Each school year, as part of a lecture on how to cover a speech, I show my journalism students a video of Randy Pausch, the American computer science professor who died at age 47 and whose “last lecture” became famous for its life lessons.
It’s a poignant video because, in it, Pausch knows he has pancreatic cancer and has only months to live. (You can find it on YouTube.)
Yet the topic of his last lecture isn’t the future of computing, his career accomplishments or coming innovations in human-robotic interaction. Instead, he talks about how to live one’s life and, in doing so, delivers some simple truths that all of us should revisit from time to time.
Among them are a few words about what constitutes a proper apology.
“There are a lot of bad apologies (out there). A good apology has three parts: I’m sorry. It was my fault. How do I make it right?”
In the sordid Jian Ghomeshi scandal lie some very fine examples of non-apology apologies. The former radio host’s spectacular and tawdry descent from the CBC’s pantheon of network stars to a perdition of his own making has been an exercise in damage control from the beginning.
This week, the legal manoeuvring ended. To say the whole tawdry mess has now concluded would be over-reaching. Ghomeshi still will have to get on with his life and, for the women he injured with his brutish sense of power and entitlement, the ordeal never really will be over.
Yet in the eyes of the courts, the seemingly final chapter of the sorry saga came with Ghomeshi’s signature on a peace bond and a carefully crafted statement he deemed to be an apology to former radio colleague Kathryn Borel. This despite the fact that he’d based his defence during his earlier criminal trial on the fact the assertions of his accusers were patently false.
“I want to apologize to Ms. Borel for my behaviour towards her in the workplace,” the statement began. But by the second sentence, Ghomeshi had already turned the spotlight back onto himself, referring to his own “deep regret and embarrassment.”
Yes, there were flashes of empathy and sorrow in the 390-word communiqué. But an equal part of it dealt with the re-education of Jian Ghomeshi, as if power imbalances and sexualized behaviour in the workplace were ideas the sensitive, arts-oriented, liberally minded broadcaster had just now begun to grasp. He finished with a statement of regret over the pain he had caused his family and friends.
Outside the courthouse, Borel, who had succeeded in having a publication ban on her identity lifted and who traded a trial for an apology and peace bond as “the clearest path to the truth,” had her own say. The most sobering of her assertions lay in her account of the CBC’s response to her complaints about Ghomeshi’s sexual advances in the workplace.
“When I went to the CBC for help, what I received in return was a directive that, yes, he could do this and, yes, it was my job to let him. The relentless message to me from my celebrity boss and the national institution we worked for was that his whims were more important than my humanity or my dignity.”
As Financial Post columnist Howard Levitt has observed: “Borel has all but openly invited (Ghomeshi) to sue her. If he doesn’t, people will draw the obvious conclusion. But if he does, he’ll lose all of the courtroom protections of the criminal process and face instead the balanced ones of a civil court case,” where a simple test of a “balance of probabilities” replaces the tougher standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” of a criminal trial.