The kindergartners were lining up for lunch at the school where I volunteer, when a little girl I’ll call Lizzie started crying because her friend was mad at her. The teacher took Lizzie aside to calm her down and sort out what was going on.
It turns out that Lizzie had meant to call her friend Samantha a “princess” but she accidentally called her a “butthead” instead.
Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
I smile every time I think of Lizzie’s explanation, but what if we all found it perfectly acceptable to make the most outrageous or insulting remark, excuse it as an accident, and then turn it on its head? We could call our boss a nincompoop who shouldn't even be allowed to be in charge of a bake sale, let alone a department, and then explain that what we really meant was that he is an inspiring leader of towering intellect. This brazen approach might be less offensive, in some ways, than the wimpy “misspeaking” apologies often half-heartedly delivered by politicians and others who have gotten themselves into hot water. I hate the “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” kind of non-apology.
If accidents like Lizzie’s were completely acceptable, conversation might become a lot more interesting. We might hear people saying things like, “I know I accidentally called your wife an ignorant slut, but I meant to say that she is a wise and insightful vision of loveliness.” Or “Yes, I called your proposal boneheaded and not worthy of comment. But I meant to say that it is a breathtakingly brilliant idea from a true visionary.” Or, when your daughter announces her engagement and you say, “Honey, he is a liar, dumb as a board, and will make your life a living hell,” you follow with, “Oops. That was an accident. I meant to say I’m tickled pink.”
Playing the “accident” card worked for Lizzie. Samantha is still her friend, despite accidentally having been called a butthead.