Since last summer, when women and men began speaking out en masse about their experiences of sexual abuse and sexual harassment, a lot of prominent, powerful men have issued apologies for the things they've done and said. But if you're going to apologize, there's a right way and a wrong way to do it. The apology Tony Robbins tweeted on Sunday for his comments during his giant "Unleash the Power Within" event is the best example I've seen of how to do it right.
If you're a fan of Tony Robbins's, or are interested in the #MeToo movement--or just have spent any time online in the past few days--you've already heard about what Robbins said and maybe even seen the video. Perhaps it made you furious. It certainly had that effect on me.
In the video, he argued with a woman at the workshop who stood and questioned his views of the #MeToo movement. In an exercise, he had her hold out her fist and pushed her across the room, to demonstrate, he said, that pushing back wouldn't make her safer. Robbins referred to the Bible quote "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone," saying that we've all done things we wish we hadn't. (As if denting someone's car in a parking lot or cheating on your taxes is somehow on a par with molesting an adolescent.) Then he said the #MeToo movement made him "sad for women," because many Hollywood executives he coaches are now refusing to hire attractive women believing the risk is too great.
His comments, and video of him making them, took a couple of weeks to make it onto social media. When they did, the reaction was swift and extremely negative, particularly from Tarana Burke, who created the "Me Too" movement long before it became a hashtag.
I was made aware of this video BEFORE I ever saw it because Tony Robbins people reached out to do damage control within 24 hours. They wanted to "give me context" apparently. I don't need any. I have eyes. The full video is 11 mins. And it's gross. Bravo to this woman. https://t.co/gjbm9GF1Mz-- Tarana (@TaranaBurke) April 7, 2018
But then something surprising happened: Robbins took to Twitter himself with an apology that everyone can learn from. If you ever need to apologize for anything, I recommend you take a close look at what Robbins wrote.
What Robbins didn't say
What was so good about that apology? Let's start with all the things we've seen in other recent #MeToo-related apologies that Robbins didn't say:
He didn't claim that his comments had been misunderstood or misinterpreted. Saying that you've been misunderstood is a prominent feature of too many apologies. Or worse, the non-apology version: "I'm sorry you misunderstood what I was saying."
He didn't claim that his intentions were pure but came across badly. For a great example of this kind of apology, I give you Garrison Keillor's complicated explanation of how he was trying to console a colleague when his hand accidentally slipped inside her shirt.
He didn't make excuses about his state of mind at the time. As Kevin Spacey did, for example, when he basically said he was too drunk to remember having sexually assaulted anybody.
What Robbins did say
He did say three things that make a huge difference:
"I apologize for suggesting anything other than my profound admiration for the #MeToo movement." In other words, "I was wrong." That simple sentiment seems to be incredibly hard for people to express--even when they're in the middle of an apology--but Robbins did.
"I still have much to learn." This is another sentiment powerful people don't often express, and you'd think it would come particularly hard to a life coach who is supposed to have all the answers. But Robbins tweeted it, noting that "sometimes the teacher has to become the student."
"I am committed to being part of the solution." Robbins says in his tweet that "I need to get connected to the brave women of #MeToo," and that he will both work on himself and work with them to make things better. "That begins with this brief statement but will not end until our goals are reached," he adds.
I've read a lot of apologies in the past year or so, and this is the first one where the powerful man giving the apology asks that the people he's apologizing to teach him, and offers to help them in their work as well. It took a lot of courage and vulnerability for him to do that, because his offer can be--and very well may be--rejected.
But I hope it isn't. Robbins is powerful and influential and smart, and if he genuinely wants to help the #MeToo movement, that help could be highly valuable. And, judging by that video, he does still have much to learn. The women and men of the #MeToo movement could help him learn it.