April 30, 2007
On Sunday April 22, 2007, I participated in an Armenian rally in Times Square to honor and remember the victims of the Armenian Genocide of 1915. There was approximately 8, 000 participants, demanding that Turkey recognize the Genocide. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, New Jersey Congressman Frank Palonne and New York Congressman Anthony Wiener were eloquent in support of the demand.
I am particularly sensitive to Turkeys’ reaction because my grandfather, Mihran, was murdered by the Turks in the genocide that killed more than 1.5 million Armenians. The Genocide is undisputed by historians worldwide, and has been documented by journalists and diplomats. Yet it is has always been actively denied by the Turkish Government. Turkey is the only democracy that does not give access to government files to international historians.
Japan has also been under pressure from the International Community to accept responsibility for forcing Asian women to work in brothels during World War II. Yet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denies that the Japanese military had any role in forcing women into sexual slavery.
Why is it so hard to admit wrongdoing?
I believe that the two major reasons are the fear of losing face and the fear of financial consequences.
We never want to lose face. Yet admitting wrongdoing creates respect and builds credibility. Financial consequences can be also be mitigated when an honest admission is made.
We always counsel our clients in a crisis situation where wrongdoing has occurred to take full responsibility. Kathy Bloomgarden, our co-CEO in her book Trust-The Secret Weapon of Effective Business Leaders, writes: “Admitting publicly that a mistake has been made is always difficult, and usually embarrassing too.” And she adds, “ When leaders show that they are dealing to the best of their ability with negatives, public opinion about their organization turns sympathetic surprisingly quickly.
John Kennedy understood that very well. After the Bay of Pig fiasco, he publicly admitted his mistake, accepted the blame and took full responsibility for his actions. Kennedy’s popularity was greatly enhanced since this episode. His approval rating attained levels never reached before.
I wonder what would have happened if Attorney General, Albert Gonzales, when he appeared before the Senate had said: “I have now examined the issue and I realized that I made a mistake. I will reverse my decision and have the Federal Prosecutors that have been fired re-appointed.“
I suspect that it would be the end of the story.
As the author and cofounder of the Poetry Society of America once said.
“Admitting Error clears the Score, and proves you Wiser than before.”
These words of wisdom can benefit all of us, as well as both the governments of Turkey and Japan.