10 Things We Should Be Talking About

To Err Is Human

We live in a country that glories in other people’s failures. We demand perfection of our movie stars, athletes, politicians, and business leaders. When they turn out to be human, we hammer them for it. Reveling in the demise of others is the sum total of today’s news industry.

Here’s a news flash: We all make mistakes—sometimes huge, dumb, and devastating ones. I certainly have. To me the real question is, what happens after you make that horrible mistake?

Rather than taking so much pleasure in others’ failings, shouldn’t we be rooting for them to get better as men and women, fundamentally changing themselves in ways that show they will not do the same thing again? I am a big believer in the possibility of redemption. The true beauty of humanity isn’t in being perfect but in making mistakes … and then waking up from our stupor and doing something about it.

After getting thrown out the house some 15 years ago for being a drunk and a cheat, my now-deceased grandmother—a Quaker woman of great strength of character—told me, “It’s not how you fall in life; it’s how you pick yourself that counts.”

Next: The True Cost of War


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—Photo Stefano Mazzone/Flickr

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About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    You don’t get it. There will never be absolution. Apologies for this sort of thing aren’t once&done. They have to be endless. You will never be absolved. Maximum time between apologies is about fifteen seconds. More than that and you’re part of the patriarchy.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    “Why aren’t more men apologizing to women for these injustices and why aren’t we talking about this issue?”

    I can express deep regret and sadness at the way some people have exploited others. I can’t really apologize on behalf of people who have not given their permission for me to be their spokesperson. Imagine if as a “white guy” I apologized on behalf of all white men and all white women for all the bad things that white people have done to others. In that case would it be okay for me to speak for hundreds of millions of women?

    That’s an awkward example because of course, like just about everyone, I am of mixed ancestry when you go back far enough, so I would be apologizing for only one part of “my people.” But, it is kind of similar. If I apologized on behalf of all men then I would be apologizing for half of my ancestors and apologizing to the other half of my ancestors.

    I would feel like jerk to apologize for the late Phil Hartman and late Steve McNair for the way that men are so violent towards women. (Okay, these are extreme, rare cases, but the counterexamples add up pretty quickly.) That would seem kind of heartless of me.

    I’m not sure what to do with the fact that men are themselves products of both male and female influences. If men’s bad behavior could be traced only to male influence, I can see some usefulness in men apologizing for all men. But, that would suggest that women have had NO influence on men at all. Boys do what they do completely regardless of what mothers teach them? That’s news to me. That even sounds to me to deny the influence of women on society all throughout history. (Okay, maybe men have had more power, but women had no influence at all?)

    I would think that in every generation women are also partly responsible for the behavior of young men, both good and bad.

    But, to be fair, I am willing to officially apologize to Erin on behalf of all men if she had the power to absolve me of all male guilt on behalf of all women. I would really like to get a certificate of absolution if I can. I’ll have it framed myself. Where do I send the formal apology?

  3. Although I support your right to have any conversation you want with this forum, I think publicly funded elections, localization and the diminishing social and economic value of Wall Street are conspicuously missing from the list.

    The underlying anger in this country is very real…as you have noted…but nothing is being done to address the conditions which create a lot of the feelings of fear and powerlessness plaguing all but the wealthiest people.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    By breaking out the prison and correctional population by ethnic group, Tom has done one of two things.
    One is to accept that incarceration and other forms of criminal correction tracks pretty accurately with criminal activities. Thus, the ethnic groups mentioned are far more prone to commit crimes than are whites.

    Or he could be implying that such disparities reflect racism or something else which is doubleplusungood by society in general and criminal activities are not different between ethnic groups, but are roughly the same. The difference in incarceration rates is due to, perhaps, racism. Maybe something else, but not a matter of disparity in the propensity to commit crimes. This requires substantiation.

  5. One in 77 adults is behind bars and the U.S. correctional population—those in jail, prison, on probation, or on parole—totaled 7.3 million, or one in every 31 adults. Of the 2.3 million criminals behind bars, almost half are African American and the vast majority are male.

    Nearly one in three black men aged 20-29 is under criminal justice supervision, while more than two out of five have been incarcerated. One in 15 black children and one in 42 Latino children has a parent in prison.
    Question. By chance where did you get those numbers from? I’m not trying to dispute them I’m asking because I’m curious about other breakdowns in prison populations (the only ones that people seem to be able to come up with are stats on black men an latino men).

  6. Dont care says:

    I don’t care where you’re from or what color your skin is… If you have a job, positively contribute to society, AND PAY TAXES LIKE THE REST OF US!!! Then you’re all good in my book…

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Well, you can see the kind of folks who apologize. I figure the commenters are probably normal people who got really annoyed at the video.
    Another AA, Ann Althouse–an attorney,, has a blog with this issue. She was appalled as were her commenters.
    It is cheap amusement to apologize for something you haven’t done. Get all the credit and not have to worry about, you know, actually having done the thing.
    Mark Steyn noted that the Titanic disaster resulted in the loss of about 75% of the men and 25% of the women. Not too many years ago, a ferry sank in the Baltic. Most of the 2000 passengers were lost. The bulk of the survivors were young men. Progress?

