Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Friedman on the value of (other people) apologizing

The deadline arrives, and once again Tom Friedman, the NYT pundit and master of dressing up platitudes and making them superficially resemble real insights ("the world is flat"), is obliged to identify a problem and solve it within 800 words. He recalls a recent unpleasantness in an airport line, and he realizes to his distress that someone easily could have documented him with a camera phone and put the video up on YouTube and maybe even made him look bad. This leads to his Eureka moment, the identification of the problem: "The Whole World Is Watching." Yikes!
When everyone has a blog, a MySpace page or Facebook entry, everyone is a publisher. When everyone has a cellphone with a camera in it, everyone is a paparazzo. When everyone can upload video on YouTube, everyone is filmmaker. When everyone is a publisher, paparazzo or filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure. We’re all public figures now. The blogosphere has made the global discussion so much richer — and each of us so much more transparent.
After identifying the problem and surrounding it with a thicket of vertical pronouns, it's time for Friedman to move on to a conclusion by borrowing some insights from an expert, business ethicist Dov Seidman, author of "How." (You can tell he's an expert, because his prose runs to klunky metaphors.) With Seidman's authority backing him up, Friedman counsels living transparently, and advocates apologizing when you screw up.
“We do not live in glass houses (houses have walls); we live on glass microscope slides ... visible and exposed to all,” he writes. So whether you’re selling cars or newspapers (or just buying one at the newsstand), get your hows right — how you build trust, how you collaborate, how you lead and how you say you’re sorry. More people than ever will know about it when you do — or don't.
If only. Although the Iraq war has been a nightmare from the very beginning, we've never heard an apology from Friedman for his famous rallying cry in the lead-up to the war, "Give War a Chance."


Nonanon said...

Oh, how I hate Thomas Friedman. In addition to writing boring books that for some reason everybody who comes in to the public library wants to read, I've never forgiven him for making a fortune on the $25 "World is Flat" hardcover, and then re-releasing it a year later in a bullshit expanded edition hardcover for $30. Of course globalization works, Friedman, when you can prostitute yourself that obviously and cunningly.

What did he do, behave like a jerk in an airport line (I refuse to subscribe to the Times Online to read the article)? Why am I not shocked? Thanks for the post on a completely talentless hack getting rich in our flat world.

Madison Guy said...

Nonanon, I admire your stand on principle against Times Select, but find it hard to do without the Sunday Times. It's an addiction. I gave up cigarettes, can't give up everything...

At the risk of sending your Friedman-meter (and mine) off the scale, here's what he whined (or should it be, as the Brits say, whinged?) You be the judge of who most likely was the jerk:

Three years ago, I was catching a plane at Boston’s Logan airport and went to buy some magazines for the flight. As I approached the cash register, a woman coming from another direction got there just behind me — I thought. But when I put my money down to pay, the woman said in a very loud voice: “Excuse me! I was here first!” And then she fixed me with a piercing stare that said: “I know who you are.” I said I was very sorry, even though I was clearly there first.

If that happened today, I would have had a very different reaction. I would have said: “Miss, I’m so sorry. I am entirely in the wrong. Please, go ahead. And can I buy your magazines for you? May I buy your lunch? Can I shine your shoes?”

Why? Because I’d be thinking there is some chance this woman has a blog or a camera in her cellphone and could, if she so chose, tell the whole world about our encounter — entirely from her perspective — and my utterly rude, boorish, arrogant, thinks-he-can-butt-in-line behavior. Yikes!

Nonanon said...

Madison Guy!
Thanks for the summary. It's not really a stand on principle, I just can't bear the thought of signing in with yet another username and password anywhere.

The Friedman story is priceless. He's mining his life from three years ago? What, is the hack running out of new material already? Also: I'm pretty sure the lady was at the register first. Frankly, thanks to his own "give war a chance" essays, I don't need pictures to know he's a boor.

Median Hater said...

Hey thanks Madison guy for putting so eloquently into words what has been festering in my soul for the past 10 years. In an effort to avoid my grad school work I googled "I hate Thomas Friedman" and your blog was the best thing that came up!
My favorite reasons to hate TF:
"thicket of vertical pronouns" (exactly!)
"dressing up platitudes"
"borrowing some insights from an expert" (::shudder::)

As a real, live, flesh and blood political scientist, it is people like Friedman who make me want to rip off my own legs and beat myself with them. Thank you for helping me come to terms with my rage.

By the way, check out his brilliant piece on Kurdistan from this past week. Hotels + malls = Mission Accomplished! No need to sweat the small stuff...

- The Median Hater