I apologize

Alfred E. Newman
Alfred E. Newman

There’s a fundraising professional I know whose positive impact on the arts in Greenville is indisputable. This fact buys him considerable deference in my circles and that deference insulates him from the ill will caused by his not infrequent social gaffes. His negativity, bizarrely inappropriate comments and relentless dishing are legendary. He’s what casual observers might call “a character,” though in his case the term is hardly a compliment.

Yesterday, for example, he walked into my office and, since he was there to talk with my office partner (and it’s a very small office, by the way … maybe 8×12), he completely ignored the fact that I was there. No acknowledgement of my presence, no “Excuse me, may I come in?” … none of those niceties. He walked in, turned his back to me and proceeded to speak in hushed tones across her desk to the one other person in the room. This went on for at least 20 seconds before he tossed a half-hearted “Oh hi, Tim” over his shoulder, after which my view of his backside resumed, as did his “private” conversation.

I should point out here that he and I are business acquaintances. There’s no particular informality between us and, at the risk of sounding like a prig, the rules of common courtesy definitely apply.

So I left the room, saying something about giving them privacy. He’s a money man, after all, a rather potent one, and Centre Stage is in the midst of a major fundraising effort and … well, you know how these things work.

But less than an hour later, throwing fiduciary caution to the wind, I was in his office across town calling him out with my colleague in tow as a witness. He took offense, of course, but ultimately spoke the words “I apologize.” He didn’t speak them like he meant them and it was pretty obvious that he didn’t want to speak them at all, but he did speak them. Which is progress, I suppose. For him. Or maybe it’s a setback for Centre Stage. Hard to tell this early on.

Now I’m asking myself why I didn’t blow the whole thing off, why I didn’t simply collect the moment as an amusing anecdote. The answer, I think, is this: Rude people, left unchecked, poison the very air we breathe with their rudeness. They’re bad for the common good. And looking the other way in the name of political expediency is a form of social irresponsibility.

That’s how I see it, at any rate.

Or am I missing something?