Hey Joe: An open letter to Mr. Biden

US politician Joe Biden has replied to a reporter's question about whether he owes specific women an apology regarding his behaviour toward them. In a video clip posted on CNN, Biden says, "I'm sorry I didn't understand more. I'm not sorry for any of my intentions."

Dear Joe,

I watched the excerpt several times. Two sentences especially drew my attention.

First, "I'm sorry I didn't understand more."

I infer that you regret a lack of awareness about concepts like personal space, unwanted touch, and more complicated nuances pertaining to power and privilege. I too have "not understood" at times, and received criticism. The world changes; we can learn.

Second: "I'm not sorry for any of my intentions."

Intention—a synonym for aim, purpose or objective—drives purposive behaviour. But our intentions may not be clear to us.

Example from my distant past: I invite a man to dinner, alone, at my apartment. What is my intention? To uncover intention, work backwards from the behaviour:  "I am inviting him to my place in order to...".

I might have more than one intention, and admit only to the nobler, higher-minded one. So I say my intention is to provide a nice relaxing evening, and impress him with my cooking. But I also want get to know him better —perhaps a lot better—which is why I'm wearing that new lingerie with the violets on it.

Being honest with ourselves about our intention is the gold standard of self-awareness (or as the kids say, wokeness); disclosing one's intention to someone else is to be vulnerable and trusting. We may be able to open up like that with only a few persons, but facing our own intent is foundational to not fooling ourselves.

There is a refreshing honesty to someone who admits intentions that are not virtuous or socially-sanctioned. That can be a pose, but at least is not total bullshit, Joe. (Master class: Richard Roxburgh's character Cleaver Greene in the Australian series "Rake".) We are all capable of base to noble intentions, and every point in between.

Sometimes our intention is just fine but the times change, so we have to alter our habitual behaviour. A primary-school principal told me, "When I was having a rough day, I would go on the playground and I'd get five or six hugs. I can't do that anymore."

When I misstep—my behaviour that does not deliver my intention— I am embarrassed, chagrined, flooded with regret. Sometimes I blame the other person. Standing at a new neighbour's door with an unwelcome welcome pan of veal lasagna, I think, "She could have told me she's a vegetarian!"

But I realize that's not her job. Live and learn; next newcomer gets a vegan chocolate cake.

So what do you do, Joe? Say you're sorry for the behaviour. Going forward, remember Stephen Covey's aphorism, "We judge ourselves by our intentions, and others by their behaviour."


Wendy said…
Great post, as usual. I deeply respect Mr. Biden and have been frustrated by his responses in this situation. They have missed the mark in a way that makes him seem old and out of touch. It seems to me that someone in his position should have had an expert of some sort to advise him in a more precise and clear apology. I don’t think his intentions were wrong (versus a certain someone’s “ grab’em by the p&%# remark) but definitely beyond society’s current norms. Am I just making excuses for him?
Susan said…
Our older son worked on Capitol Hill back in the early 2000s and said that Biden was the nicest person he met. Biden was focussed in a real way when he met our son, a lowly 22 year old staff person at that time.. He looked him the eye, got up close, and made our son feel like he mattered.

We can have respect for Biden (which I do) but urge him not to run. It's time for a new generation of leadership--a generation that understands personal space.
royleen said…
Well said. That last aphorism is one I still use working with leaders. Appreciate you!
Yes, by being too touchy-feely, he had grown out of touch. I don't think he was a sexual predator, unlike others (and not only the Orange oaf) but that behaviour was of another era.

However, I'll always remember his green plan for fast trains, and in particular the Northern New England (and New France!) route between Montréal and Boston, passing through Vermont and New Hampshire. For such a distance, a TGV (fast train) can take no longer door to door than a plane, as there shorter security checks, and railway stations can be located in central urban areas.
Susan B said…
Yes, yes, yes. Part of living and learning is understanding how our actions affect others, regardless of our intentions. It's the actions that we're held responsible for.
KH said…
I agree he’s not a predator and that his intent well-meaning. But unlike your school teacher and hugs example, I think he misses an important point in saying that “times have changed.” It’s not simply that the standard for touch has changed, it’s also that women’s ability and willingness to speak up have changed. And despite his intent, his actions caused some women discomfort. I wish he’d apologized directly for that, rather than attributing it all to the times.

He’s not my first choice, but this is not disqualifying in my opinion. I wish the media would apply some perspective.

On the other hand, I’ve been surprised at what I’ve found myself offended by in a candidate. I read the Beto O’Roarke interview in Vanity Fair tonight and was put off by his multiple references to his testicles to describe a decision he didn’t have the nerve to make and how he’d “pedaled them off” on a bike ride. He’s a young(er) man but it struck me as at least as out of touch as Biden, especially in an election where so many women are angry enough that his gender alone might be disqualifying. To be present for that conversation would be equally as awkward as a hug from Joe Biden. Or at least I’d be less surprised and better prepared to respond.

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