Dec 21, 2018

Apologetical

How do you fix a word that’s broken? A word we need when we bump into someone on the street, or break someone’s heart. In our increasingly disconnected secular world, “sorry” has been stretched and twisted, and in some cases weaponized. But it’s also one of the only ways we have to piece together a sense of shared values and beliefs. Through today's sea of sorry-not-sorries, empty apologies, and just straight up non-apologies, we wonder what it looks like to make amends.

The program at Stanford that Leilani went through (and now works for) was a joint creation between Stanford and Lee Taft. Find out more here: www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/patient-family-resources/pearl

This episode was reported by Annie McEwen and was produced by Annie McEwen and Simon Adler. 

Special thanks to Mark Bressler, Nancy Kielty, and Patty Walters. 

Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate

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Jad Abumrad:

Hey, this is Jad. Before we start, uh, let me, let me just tell you about something. We, about a week ago, we sent out a message to, uh, the database of people who subscribe to the Radiolab newsletter and who are new contributors to Radiolab. We, uh, we sent a message to that list of people, and we said... Sort of out of the blue, and we said, "Hey, here's a number to call. If you're willing, call us up today and tell us a couple things. First, who are you?"

 

Female Caller:

Hi. Um, I'm Fiona.

 

Female Caller:

It is 4:20 here in California.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Where are you in the world?

 

Female Caller:

I'm in Reno, Nevada.

 

Male Caller:

Houston, Texas.

 

Male Caller:

Honolulu.

 

Female Caller:

Here in Seattle, Washington.

 

Female Caller:

Frankfurt, Germany.

 

Male Caller:

Nashville, Tennessee.

 

Female Caller:

Narragansett, Rhode Island.

 

Male Caller:

Sydney, Australia.

 

Female Caller:

Davidson, North Carolina.

 

Female Caller:

I'm in Kansas City, Missouri.

 

Female Caller:

Chicago.

 

Male Caller:

Boston, Massachusetts.

 

Jad Abumrad:

It was kind of amazing, and in ju-just a short period of time, we had almost 1000 calls from all over the world. And one of the questions that we sprung on people was, on this particular day, I think it was December 11th, what are you grateful for?

 

Male Caller:

I, I don't know right now, I'm feeling grateful for my children. Even though one's crying.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Tell us about a moment today where you felt grateful for something.

 

Female Caller:

I felt grateful when I woke up and it wasn't raining.

 

Male Caller:

Definitely, I felt moved today when I went to pick up my son from the daycare. That's always a very special moment, when I pick him up and he sees me, and he's happy.

 

Female Caller:

Today a moment where I felt grateful, um... It was a hard day, and when I got home, um, I just cried, and my husband held me. I feel really grateful that I have somebody who loves me that way.

 

Female Caller:

A moment that I felt gratitude was, um, I did a little something different with my hair, and my coworker, first thing this morning, she's like, "Did you do something different to your hair?" And I just felt, it was so sweet of her to notice.

 

Male Caller:

I'm grateful today because my step dad is still alive and seeming to be recovering, and that is one of the best things I can say about today, because it's been a really long, hard week.

 

Female Caller:

A moment when I felt grateful today... When I was driving home tonight on the interstate on a clear night, and, um, listening to podcasts. I was moved by the story.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Let me tell you what I'm grateful for. I'm grateful that I get to do this work with this incredible team, best team in journalism. That you literally pay the salaries of when you donate. That we get to make these stories, that I hope move you, make you think differently about the world. Maybe even make you feel grateful.

 

Jad Abumrad:

If that describes you in any way, we need to hear from you. We need to hear that you want more of this. And the way that you gotta let us know is by donating, of course. And in fact, we need 4000 people to step up before January 1st, so that we can have the money we need to fund Radiolab in 2019.

 

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Anyone who does that, any of the 4000 of you who I hope will do that, will get a special gift from us. A beautiful set of cards with some beautiful art on it, that commemorates a lot of the stories we had on Radiolab in 2018. Just a small way that we can say how grateful we are to you for helping us do this.

