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Why Steve Harvey is a mensch

Dave Gordon - Tuesday, 19 January, 2016

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I’ve been asked by quite a few people what I thought of Steve Harvey’s apology after the Miss Universe gaffe, naming the wrong winner -- Miss Colombia instead of Miss Philippines.

The quick answer is: it was good.

According to news reports, a behind-the-scenes video shows Harvey pointing to a cue card and talking to an unidentified person saying: “The teleprompter said Miss Universe – Colombia.”

He immediately stated: “I’d like to apologize wholeheartedly to Miss Colombia and Miss Philippines for my huge mistake. I feel terrible.”

As readers of this site know, the basic formula for a kosher apology is that it has to be expeditious (this was), specific (this was), and promise through words and actions never to repeat it. That’s the ESP Rule.

I’ve been challenged on this case, asked whether Harvey’s apology was, in fact, good, since it was missing the last element.

And it’s a very good question. Most apologies require all of the elements.

Most of the time, concrete steps must be taken to show the offended party goodwill. This especially occurs in instances when there’s a possibility of a repeat offense, if the relationship is already damaged, or the initial offense is harmful.

Those steps can take the form of reparations, trust-building, and demonstrable effort at change.

But, apologies must also reflect the proportionality of the harm caused. The smaller the harm, the less of apology needed; the greater the harm, it stands to reason that a much wider-reaching apology is obligatory.

What happened at the pageant was a small blunder. As I understand, it wasn’t that Harvey misspoke; rather, that the winner’s name was wrong on the card.

But whether or not it was directly his fault, the simple answer is that when a small wrong is addressed in an expedient fashion, that’s all that is necessary. Think of it like somebody accidentally stepping on your toes.

A quickly offered “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” is sufficient for those times, but highly insufficient for greater harm.

Surely, one doesn’t expect the ridiculous: “Sorry that I stepped on your toes. It won’t happen again. I was careless, there are no excuses, and I’m going to take all precautions in the future to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Saying such a thing is a mockery.

The ESP Rule is in descending order, and for good reason.

By racing to address the problem, Harvey has already proven how important it is to mitigate the harm done.

Had Harvey, on the other hand, pretended as if the entire incident never happened, and only much later offered words of contrition, we could reasonably think less of his apology.

The specificity of the offense – or confession – shows the hurt party that the transgressor truly understands what they’ve done.

Yes, sometimes, that’s all that’s required for small gaffes, such as Steve Harvey’s.

He took responsibility and admitted immediately what he had done, without being told to. Some people have referred to that as being a mensch.


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