By Ellen Snortland
Pasadena Weekly Columnist
Subject line: Please correct yourself: We have a woman Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court
“Ellen, I am a fan and enjoy your writing. But I think you have lost track of current reality regarding the chief justice of the California State Supreme Court. I was shocked when you said that Rose Bird was the last and only woman to hold that office. Please read up on Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, who is actually sort of a local girl. Raised in the Bay Area, she had relatives who brought her to Eagle Rock frequently for visits. Many thanks and best wishes: Mona Field, professor emerita, political science, Glendale Community College.”
Of course, as soon as I saw the subject line, my stomach clenched with that old, familiar, immature gut feeling: “Uh-oh, now I’ve done it! I’m in trouble!” I tell myself, “Oh, grow up.”
After 30 years of writing a weekly column, I frequently wonder what the heck this week’s column will be about. I have faith that there’ll be an obvious answer, found either in public or private events from my own life. And indeed, there always is. This week, I have a topic that is both universal and personal — macro and micro, as it were. I made a blunder that needs amends. I stated in the first paragraph of last week’s Thanksgiving column that “Rose Elizabeth Bird, the late, great 25th chief justice of the California Supreme Court — and the only female ever to hold that office …”
Yikes! To say that I am mortified is a tad of an understatement. Here I am, Penny Perfectionist, Wanda Women’s History, Fanny Fact Freak, and I didn’t even know about Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye? Shame on me!
I looked up the way to make a genuine, authentic apology, and I realize the paragraphs you just read are veering into the realm of “Apology No-No’s.” This should not be about me; instead, it is about repairing trust and making amends to the person I offended. Apology experts Aaron Lazare and Nick Smith say, “The apology is all about them and how they feel. It doesn’t matter if the actions were intentional or not; the end result is the same.”
Do a search on “real apologies” and you’ll find formulas ranging from four easy steps to 15-point mea culpa prescriptions. Considering our current Pandemic of Rudeness, we could all benefit from an Apology Brush-up. I’ve heard enough pitiful apologies to know the answer for most of us is a bashful “yes.” And I believe journalism in general needs confession, but I digress.
Today, I’m going with the four-part “sorry” from the book “On Apology” by Aaron Lazare and Nick Smith. This formula is easy to remember because it has a handy-dandy mnemonic device, the 4 Rs: recognition, responsibility, remorse and reparation. (I’ll add my own fifth later.)
1. Recognition — Stating that someone was the first and only when they weren’t is inexcusable, especially in my area of passion and concern: women’s firsts, empowerment of females, revealing heretofore invisible women, etc.
2. Responsibility — Here’s where I can’t blame circumstances, how I felt, where I was, or minimize with “Not a big deal in the scope of the universe…” I did it, and no one had a gun to my head.
3. Remorse — I am sincerely sorry for stating that Rose Bird was the first and only female chief justice of the California Supreme Court. In fact, Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye is the second female chief justice and the first Filipina American woman on the court. She comes from humble beginnings, and recently de-Republicanized herself to “no party preference” due to the current state of the GOP. I promise to be better at research or have someone else do it so I can blame them! I kid, I kid!
4. Reparation — How do I repair a blow to my credibility? How do I clean up carelessness? And I am truly not “careless,” as I care more about these things than most. All I can do is take better care. One of several ironies of my mistake is that firsts of any marginalized group are essential, but it’s arguably the seconds, thirds, fourths that are even more important to actual progress.
I had mentioned that I’d add my own fifth R:
5. Request — I will tell you what happened only if you request an explanation. Some apology recipients don’t really want an explanation. Their “How could you?” doesn’t require an answer. An explanation could be a deflection, making the explanation itself the culprit and not the perpetrator. For those who do want to know what happened, I’m glad you asked. I trusted a quote aggregator and shouldn’t have. That’s it. It was stupid and something I will never do again. It’s not enough to verify that the quote is attributed correctly. The mini-bio with the quote is also subject to verification.
And that, my friends, is all she wrote, having situated myself into current reality. Thank you, Mona, and to dear friend and lawyer, Jill Switzer, a faithful reader of my column for caring enough to write.
Ellen Snortland has written “Consider This…” for a heckuva long time, and she also coaches first-time book authors! Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.