 

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Go to Radiolab.org, click that donate button, or just text the word RadioLab to 70101. That's the word RadioLab to 70101. It takes just a minute, and it's a choice only you can make, so make it.

 

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Okay.

 

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All right.

 

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You're li-

 

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Listening-

 

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-to Radiolab, Lab, Lab. From-

 

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WNY-

 

Female Voiceove:

  1. C. (laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Here we go. I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Uh, this is Radiolab, and today we are-

 

Robert Krulwich:

Sorry, really. Really sorry.

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs) Yeah, exactly. For more on that, uh, here is producer Annie McEwen.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Hello!

 

Robert Krulwich:

Hi.

 

Jad Abumrad:

How did you get into all this?

 

Annie McEwen:

Uh, good question. Um, as you know, I'm not one of you. I am Canadian.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Jad Abumrad:

There's so many of you here at Radiolab.

 

Annie McEwen:

That's right. We are invading. Um, and I, I, you know, I moved to the States, you know, a few years ago. And you know when you go to a new place, and you're able to turn around and look back at the old place? And you kind of see it with clarity?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

The clarity of distance.

 

Annie McEwen:

That's right. That's right. And there was this one moment that happened about a month after I got to America that just, I don't know, something about it just really threw me.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What was it?

 

Annie McEwen:

Well let me set it up for you. So, so it's... May 18th, 2016.

 

Nick Smith:

The doors be opened on [inaudible 00:05:03].

 

Annie McEwen:

In the Canadian House of Commons, the Speaker of the House-

 

Nick Smith:

Order. Hello?

 

Annie McEwen:

Calls the session into order.

 

Nick Smith:

[foreign language 00:05:12]

 

Annie McEwen:

Because in the house that day, they're going to vote on a bill. So the speaker rings his electric bell that lets everyone know it's time to vote. And as is Canadian tradition, these two people known as whips walk up the aisle, and then they do this kind of bow, and then the voting can begin. But for this particular vote, uh, the liberal whip gets to the front, and he turns to his right, and he does not see the conservative whip, Gordon Brown. He's like, "Where is this man?" And he turns to look behind him, and he sees that Gordon Brown has tried his very best to make his way to the front of the house, but he is stuck.

 

Annie McEwen:

And he's stuck because there is a clump of MPs that are standing in his way.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Purposefully or just accidentally?

 

Annie McEwen:

So I think it's debated, but I would say very confidentially that it was extremely purposeful. They're pretending they don't see him, and they're using their little, their butts, like shuffling their butts. And you can see he's like dodging this way and then scurrying that way, and they're like, "No, no, no, no."

 

Robert Krulwich:

Why? They didn't want this to come to a vote?

 

Annie McEwen:

It's kind of complicated, but this vote, basically we have like three minutes to pass it.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, we have a deadline.

 

Annie McEwen:

We have a deadline. So you're just watching this scene and going, "God, this is ridiculous, and I sort of hate everything." Um, and then you see, um, sort of up from the front of the room, this figure stands.

 

Annie McEwen:

Tall, dressed in a three piece suit, exceedingly handsome, very nice hair. This figure strides towards this clump. His three piece suit flapping open. The cowlick of his hair moving in the breeze of his own motion.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Who is this person?

 

Annie McEwen:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Ah.

 

Annie McEwen:

So Justin strides over like, "Come on, quit playing games. Let's get this show on the road." He pushes his way through this collection of people, and in this moment, I am cheering for Trudeau. I'm like, "Yes, you are, you are making government happen. Get the vote done."

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

So Trudeau grabs Gordon Brown by the arm, pulls him through this clump. But in doing so, he elbows this woman he doesn't see behind him in the boob.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Does she go, "Ow!" Or something like that.

 

Annie McEwen:

She does, she does. Her face contorts with some pain. She grabs her chest, and she has to leave and sit in the lobby, and, and collect herself.

