Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Bungled Approach Is Met With Avoidance

No matter what you may think of the underlying substantive merits, this business about Clarence Thomas' wife asking Anita Hill for an apology, nearly 20 years after the fact, says a lot about the deterioration of etiquette and courtesy.

First, I would contend that anybody who calls someone's office at 7:30 on a Saturday morning, as Virginia Thomas did, doesn't really want to speak with the person they're calling. They just want the opportunity to record a monologue on the receiver's voice mail, which is exactly what happened here. If Thomas really wanted to ask for an apology she should have called Hill when the odds were greater that Hill would actually be in her office and available to have a real-time conversation.  If  Thomas had still gotten Hill's voice mail when calling during business hours, she should have left a polite message asking Hill to call her back. No need to state what the call was about.

Too bad Hill didn't exhibit the same courage she showed 20 years ago in appearing before the Senate Judiciary committee in the way she handled Thomas' voice mail message. While Thomas' request for an apology was ill-considered there was certainly nothing in the tone or substance of it that was remotely threatening.

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Ideally, Hill should have returned Thomas' call and firmly but politely told her: "Sorry, but I have nothing to apologize for and therefore I am not apologizing to you or your husband." What's so hard about doing that? If the conversation gets unpleasant or uncomfortable, hang up.  If she wasn't up to returning the phone call, she should have should have simply done what it seems like one out of two business people do these days: ignored the phone message. 

Instead, Hill called the Brandeis campus police, handed the voice mail to them and reportedly asked them to get the F.B.I. involved. Leave it to a lawyer, to turn a request for an apology into a federal case.

If you're going to drop a dime on somebody, at least have the backbone to do it yourself. Don't get somebody else, in this case the campus police, to make that call to the F.B.I.

This situation has everyone else scratching their heads because both Thomas and Hill are guilty of hiding. Thomas is hiding behind a voice mail message and Hill is hiding behind the coattails of the F.B.I.

20 years after the Thomas confirmation hearings the problems between the Thomases and the Hills don't seem to have changed much. Once again, it seems to be another case of bad manners and lack of sophistication in handling an awkward social situation.
© 2010 by Craig Smith and