You know that quote that goes around after horrific events, like the Boston marathon bombings? It’s something Mister Rodgers said about in the midst of bad, look for the helpers? Well, yesterday I realized I had a lot of helpers around me.
First, let me be clear that I am not equating a homophobic verbal exchange at a cash register with terrorist events. I obviously realize the difference. But yesterday, and the day before, the outpouring of comments, emails and support stunned me. I am grateful for every single one.
I have become immune to the power of apology. As the mother of six-year-old twins, I have to negotiate apology events constantly. I can’t count the number of times I say “Apologize to your sister!” in a single day. And what happens next: A terse “sorry” spit out by a child with a scowl on her face, about as genuine as cubic zirconia. Looks flashy, but no substance. Man, I work hard to make them look at each other in their eyes, and say it like they mean it, use a personal pronoun, and understand that “sorry” is not just a word, it’s an action.
But I digress. All this Mister Rodgers and sorry talk to say that yesterday, while I was supervising cousins playing in a pool on Long Island, and enjoying some screen-free time in the beautiful sunshine with my family (minus Nicole, who is still in Haiti), B&H contacted me via comments on my blog, via Twitter and even via some of my friends to apologize. Their diligence is noted. And we didn’t get a cookie-cutter, forced apology: It was a genuine apology that seemed truly heartfelt. Read for yourself below. (This was what was sent via email. You can read in the blog comments what was said there.)
B&H didn’t have to do anything. I’m a loyal customer, for sure, but I don’t come with million-dollar contracts. I shop there for all of my camera needs, but, until I (maybe) upgrade to a full-frame camera, right now my needs are mainly lenses (well, those ARE pricey). I have friends, and Twitter and social media outlets, but we all know I don’t come with 50K twitter followers. In other words, I really could have been brushed under the carpet, cast off as a disgruntled customer, business as usual.
Instead, they apologized, sincerely, and I was grateful. That is what I wanted, all I wanted. And this is why that is important: When the girls get older, and we have to have Hard Conversations about the horrific and specific prejudices they will encounter in their lives due to the fact that they have two moms — as it will be a matter of “when” and not “if”— I will be able to say: This happened. It’s not right. I wrote a letter. They apologized. And that is how you handle a bad situation.
It doesn’t, of course, change what happened. And I don’t now paint everyone who works at that store as homophobic; after all, one person doesn’t represent an entire staff. There is no B&H corporate policy of hatred or homophobia. But it did happen. And there is a part of me that is grateful that it did, for several reasons. It reminds me that we need to have conversations with the girls about how the world sometimes works. I can’t just put my head in the sand and hope for the best. It reminds me that there is a lot of work that still needs to happen for acceptance — I can’t imagine people having to blatant homophobia at a doctor’s office, or work, or a restaurant. We simply can’t forget that this still happens — a lot. And it reminds me that there is a ton of support out there, that I have a small army behind me, filled with people who are outraged when I am outraged; people who see (hear) the wrong in words when many won’t; people who have my children’s backs. That means the world to me, you have no idea. The world is shifting, indeed, and the good will someday outweigh the bad. A girl can dream.
So now, it’s a new day, and while I DID say that all I wanted was an apology, I think I may have a new request. I read once that there are three parts to an apology:
- I’m sorry.
- I was wrong.
- What can I do to make it right?
Most people do the first step; some people do the first and second; but most forget the third, myself included. What can I do to make it right? I will admit that I had one of those moments of enlightenment when I first read that quote. Oh so THAT’S how an apology works! It’s not just a collection of words that we say out loud. We have to offer to make it right, even if the affronted person crosses their arms, scowls and says “nothing,” like a six-year-old. I need to remember to start teaching the girls that.
I said from the beginning that all I wanted was an apology. B&H did that. And they admitted that they (well, the employee, that is) were/was wrong, thus satisfying number two. But what can they do to make it right? Friends suggested that perhaps a donation to HRC would be appropriate, and I think that is a great idea. Why? Because some day, when the girls are older and we talk about these situations with more depth, I can add that to the story: They apologized and look what action they took! I am all about hindsight.
I know B&H is quite involved in charitable donations (I recall reading that the owners of B&H are very charitable, and modest — despite the runaway success of their company. There were some interesting stories that I vaguely recall) so I am sure a donation of any amount would not cut too much into their budget. I was sent an email address and phone number, and I think I may contact them directly today to see if that is possible.
Recently, I have been thinking a lot about that quote about how you can’t boil an ocean, but you can do wonders with a few drops of water. I feel like, over the past couple of days, we boiled a few drops of water. I am filled with this renewed passion and belief that even I can make a difference! It may be little, but awareness breeds awareness. And I am optimistic enough to think that a collection of many events like this can actually, maybe, kinda, sort of start boiling an ocean.
Pictured above: Our girls, waiting on the world to change. And below, behold — This is how an apology is done:
I apologize. B&H apologizes. Colleagues of mine at the highest level of management here know about this terrible situation and apologize. There is no excuse — it is inexcusable. No person should ever have been subjected to what you experienced and for it to have happened in front of your children makes it all the worse.
It is not an excuse for me to say this was aberrant behavior on the part of one individual here. It does not represent the company’s attitude and it certainly does not represent mine. We know who here conducted this conversation with you. His manager and our human resources department have already begun the internal process of addressing this with him.
I doubt anything I can say or write or do can erase this incident from your memory. I understand your feelings extend to the entire company and everyone here. It is not my purpose in this message to convince you to change your mind about not shopping here in the future. In your position I would feel the same way. Nothing is more sacred than family and nothing in this world is more important to me than my own child. My only purposes are to tell you how abjectly we regret this ever happened and to tell you that this was an individual’s inexcusable behavior, not a reflection on our staff.
I would not presume to intrude on you by phoning you at this time but if you want to discuss this further you can reply to this email address or reach me at xxx-xxx-xxx.
[Redacted! I have always wanted to use that word!]
Director of Corporate Communications
B&H Photo-Video, and Pro-Audio