A few days ago, Academy Award nominee Jonah Hill lost his cool while being hounded by paparazzi and screamed a homophobic slur at them. Because this is the age of everything ending up on the internet, it didn’t take long before the whole world knew and demanded that he apologize for his words. Today, visibly shaken and upset, Hill made a public apology, saying he could not defend his language but he could take responsibility for it and recognize the people he had offended with his insensitivity.
Hill’s humility and willingness to apologize isn’t just refreshing: it’s a lesson in how to handle our public moments of indiscretion. Jonah Hill has based his career on being a likeable everyman: crude, rotund and quick with a joke, his characters are the ones you want to join for a beer, or (if you’re in Colorado) smoke a joint with. Alienating any part of his audience, even in a moment of anger, could have seriously damaged his career. Luckily, Hill recognized that the only way to alleviate the damage was to apologize immediately, showing solidarity with the gay community and taking full responsibility for what he said. He cannot take back the slur he used, but showing that he understands and regrets what he did – and not just for its impact on him – demonstrates a willingness to grow, change, and consider his fans.
There isn’t a person alive who hasn’t done or said something stupid. If you’re unlucky, you’ve said something stupid in public; if you’re really unlucky, you said it in a way that could drive people away from your business or brand. Once it’s out there, especially if it went out in a blog post or tweet, it’s very difficult to take it back, and trying to erase an indiscretion only ends up making you look worse. As hard as it is for your pride, the only way to control the damage is to take a leaf from Hill’s book, take responsibility for your actions and apologize. By accepting your own accountability, you don’t just ease the minds of whomever you offended: you give yourself and your business the opportunity to move on from the mistake and grow. A business that respects its customers and uses its mistakes as opportunities for growth can ultimately survive a few mistakes, even if they are offensive or embarrassing.