I could not believe my eyes watching Kanye West wrest the microphone away from a stunned Taylor Swift, winner of the VMA Best Female Video award. It was West’s judgment that the award belonged to Beyonce, who also looked stunned.
The words in my title are borrowed from Joseph N. Welch, who is renowned for uttering them and others at the HUAC hearings led by the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy. They seem appropriate for Mr. West.
I have read West’s pseudo-apology. It’s one of those “yes, but…” apologies that demonstrates his lack of self-awareness as well as indicates he is not really sorry. I take issue in particular with his line:
“I gave my award to Outkast when they deserved it over me. That’s what it is. I’m not crazy yall (y’all), I’m just real.”
Real rude, he must have meant. Nasty, even And very immature. Contrast that with the classy Beyonce Knowles inviting Taylor Swift to share the stage with her during her award. Could we feel the love any more than at that precious moment?
I hate to admit it, but West is just a product of what we’ve become as a society. Whether we’re watching what passes for political debate these days or the unbelievable vitriol directed at individuals with whom we might disagree, to cable news and talk shows, the discourse is becoming unhinged. My father used to call it “diarrhea of the mouth.” Though I don’t think he could have imagined what would be coming out of people’s mouths today.
In my speeches on persuasion, I mention the 3 critical skills that almost no one has anymore: Empathy, Courtesy and Apology (my Fast Company blogs here and here). By practicing these three things, maybe we could begin to bring back some decency.
Kanye, you wanna go first?
Ruth Sherman Associates LLC / High-Stakes Communication / Greenwich, CT