Last week offered a master class in How Not to Apologize.
First, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson. Then President Barack Obama.
Mr. Wilson came under fire after saying that “some women’s bodies just actually don’t work” for his pants. (Seriously? Their bodies don’t work? I thought the pants were designed to fit the person, not vice versa. “It’s about the rubbing through the thighs,” he added, putting the creepy cherry on the Regrettable Statements sundae.
Fortunately, the pants are generally more forgiving than Mr. Wilson. The whole point of yoga pants is that, while some alarmingly fit people do wear them, which you discover when they bustle past you with armfuls of kale, for the rest of us they are what you wear on your way to becoming alarmingly fit, or maybe just on your way to sit down with a good book, because they are comfortable and have spandex in all the critical areas.
Look, if the company’s founder is going to try to discourage people from wearing Lululemon pants, far be it for me to stop him. Maybe he’s trying to pull a Tony Stark and sabotage his own industry, just for kicks.
After noticing that everyone was upset, Mr. Wilson emerged with a classic Paula Deen-style apology. He stood in front of a white wall, teared up and didn’t actually apologize. “I’d like to talk to you today about the last few days of media that’s occurred around the Bloomberg interview,” he said. “I’m sad. I’m really sad. I’m sad for the repercussions of my actions. I’m sad for the people of Lululemon who I care so much about, that have really had to face the brunt of, of my actions. I take responsibility for all that has occurred and the impact it has had on you. I’m sorry to have put you all through this."
Everything about this apology is terrible. Mr. Wilson might as well have said: “I am sorry that you are not happy with the thing that I said. Please, stop being angry now.”
You take responsibility for what you said? Of course you’re responsible for it. You said it. This isn’t a grown person’s apology. “I’m sorry you are so angry” is not apologizing. “I’m sorry. What I said was wrong” is.
President Obama made similar mistakes Thursday, stumbling through an apology that, loosely translated, was: “I am sorry that the health insurance website has not worked and that I made some big, unrealistic promises. I promise that from now on my big, unrealistic promises will come true. For instance, the website will start working.”
“And, you know,” the president said, “that’s on me. I mean, we fumbled the rollout on this health-care law. There are a whole bunch of things about it that are working really well, which people didn’t notice.”
This is always a great way to apologize. Why are you complaining about the things that went wrong? Why aren’t you complimenting me on the things that went right?
Apologies are about expressing regret that you said or did the thing that made people upset, not just regretting that they’re upset. If you can’t do that, I’m not sure why you’re bothering, except so you can check off the “apology” box. But it seems pretty transparent. Speaking of Lululemon pants.
Alexandra Petri writes for The Washington Post.