can feel life destroying. Does the punishment fit the crime? Should someone who once acted badly really never hold elected office again?

What this leads to is that humans are flawed. I’m not here to say that we should exonerate Harvey Weinstein. But it is useful to note that actor/producer Asia Argento, one of Weinstein’s earliest accusers and an early leader of the #MeToo movement, was herself embroiled in an equally distasteful scandal involving an underage young man. Rock, meet glass house.

Which really gets to the heart of the matter. While Weinstein’s actions are clearly beyond the pale, relations between humans are messy.

I voted in favor of the sexual harassment training and was happy to attend. It was a good presentation. But the truth is, the vast majority of us are not latent Harvey Weinsteins and Asia Argentos. We’re just normal folks, muddling along. And even with sensitivity training, we humans are bound to do stupid things. The lesson we need to remember is what to do after we’ve made a mistake: Apologize. And mean it.

What’s more, while we all need to apologize sometimes, each of us needs to forgive sometimes, too. It’s a two-way street. In our age of easy instant tweets and faux Facebook friends, the reality is that we have forgotten not just the value of an apology, but even the definition, “a regretful acknowledgment of an offense or failure.” We all make mistakes. Let’s be brave enough to own up to it when we do, and – equally important – let’s have the compassion to accept an apology when it’s offered.

I know. It sounds old-fashioned.

And it goes further than the workplace. The value of coming together through an apology after a breakdown of trust or respect has been forgotten. Controversy sells, reconciliation doesn’t. Just look at the government shutdown. One side wants a border wall, the other wants a path to citizenship. Half the population roots for the Big Bad Wolf, the other half for Little Red Riding Hood. What if the wolf and the girl worked together to ensure that everyone had enough to eat and the paths through the forest were safe? What if we built a barrier along the southern border but it was made out of solar panels?

It is within our character as a people to admit when we are wrong. And to apologize. We are brave enough to do so. It is equally within our character to accept an apology when it is offered. We are kind-hearted enough by far. This process, an apology offered and accepted, won’t sell newspapers or get great Nielsen ratings. But it will allow us to move on in our national life and to come together as a people, which history demands.

Maybe we need apology training.

(Rep. Craig Thompson, a Harrisville Democrat, represents Cheshire District 14 in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.)

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