What do you do when you screw up? Un-doing mistakes and righting wrongs are some of the toughest work we do as humans. But it's also some of the most valuable.
Earlier this week, I had an argument with someone over the story about Senator Al Franken, about the photos and his backstage behavior during a USO tour when he was a comedian. I admit it was tough; I heard the dismissals, criticisms of his accuser's character/occupation through my own experiences with assault, humiliation and shame. But I also heard them as the mother of a teenage daughter who has been on the receiving end of unwanted male attention.
In her case, a casual friend took and posted photos of her without her permission, and refused when she said stop. Instead he attempted to shame her, tell her she needed to lighten up/be more friendly/smile more/it’s just for fun.
It’s better of course if we don't screw up. Beyond that, what happens next when we go too far and are told we screwed up is what matters most. This is the opportunity we have: own it, repair the relationship if possible and grow, or become the offended party, criticize their character, call the person names and try to convince others the person’s concerns can be dismissed because xyz.
My daughter and I talked about that; how some people use shame to try to get you to collapse your boundaries and do what they want. We talked about how people sometimes dissemble when they aren’t sure if they’re safe just saying no. It was a great conversation and I’m thankful for that. I suspect a lot of parents are having similar great conversations with their daughters and sons these days. That gives me hope.
So being a woman and the mother of a teenage girl shape what I think about Franken and the accusations against him. I’ve been angry and upset, but I’ve also been reassured by Franken’s responses. He responded by owning his behavior, like someone who is actually listening and believes the other person’s experience matters. That’s consistent with what I know about his good character, and is helping restore my trust in him as a senator responsible for representing us all.
Bottom line: when you screw up, own it. Listen, and let the other person know you’re listening. Make amends. It restores the integrity of the person you've hurt; that makes their world a little better.
It makes your world better, too. We are all “wounded healers”. This is how we grow.
At a national level, our trust in government is at an all time low. We need more senators and representatives who own their mistakes. This is also how we can tell those who actually want to serve us through their work in government vs. those who want to take advantage of us for their own purposes.