07/01/2013 05:32 pm ET Updated Aug 31, 2013

What If Paula Deen Were Your Big Client?

I've always admired Paula Deen for morphing her big personality and a spoonful of know-how into a successful, worldwide business. She epitomizes what I teach: Do what you love and make money doing it.

So, now, her reputation is shattered and her business is in tatters. And she deserves it. Every action has a reaction, and Paula is getting payback for tolerating racist language and dishing out some of her own.

Here's the thing. Her transgressions are meat-and-potatoes common. Let's play a little game, just you and me. Look back over the last 30 years. Raise your hand if you or someone at your dinner table used the words Paula used. Raise your hand if you said nothing, smiled awkwardly or politely, or full-on laughed out loud at a racist joke shared by a coworker. If a Big Money client used the horrible words, raise your hand if you said (would have said) nothing and taken the check.

Thanks, Paula. You've shown us just how awful the consequences can be. That may make a difference.

1. We can be better. We can't plead ignorance. Changing one's mind and actions is often deemed a weakness of character. It is right and reasonable to stop doing things that are hurtful to you or others. We can think before we speak. We can hand-to-the-face someone who uses offensive language. We can correct a stranger's child when they say something inappropriate. We can raise our standards of what we will do and what we won't tolerate.

2. We have to take it. If someone trots out a Super 8 movie clip of you, from 1975, letting loose with a racist rant, you've got to take whatever comes next. If we use provocative language to make a point or to be funny, we better make that point. It better be funny. It better be worth it. Maybe it will fly because a member of the targeted group is the one doing the denigrating. Still, we've got to deal with the fallout. You, me, we can't justify it. We have to deal with the reaction to the action. And if taking a stand against racism means losing a sale or a client or a friend, we've got to take that that, too.

Paula, it's time for you to take your lumps. I'm sorry for you, and for all the hurt caused by your ignorant-at-best and hateful-at-worst transgressions. Can we learn from this? Can we avoid the words that are linked to oppression, hatred and violence? Perhaps, we are better than we used to be. Perhaps we are making progress, moving beyond systematic oppression and celebrating diversity and solidarity. Perhaps we are culpable and we are now better. I hope so.

The words, those words, are rotting leftovers.