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How to Apologize on the Internet: Larry Bodine Comes Clean

by Victoria Pynchon
November 2008

From Settle It Now Negotiation Blog

Victoria Pynchon

Some attorneys and mediators make light of the power of the apology ("it's only about money").  My education, training and experience consistently suggest otherwise.

Today, we learn a lesson in heart-felt apology from Larry Bodine for a post I hadn't seen, but which Bodine himself admits was anti-Semitic.

"Elevator Pitch" Post Deleted I sincerely apologize for the crude and offensive "Elevator Pitch" post I put online last week.  In the clear light of morning, it is clear that it was anti-Semitic and repellent.  I want to thank all the people who commented and called me about it; I listened and took what you said to heart.

If you read on here you'll see that Bodine did not simply say "I'm sorry."  He removed the admittedly offensive post; disowned it; and, empathized with those who found it offensive by sharing his own family's WWII imprisonment story.

As my Second Track International Diplomacy Professor Brian Cox has written in his book Faith-Based Reconciliation

Words that heal include expressions of caring, concern, gratitude and affirmation.  [I]n demolishing the walls of hostility, we must be prepared to examine our own pattern of spoken words and embrace the practice of ethical speech. . . .

Because Bodine himself admitted the anti-Semitic nature of his post, it falls into the category of an identity-based conflict with some or all of his readers.  Though speaking from a religious or "faith-based" viewpoint, I always found Cox' prescriptions for resolution to work equally well from the point of view of secular humanism.  As Cox explains:

A faith-based reconciliation framework applied to an identity-based conflict . . . consists of six basic elements:  imparting moral vision, building bridges between estranged groups, a peace accord, advocacy for social justice, political forgiveness, and healing deep collective wounds.

More particularly, Cox recommends the following specific steps:

1.  Sharing life journeys and building common ground.

2.  Sharing perceptions of the conflict.

3.  Engaging in problem solving.

4.  Sharing how one has caused offense to the other.

5.  Exploring each community's narrative of history and perception of historical wounds.

If you read Bodine's spontaneous apology, you will see all of these elements contained in it.  This is not surprising because apology and attempts to re-build interpersonal bridges are hard-wired into us as toddlers.  As I wrote in "Shame by Any Other Name,"

Shame . . .  "acts as a powerful modulator of interpersonal relatedness and . . . ruptures the dynamic attachment bond between individuals." 30  When an individual has broken this bond, he wishes to recapture the relationship as it existed before it turned problematic. 31 Toddlers shamed by their mothers, for instance, naturally initiate appeals to repair the momentary break in the emotional bond resulting from the shame-inducing behavior. 32 This process is called self-righting. 33 It is natural and universal. 34 The shamed toddler reflexively looks up at and reaches toward his mother. 35 Even a preverbal child will spontaneously express this need to be held in an attempt to reaffirm both self and the ruptured relationship, to feel restored and secure. 36

A healthy and responsive mother accepts and assuages the child's painful feelings of shame, enabling the toddler to return to a normal emotional state, one in which love and trust are ascendant. 37 If the caregiver is "sensitive, responsive, and emotionally approachable," especially if she uses soothing sounds, gaze and touch, mother and child are "psychobiologically reattuned," the "interpersonal bridge" is rebuilt, the "attachment bond" is reconnected, and the experience of shame is regulated to a tolerable emotional state. 38

This may all seem excessively academic.  The point is that we all trespass on the feelings of others; those feelings are critical to our connection with one another; our connection with one another is fundamental to our individual well-being and our survival as a species; the urge toward reconciliation is therefore natural, as are our desire to be forgiven, our spontaneous expressions of remorse, our attempt to explain and normalize our bad behavior (we are all fallible and we have all suffered harm)  and our fellows' willingness to forgive, particularly when we bare ourselves and our histories to one another in the course of our effort to re-establish what joins us and to move beyond that which divides us. 

And for that lesson, we owe thanks to Larry Bodine this evening.

Biography


Attorney-mediator Victoria Pynchon is a panelist with ADR Services, Inc. Ms. Pynchon was awarded her LL.M Degree in Dispute Resolution from the Straus Institute in May of 2006, after 25 years of complex commercial litigation practice, with sub-specialties in intellectual property, securities fraud, antitrust, insurance coverage, consumer class actions and all types of business torts and contract disputes.  During her two years of full-time neutral practice, she has co-mediated both mandatory and voluntary settlement conferences with Los Angeles Superior Court Judges Alexander Williams, III and Victoria Chaney.  As a result of her work with Judge Chaney in the Complex Court at Central Civil West, Ms. Pynchon has gained significant experience mediating construction defect litigation.  Ms. Pynchon received her J.D., Order of the Coif, from the U.C. Davis School of Law. 



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