 

Jad Abumrad:

She walks out.

 

Annie McEwen:

She walks out. And Trudeau sees none of this. (laughter) And, uh, as he's striding up the aisle, aisle with little Gordon in tow, there is... Chaos erupting in the house. [crosstalk 00:07:49]

 

Annie McEwen:

Trudeau turns around, and he learns, "You've just elbowed this woman in the chest." And you can see, he's got this mortified look on his face. He buttons his three piece suit. He strides after her. Calls out something like, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't see you. I didn't see you." She is, she is gone though. [crosstalk 00:08:07]

 

Annie McEwen:

At this point, one of the other members shouts back at him.

 

House Member:

How could you elbow a woman?

 

Annie McEwen:

"How could you elbow a woman? That's pathetic! You're pathetic!" [crosstalk 00:08:19] Like it gets really ridiculous.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, yeah. And the House Speaker is like-

 

Nick Smith:

Members. Order. Order. Order.

 

Annie McEwen:

All right, everyone. Sit down, sit down.

 

Nick Smith:

Order! [crosstalk 00:08:32] Order! Order. Members w-will restrain themselves. [crosstalk 00:08:39] Members will restrain themselves.

 

Annie McEwen:

So they sit down.

 

Nick Smith:

Order. See the Prime Minister, uh, rising on this serious matter.

 

Annie McEwen:

And, and then Trudeau stands up, and he's like-

 

Justin Trudeau:

Mr. Speaker, uh, I admit I came in physical contact, uh, with, uh, uh, a number of members as I extended my arm. In-, uh, including, uh, someone behind me who I did not see.

 

Annie McEwen:

He apologizes again.

 

Justin Trudeau:

Uh, if anyone feels that they were, uh, in-, uh, uh, impacted, uh, by my action, I completely apologize. Uh, it was not my intention to hurt anyone. It certainly wasn't. It was my intention to get this vote up.

 

Annie McEwen:

He sits down. His whole side of the room stands up, gives him a standing ovation. But for the opposition, the people on the other side of the aisle, this is not good enough.

 

House Member:

I witnessed as he [stored 00:09:32] across the floor with anger fierce in his eyes and face.

 

Annie McEwen:

Member after member rised from their seats to scold him.

 

House Member:

I will add my testimony.

 

Robert Krulwich:

These are the conservatives, thinking with glee-

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah, they're not all conservatives, but yes.

 

House Member:

I saw the Prime Minister, I would use the word charge across the floor, with intent.

 

Annie McEwen:

People are clutching their pearls with delight. (laughter) Justin is not the perfect man that we all thought he was.

 

House Member:

Mr. Speaker, this was deeply traumatic.

 

Annie McEwen:

Someone accuses him of making it, uh, a-an unsafe place for women to work.

 

House Member:

This act made us feel, uh, unsafe and deeply troubled by the conduct of the Prime Minister of this country. [crosstalk 00:10:13]

 

Annie McEwen:

Eventually-

 

Ruth Ellen:

Uh, I was the member in question. Um-

 

Annie McEwen:

The member who was elbowed, Ruth Ellen Brosseau, she returns and she speaks.

 

Ruth Ellen:

I was elbowed in the chest by the Prime Minister, and then I had to leave. It was very overwhelming. Um, I just wanted to clarify and make sure it's clear to all the members in the House that that did happen.

 

Annie McEwen:

At which point, Trudeau again stands up and says what I think is a pretty nice apology.

 

Justin Trudeau:

Uh, I want to, uh, take the opportunity, uh, now that the member i-is okay to return to the House right now, uh, to be able to express directly to her, uh, my apologies, uh, for my behavior unreservedly.

 

Annie McEwen:

He says what he did. He says it was wrong, and he says, "I'm very sorry."

 

Justin Trudeau:

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

 

Robert Krulwich:

We get the idea now. He said it, uh, three times.

 

Annie McEwen:

Well, you'd think so. Right?

 

House Member:

This isn't something that can be cured by a simple apology.

