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Commentary: Outcry, offense, and denunciation
The dustup over President Obama’s remarks today, in which he referred to “Polish death camps” while bestowing the Medal of Freedom to the late Polish resistance hero Jan Karski, is an object lesson in maintaining perspective and communicating in good faith. That his words offended many Poles is clear, and the reason for that is obvious. But immediate, condescending denunciation such as that of Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, above, who said the incident “upstaged” Karski’s award and was the result of “ignorance” and “incompetence,” reflect an assume-the-worst instinct that makes it harder to discuss offense and express contrition. President Obama (arguably) holds the most stressful and consuming job in human history — that he might let a few words slip that don’t accurately capture his meaning isn’t much of a surprise, especially in a ceremonial capacity that (I’d hope) isn’t foremost on his mind. When such a semantic offense comes about, it may better the conversation to hold back the instant, seething criticisms, which often take the offender at their absolute worst interpretation. Sometimes, a simple and earnest “hey, can we talk about this?” can go a long way. — Chris @ SFB


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The dustup over President Obama’s remarks today, in which he referred to “Polish death camps” while bestowing the Medal of Freedom to the late Polish resistance hero Jan Karski, is an object lesson in maintaining perspective and communicating in good faith. That his words offended many Poles is clear, and the reason for that is obvious. But immediate, condescending denunciation such as that of Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski, above, who said the incident “upstaged” Karski’s award and was the result of “ignorance” and “incompetence,” reflect an assume-the-worst instinct that makes it harder to discuss offense and express contrition. President Obama (arguably) holds the most stressful and consuming job in human history — that he might let a few words slip that don’t accurately capture his meaning isn’t much of a surprise, especially in a ceremonial capacity that (I’d hope) isn’t foremost on his mind. When such a semantic offense comes about, it may better the conversation to hold back the instant, seething criticisms, which often take the offender at their absolute worst interpretation. Sometimes, a simple and earnest “hey, can we talk about this?” can go a long way. — Chris @ SFB

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May 29, 2012 // 22:12 // 2 years ago
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