    • The amount of women that die of childbirth around the world every year dwarfs that number.

      343,000 a year. Mostly due to lack of affordable and accessible health care/prenatal care.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Missed the point. The point is whether the change from mostly women surviving because the men chose to put them first in the Titanic disaster to mostly men surviving in the Baltic ferry disaster because they’re stronger than women and put themselves first is progress.
        After all, women are no longer being pedestalized, or whatever the word is.
        Good? Bad? Not interesting?

      • “The amount of women that die of childbirth around the world every year dwarfs that number.

        343,000 a year. Mostly due to lack of affordable and accessible health care/prenatal care.”

        …And this has what to do with anything? Sorry, you can’t blame biology on men.

        Oh, and the people that made the medical advances that ensure that this number isn’t much, much higher? The majority were men.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    Amy Alkon has a piece on apologies by men. Comments are interestting, as well.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      A female friend sent me the video and it kind of freaked me out.
      I did read Amy’s response and thought it was pretty interesting
      as were the comments.

  9. I’d really like to talk about this phenomena: apologizing to women for the harm that has been done to them and why more men aren’t taking it upon themselves to behave consciously as the REAL men in this video choose to:


    Throughout history, men have given themselves more privileges then they afforded women. Today, men have built a whole industry dedicated to stereotyping and objectifying women for just sex. Men still hold most positions of power and men still make more money on average then women. Why aren’t more men apologizing to women for these injustices and why aren’t we talking about this issue?

    • Erin, I’m not going to appologize for anything done by a collectivity which I am arbitrarily assigned to. And I’m CERTAINLY not going to do it because two guys who look like stalkers at an anti-abortion rally urge me to.

    • Sorry, I also refuse to play the “collective guilt” game.

    • Sorry – this video = instant gag reflex. It’s so terribly self-serving and, well, paternalistic. And the insincerity, it burns. Yuck.

      I’m a firm believer of changing gender roles, of adopting a dramatically different behaviour towards women, children, family, etc. etc. I believe I contribute. At the end of the day is only makes sense – as has been remarked so many times before, patriarchy hurts men, too.

      But none of that is going to make me like new age-ish rubbish videos.

    • Erin you’re taking a guesture that those men are making and turning it into guilty by gender association. Frankly put I don’t own women anything just because I share gender with the men that have harmed them.

      Why aren’t more men apologizing to women for these injustices and why aren’t we talking about this issue?
      Mainly because the majority of today’s men are not responsible for those injustices. Now if you want to get into collective guilt then how about apologizing for the things that women have done to men in the past?

      apologizing to women for the harm that has been done to them and why more men aren’t taking it upon themselves to behave consciously as the REAL men in this video choose to
      Your use of “real men” is just as shaming as the guy that tries to goad another into comitting violence to prove that he is a “real man”.

      I don’t fully agree with all they say (and from what I’ve read there’s quite a few women that don’t either) but from what I’ve seen so far (I need to sit down and finish watching it) they aren’t trying to prop themselves up as the real men that the rest of us need to be (they could be doing that but like I say I havent seen it all yet).

      So as soon as you stop thinking that you can hold us all responsible for the same actions just because we are men we’ll be ready to talk things out. Oh and:

      Throughout history, men have given themselves more privileges then they afforded women.
      Please prove that the men that have been at the top of the ladder throughout history were looking out for men as a gender instead of looking out for themselves.

    • My mother was a single woman stricken with a crippling disability who worked full time and raised two boys who would have made Cotton Mather run for the hills. She didn’t ask for apologies or point fingers at men, some of which had treated her with incredible injustice…she just went out and got what she wanted with an unholy demonstration of will power and guts.

      Quit playing the victim and get yours!

    • I don’t want an apology. I want equality.

  10. Where’s the love? Difficult question. I don’t think anyone knows.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ref. Immigration in AZ.
    1. Illegal immigrants are…illegal. That’s a crime.
    2. Nobody said ALL our problems stem from immigrants. Or if somebody did, cite, please.
    3. You said “immigrants”, not “illegal immigrants”.
    4. See California with the expenses of illegal immigrants being part of the state’s bankruptcy. Being illegal, they’re not supposed to be here.

    • Richard,

      ” Illegal immigrants are…illegal. That’s a crime.”

      No, that’s a tautology.

      Immigration law, in my opinion, is largely irrational, unethical and biased. It is, in short, bad law. And nobody is ethically required to obey bad laws. You cannot ethically make human movement illegal.

