It must be Nice to be Perfect

19 Jun

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“There was only one perfect person in the history of the world, and look what they did to him” – Eleanor “Marie” Mannion (AKA, my Mom)

Surveys on our fears reveal that the number one fear is not death, but public speaking. Perhaps this is because people tend to be kinder to our dearly departed memory than they are to us when we misspeak, say something someone does not like or agree with, or are not politically correct.

You would think sharing the number one fear would mean not many people criticize verbal foibles, but the opposite seems to be true. I guess it is difficult to criticize someone for dying, right? (Although, I’ve seen that as well. It is true there are some you just cannot please!)

Every few years, a contestant in one of the scholarship/beauty pageants gets vilified for making a whopper of a statement. When asked if evolution should be taught in schools, a Miss Nevada replied, “Evolution definitely should be taught in schools … everything evolves, we evolve as communities … evolution can be taught in many different ways, it doesn’t necessarily have to be about people.” A contender for Miss South Carolina, when asked the most important event in U.S. history, responded, “Pearl Harbor, because it ended the great depression.”

Former vice president Dan Quayle famously could not spell “potato” and former president George W. Bush once told someone, “You’re working hard to put food on your family.” President Barack Obama once said he had visited all 57 states.

I have been as guilty as most at making fun of people who misspeak or otherwise flub a sentence or two. I am re-thinking this attitude, however, particularly in the Internet age. Every single syllable is likely to be recorded and played back, whether said in private or public. There is a lot of pressure on public figures to “make good copy.” And, as a former journalist, I know that words can be taken out of context, edited, and otherwise deformed.

Let’s make a distinction between two recent stories. In one, Serena Williams, in the middle of one of those “Rolling Stone; we can get anyone to say everything” stories, said of the Steubenville, OH, rape victim, “She shouldn’t have put herself in that position.” She said in the same interview that she was not blaming the victim. Ms. Williams has since apologized, after some took her words and ran the wrong way down a one-way street with them.

In another story, celebrity chef Paula Dean’s recent deposition supposedly states she admitted to frequently telling racist jokes and using the “n” word. If true, there are no apologies, and this is not a case of the media expecting every spoken word to be perfect.

We all make mistakes when speaking and writing. We all sometimes say things we should not; either because we should not be in our hearts in the first place or because they are not congruent with the audience to whom we are speaking. Let’s give one another some grace, shall we? After all, there was only one perfect person….

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