Truth: We all say things we regret.
We fail to consider the feelings of another person.
Our joke lands poorly.
We don't foresee how a sentence will be received by others.
We choose the wrong word or words.
Quite often, we forgive people for these moments. We know that they can happen absent any malice or intent. When you say lots and lots of sentences over the course of a lifetime, you will occasionally utter a clunker. An error. Something unintentionally offensive.
We get it. It happens to the best of us.
But when one of these clunkers land on certain taboo subjects, we are decidedly less likely to forgive. Far more likely to condemn. Someone says something unintentionally bigoted or sexist and we are far more likely to bring down the hammer on the person, even if there's a chance that their heart was in the right place.
Unintentionally insult a colleague's work ethic or an employer's leadership and we can be forgiven.
Unintentionally make a racist or sexist comment in the workplace, and depending on the context, our life might be changed forever.
We need to be more forgiving. More understanding.
Recently I heard a woman tell a story about her battle with anorexia in her teens. Many factors contributed to the onset of the disease, but she mentioned that during the onset of her disease, her science teacher said that her body mass index was higher than he would've expected.
This is a terrible thing to say to any person, and especially a teenage girl. It would've been very easy for this woman to continue to condemn this teacher's comment even today, decades after the incident, but her response:
"No, he was a great man. One of the best. He just said a dumb thing that day."
I can't tell you how refreshing this was to hear. Rather than isolating a single moment in this teacher's life and holding it against him forever, she took a full measure of the man. She placed his stupid words in the context of a life of service.
We need to do this more. We need to allow people misspeak. Misjudge. Say something stupid without destroying their life or reputation in retaliation. We must take the full measure of a person. Weigh an unfortunate comment against the life they have led.
Years ago I was named Teacher of the Year in my school district. I delivered a speech to more than 1,000 colleagues on the first day of school. After acknowledging my fellow finalists by asking them to stand and receive a round of applause, I said, "Thank you, girls. You can sit."
Stupid. I knew how sexist and rude those two sentences sounded the moment they left my mouth. I still cringe when I think about that moment today.
Thankfully, no one held these words against me. The speech was well received. Twelve years later, teachers still routinely compliment me on it. The only person to mention my two stupid sentences was Elysha, and only after I mentioned the faux pas first.
I'm not saying that we should not condemn the person for constantly making bigoted or sexist comments. There is a difference between saying something stupid and a pattern of stupidity. But before we condemn, we must take a measure of the person. We need to ask ourselves if the words spoken were indicative of the speaker or perhaps a moment of verbal stupidity. A poorly intended joke. Word salad.
Was the bigotry or sexism intended, or was it simply a regrettable assemblage of words, absent any malice? Has the comment been repeated? Did the person defend the comment rather than apologizing for it?
We should ask ourselves these questions before condemning a person.
Before blasting away.
Before potentially altering a life forever.