      California has many, many problems and I am not at all convinced that a significant number of them are caused by illegal immigrants. But hey, here’s a solution: make those people LEGAL if they get on the tax rolls. Problem solved.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Tautology or not. Illegal immigrants are illegal which makes it a crime. Your views on immigration laws notwithstanding.
        Up until, say, the Sixties, most immigrants were interested in assimilation, either actively or as a function of living in the US.
        Since then, some, including Hispanics and Somalis and others, have insisted on retaining their own culture and language.
        Cultures vary, as I have quoted Sowell, and differences have consequences.
        If all cultures were equally useful, there’d be fewer reasons to leave countries whose primary cultures are whatever they are.
        I have a niece in LA. She’s big on diversity, but she won’t put her money in a Nigerian bank, nor insist that LA recruit its cops from the Mexico City police academy, nor, if sick, go to a walk-in clinic staffed by graduates of the Addis Abbaba Insitute of Veterinary and Medical Science. In other words, she’s a restaurant diversity person, and very proud of it. She misses the fact that she is actively making the point that assimilation to the US culture is a good idea.
        I’ve worked with liberal social groups, religious, mostly, and I know it’s the right thing to say that there’s no reason to want to assimilate to this vile, rotten, evil culture. Some, the more disturbed, actually believe it, but most know it’s what they’re expected to say.
        They haven’t moved to, say, Bosnia.
        Speaking of which, Balkinization used to be a bad thing.

  12. Quijiboh says:

    Long form answers are a step up from multiple choice exams, but I would be cautious by about holding up A-Levels too high. There is still a fair amount of room for rote learning rather than use of critical faculties. In most subjects you will be taught the standard form for structuring an answer. Teaching also inevitably ends up geared towards getting everyone to pass their exams rather than much more than developing their knowledge on a topic.

    Thinking about it though, I guess that’s more a problem with exams in general than with A-Levels specifically.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Agreed teaching to any test misses the point. But teaching to a multiple choice test is particularly misguided.

  13. Tom,

    This is probably a bit of a tangent, but I think you handled the confrontation with the angry driver very well.

    What I heard you saying about that was the driver was smaller than you, so you didn’t feel threatened by him. I can only urge extreme caution if there is any assumption that smaller men are less dangerous. I’m probably reading your narrative wrong, but I had to say something to save you from unpleasant surprises about that in the future.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      Scott you are right. I probably should have said I was scared, and frankly wanted to make sure the guy didn’t have a gun or knife before I said a word. Still his anger and violence (he keep pounding me on the chest) was frightening. Specially considering he had broken the law by trying to run me over in a cross walk…and there was nothing to get so upset about other than built up rage at life.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I realize the list items have to be short and concise, but there are some details that need to be examined:

    On Fatherhood:
    Living in a single-parent household is not the same thing as having only one parent. In terms of single-mother households, the father could be involved but not live in the house. I’m not saying lack of fathers is not a problem, but the stats are not quite as gloomy as quoted.

    On Immigration:
    “We” Americans also include Native Americans, so it’s not exactly “us” versus the natives. (I guess that was the larger point, that “we” are made up of all sorts of people whose ancestors were immigrants.) Except for a few specific acts in the nineteenth century, the spread of smallpox was unintentional. And, of course, if you trace the history back far enough, Native Americans were immigrants also.

    On the other hand, if you take the Native American point of view, you can see how immigrants can ruin a country. In the 1600’s these Europeans come in uninvited, refuse to learn the language, reproduce like rabbits, bring people in their families over, use violence to get their way, bring their nasty diseases, and before you know it they run everything and you’re a minority in your own country….

    I totally agree that immigrants are often used as scapegoats. The biggest irony is that one of the big stereotypes about immigrants is that they’re lazy, when in fact I suspect that immigrants work harder on average than U.S.-born people do. Near where I live, it’s (what appear to be) homegrown people panhandling on the street corners and (what appear to be) immigrants hanging out near the Home Depot looking to be hired for day labor. (A clumsy example, I know, but the difference is quite dramatic.)

    On anger on the streets:
    I see road rage all the time, and I see drivers crowding people on sidewalks all the time. I associate it not so much with anger as with impatience. I would love people to talk more about the pace of life and the totally crazy expectations people have about time today, about how quickly everything has to happen. People seem to think if they cut close to pedestrians they will somehow shave time off their commute, or if they tailgate the person in front of them they will get home faster. If you can’t get what you want from a website in three clicks, the website is too much trouble. How did we get like this?

    • Tom Matlack says:

      agree on the impatience of the modern world (though I plead guilty on that too) and that the fatherless children stats are hard to parse exactly. I was just going on what is in the census. And on immigrants yes my first hand experience is that the immigrants, legal and illegal, are prepared to bust ass to make a life for themselves.

  15. Richard Aubrey says:

    Ref. education. Non-hispanic whites in this country do about as well as anybody in the world.
    As Thomas Sowell said, cultures vary and differences have consequences.
    One consequence is in attitude toward education.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    Who said immigrants are the source of all our problems? Cite, please.

    • Tom Matlack says:

      How about the law passed in Arizona and being considered by a dozen others regarding illegal aliens?

    • Oh please, Richard Aubrey.
      Stop trying to create a fantasy world where Arizona’s racist law, and rightwing screamers like Limbaugh and others who denigrate immigrants on a regular basis don’t really exist. Except they do.
      You strike me as an insincere f–khead, frankly–Someonbe incapable of an hinest discussion on this subject.
      Hate much? Keep baggin’ that tea.

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