Webster defines "oops" as —"used typically to express mild apology, surprise, or dismay".

Rick Perry had an oops in this week’s presidential debate. He forgot the Department of Energy as he was trying to name three governmental agencies he wants to eliminate (along with the departments of Commerce and Education). On the one hand, we all forget things and a mild apology for that is probably good enough. On the other hand, there are seminal moments when leaders cannot afford to forget things. Some will wonder if Perry would forget important things at other important moments if he were president.

Penn State Football Coach Joe Paterno is kicking himself this morning for his 2002 oops of not following up on his report of what he’d heard from a graduate student about what his former assistant coach was doing to a young boy.

But that not an oops. That’s not something that warrants a mild apology. While no one suggests Paterno actually did anything wrong, he failed to do right. That he was not the only one failing to do right does not lessen his blame. There’s enough blame to go around on this one. Had Paterno followed up, he could have prevented bad things from happening to other children. He could have.” He should have. He failed.

The difference is not one of intentions. It’s one of impact. A mild apology is appropriate for something that has a mild impact on others. Get over it. Get on with it. For things that have a more significant impact, much, much more is required – like doing the right thing in the first place.

We all make mistakes. Our behaviors nest within our relationships, attitudes, values, and environment. When the behavior is slightly at odds with them and has little impact, that’s an “oops”. But when the behavior is more flawed and has more impact, it calls those relationships, attitudes, values, and environment into question.


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