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What Paula Deen Actually Teaches Us About The S Word

Sorry. It’s a word that should not be that difficult to utter with meaning and sincerity. But, in fact, it can be quite difficult to say.  Look at the firestorm of controversy surrounding media darling, celebrity chef and businesswoman Paula Deen.

Her blatant admission to using a racial slur in the past led to questions about her racial sensitivity and potential for intolerance of others. Speculation pooled and simmered to a slow boil. But the temperature could have swiftly cooled if Deen had simply done the right thing immediately. She should have appeared on national television and acknowledged her past position while clarifying her present one with a simple, “I am sorry. I apologize if I offended anyone.” Instead, there was a disappearing act—along with two hasty apologies via YouTube videos. And when she did return to the national television spotlight, her interview lacked remorse but was full of defense.

A simple, heartfelt sorry. Why is it so hard to immediately and publicly say: “I messed up.” “My bad.” “Let me apologize.” Aside from the obvious answer of avoiding consequences, it might be our need to be right even when wrong. Our insistence on going down in a blaze of denial rather than surrendering with a sorry flag is rooted in a basic inability to look at our own flaws . . . and those of our parents.

I remember as a child staring wide eyed at a police officer who asked me to verify my harried mother’s story about why we were speeding down an urban street. His eyes locked mine over my mother’s imploring look and he asked me three simple words. “Is that right?” I shook my head slowly, “No.” He looked satisfied as he wrote the ticket and my mother questioned my ratting her out. My answer was simple: “You always told me to tell the truth.”

Don’t the truth and sorry co-exist? What greater gift can we give our children than the ability to use their own feelings and truth to meaningfully say, “I am sorry.” We can teach our children to apologize simply by staying focused on the deed. We can teach our children to not insert the word ‘but’ in the apology, instead use the word ‘and.’ We can teach our children that apologizing may release guilt and point them on the path of good.

The ability to say ‘sorry’ implies that you care enough to acknowledge feelings outside of yourself and can diffuse potentially ugly and violent situations.  All it requires is an awareness, courage and a desire to make things right. It can be easier than we think—and more necessary.

 

What do you think of how Paula Deen has handled this controversy? Post a comment below and tell me.

Janet Taylor, M.D., M.P.H., is a mother of four, a psychiatrist in New York City and director of guest support for The Jeremy Kyle Show. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.  

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