 

Annie McEwen:

But that wasn't the case. That night at a press conference-

 

Justin Trudeau:

Indeed I'm going to, uh, apologize again for a incident in the House this, this evening that might-

 

Annie McEwen:

He does it again.

 

Justin Trudeau:

And for that, I truly regret.

 

Annie McEwen:

And at this point, the media's going crazy about it.

 

News Reporter:

A bit of a dust up at a House of Congress today. It almost looked like-

 

News Reporter:

Justin Trudeau's day of atonement.

 

Annie McEwen:

Referring to the incident as-

 

News Reporter:

Hashtag Elbowgate.

 

Annie McEwen:

Elbowgate.

 

News Reporter:

The elbow incident.

 

Annie McEwen:

Trudeau got on social media.

 

News Reporter:

He added apologetic tweets just in case.

 

Annie McEwen:

But even then, we're still not done. Because the next day back in the House, the House of Commons-

 

Justin Trudeau:

Speaker. I'd like to take a moment to apologize.

 

Annie McEwen:

He apologizes again.

 

Justin Trudeau:

I apologize for crossing the floor in an attempt to have the member take his seat.

 

Annie McEwen:

And again.

 

Justin Trudeau:

I'd like to apologize directly to the member for [inaudible 00:11:52].

 

Annie McEwen:

And again.

 

Justin Trudeau:

I apolog-gize to my colleagues.

 

Annie McEwen:

And again.

 

Justin Trudeau:

I am, uh, apologizing-

 

Annie McEwen:

And again.

 

Justin Trudeau:

I regret it, uh, deeply. Uh, I made a mistake.

 

Annie McEwen:

And again.

 

Justin Trudeau:

And I ask for, uh, uh, for a Canadians understanding and forgiveness.

 

Annie McEwen:

Now I think at this point, when I was learning about this, I was just like, "Okay! (laughter) That is enough! (laughter)" I j-just, I just feel, I guess, I guess I just feel like it's disposturing. And, and keep in mind for Canada, it's not just about this like elbow thing. So like, every month, Trudeau is apologizing to one group or another that has been harmed in the past by Canada. And you know, I should say that I actually think these apologies are very helpful, and I think it's very important. But you get to this point where they just start to pile up, and I, so I guess like, when I'm seeing Elbowgate, I'm not just seeing Elbowgate. I'm thinking about all of this.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

And, and then I come here to America, where, where we have this president.

 

Stephen Colbert:

Donald Trump is my guest tonight.

 

Annie McEwen:

He is refusing to apologize for anything.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Oh, yeah. That's his thing.

 

Stephen Colbert:

Is there anybody you'd like to apologize to?

 

Donald Trump:

Uh, no.

 

Stephen Colbert:

No? (laughter)

 

Donald Trump:

No, no apology.

 

Annie McEwen:

And it's funny, cause I, I feel really weird saying this, but in that moment, in that tiny, tiny moment, the contrast was refreshing...

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughter) What?

 

Annie McEwen:

Kind of like, "Well, at least I know where he stands."

 

Jad Abumrad:

That's so funny, because as you're telling this story about Canada and the apologies, I'm like, "Oh my god, I wi-..." Like we haven't apologized in this country for some really wrong stuff.

 

Annie McEwen:

Well, I mean, I should be clear that I'm not down with just not apologizing for stuff. (laughter) Um, but then again-

 

Speaker 16:

We had one too many glasses of wine, and we are so sorry, and-

 

Annie McEwen:

Like so many of the apologies you hear these days are just like-

 

News Reporter:

Nothing says "sorry" like free pizza.

 

Annie McEwen:

Sorry, not sorry. Like I'm sorry if you felt hurt. I'm sorry if I offended you. Like, they're not real.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

And, and I, I guess I just found myself thinking like, this word-

 

Speaker 18:

I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I would like to apologize. I would like to-

 

Annie McEwen:

-is broken.

