"Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me," or in Ozzie Guillen's case, "Words can never hurt me," is a proverb that proves to be wide of its mark.
By now, you are probably aware of how Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen spoke words that thousands of Latinos, baseball and non-baseball fans, found offensive. If you don't read the sports section or listen to ESPN, or if you just missed the story, here is a quick summary of what has turned into "heat."
In a Time magazine interview, Ozzie, who has a reputation in the baseball world of speaking out, uttered, "I love Fidel Castro." As you would expect, the Miami Latino population and others became angered, and many of their leadership groups called for the Marlins to fire him, so just like a politician who is caught in a lie or exposed for a shameful act, Ozzie held a press conference -- no doubt, the Marlins insisted.
Naturally, the press conference was a media event -- live on ESPN, with dozens of reporters, and several thousand Latinos outside the ballpark watched on big, big, television screens. It was a well-publicized event.
Ozzie apologized profusely. He felt "sad and embarrassed." Speaking from the heart, he explained what he meant to say: basically, that he was amazed that someone who has hurt so many people and has been the target of assassinations has not only survived, but is still in power. He, so Ozzie said, was pointing out that Castro was "tough," like a pitcher who threw 300 innings. He did not love Castro, but was admiring his "toughness." He punctuated himself by saying that he was "thinking in Spanish but communicating in English," and that it did not translate.
On and on the press conference went: repetitive questions, repetitive apologies, with the end result that the Miami Marlins suspended him for five days, while most Latinos wanted him fired.
Now, readers, lets step back from the Ozzie incident and look at ourselves. Consider: How many times have you said something that has offended another person, be it at home or at work? How many times have you said something, and although minutes later you regretted your words, you still got burned?
For me, the answer is plenty. I can recall numerous times when my words, at home or in a business setting such as a presentation, were found to be offensive to others, and believe me, I have paid the price -- a lost client, a hurt and angry loved one. Like Ozzie, I would profusely apologize, clarify my words and restate my intention, but for the most part, damage done was damage done. Like me, I bet you have similar stories to tell.
In fact, all of us have been like Ozzie; we have all said things that have offended others. Sometimes it is due to anger and out of hurt. Other times, it's because we think we are being funny or we simply speak too quickly, and for sure, we often say things because being politically correct goes against our beliefs. Whatever the reason, rarely, I have found, do people say things with the intent, especially in a public forum, to offend others. Ozzie said, "I love Fidel Castro," but he did not say it with the intent to offend others. Naturally, this does not excuse him from the responsibility of his remarks; this is why he was punished and suspended for five days.
I believe we should all be held accountable for what we say, regardless of intent, but there are some lessons from the Ozzie incident that if followed, will make it less likely to put your foot in your mouth.
1. Increase your self-awareness. Here the term refers to being more conscious about how you communicate. Begin to pay attention to your choice of words, what they mean to you and how they might be interpreted by others. Get in the habit of asking yourself, "How might others perceive me if I speak these words?" If the answer is a negative, I doubt you will utter your words.
2. Don't ignore your built-in censor. You have freedom of speech, but there will be consequences for what you say. Recognize that what you think is one thing, what you say is another. You think your boss is a jerk, but you probably won't say so because you have a built-in censor. Listen to your censor and you will edit your thoughts for the best way to express them.
3. Empathy. Who are you speaking to and how will he, she, or they feel what you say your words? What you think is funny, others may think is cruel or insensitive. This is why ethnic jokes are prohibitive in public forums. A good policy to follow is to ask yourself, "If I were the other person, how would I feel if someone said this to me?" Your answer might save you from trouble.
4. Fast Apology. The best way to repair a relationship damaged by hurtful and offensive words may be a fast apology. The Marlins held a press conference immediately so that Ozzie could apologize to those he offended. Some call it damage control, but the point is, a quick, sincere apology begins to heal the wound -- so step up to the plate instead of sitting on the bench.
5. Let it go. Those offended have a responsibility, too. You have been hurt by words and if you sincerely believe that was not the speaker's intent, and you believe their apology is sincere, than let it go -- otherwise you will never be able to move on. An apology is worthless if we don't accept it, and if you don't, you keep the wound open. Enough is enough.
We all say things we don't mean and we all offend others unintentionally. The best you can do is to try to minimize these occurrences. Now, for Ozzie, and the people he offended, it's time to play ball!
For more by Dr. Hendrie Weisinger, click here.
For more on emotional intelligence, click here.