 

Speaker 19:

I'm so sorry.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

And, and I guess I just found myself getting into this whole thing about like, trying to figure out, first of all, how did it get broken? How did we break it? And what can we do to get it back?

 

Nick Smith:

Yeah, well maybe it, it might be worth our time to back up a little bit to, uh, you know, where that notion of I'm sorry and apologies come from and what they are. Because-

 

Annie McEwen:

Great. Take me back.

 

Nick Smith:

Right, so, so the-

 

Annie McEwen:

One of my first stops was this guy, Nick Smith.

 

Nick Smith:

I'm Nick Smith. I'm the chair of the philosophy department at the University of New Hampshire.

 

Annie McEwen:

He's an expert in the history and philosophy of contrition.

 

Nick Smith:

So w-we've got these, ancient traditions. Usually grounded in some kind of religious practice. Pretty much all the world religions have some kind of repentance.

 

Speaker 21:

Repent!

 

Speaker 22:

Truth, repentance. We turn to God.

 

Speaker 23:

Turn to the light immediately. Promise Allah, never again.

 

Speaker 24:

Not only confess your sin, forsake your sin. Repent. Run away from it.

 

Nick Smith:

You do something wrong, and wrong is identified by, you know, whatever the holy books say or whatever. And usually there are some, there's some things you need to do to kind of make it right.

 

Speaker 23:

The full conditions of asking Allah's forgiveness. To admit to the great, to ask for forgiveness and to promise never to do it again. Four things.

 

Nick Smith:

All right, so repentance is the term that is around for most of the history of apologizing. And when you think about in those explicitly religious terms, you kind of get a sense for the full thickness of it. Because you're talking about like, your soul (laughs), and the afterlife. And, uh, you're standing before the Gods and not just the person you injured, right? This is soul crafting.

 

Nick Smith:

As we enter modern secular, industrialized living, and as we try to find a way to, to do something like repentance in secular terms. We end up with this weird modern soup of apology.

 

Annie McEwen:

So Nick says over time, as we started letting go of these like, explicitly religious rules around apology, uh, sorry sort of started to shift and diffuse.

 

Nick Smith:

In that context, you start thinking about, all right, so what in modern life do we mean... All right, what's a good apology? What do we mean by apologies? This is going to be super complicated.

 

Annie McEwen:

Like when we've been hurt by someone, what is it we actually want? And as I was looking around for stories about the role of apologies in our lives today, I found a moment that feels to me, like I don't know, almost sort of an inflection point in our reckoning with the meaning of I'm sorry. And it starts, ugly enough...

 

Speaker 25:

And here she is.

 

Mike Dukakis:

Should I pick up?

 

Speaker 25:

Yes, you should pick up.

 

Annie McEwen:

With this guy.

 

Mike Dukakis:

Hello?

 

Annie McEwen:

Hello?

 

Mike Dukakis:

Hello?

 

Annie McEwen:

Are you there?

 

Mike Dukakis:

Yep. I'm here.

 

Annie McEwen:

Hello, are you there?

 

Mike Dukakis:

Yeah. I'm here.

 

Annie McEwen:

Hello?

 

Mike Dukakis:

Hi there. Can you hear me?

 

Annie McEwen:

Governor Dukakis?

 

Mike Dukakis:

Hello?

 

Annie McEwen:

Hi. (laughs)

 

Mike Dukakis:

Hi. Great.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wait, is that gov-, like, like Michael Dukakis? That's who that is?

 

Annie McEwen:

It is. Yes.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What?

 

News Reporter:

Mike Dukakis, a president for the [inaudible 00:16:57].

 

Annie McEwen:

For like, the thing is, I actually didn't know who Mike Dukakis was before doing this story.

 

Robert Krulwich:

No.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah. I had no idea.

 

Jad Abumrad:

In your defense, you are Canadian, but Michael Dukakis-

 

Annie McEwen:

No, I w-, I was like, "Oh, Olympia Dukakis is his cousin. Cool!" (laughter)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh my God.

 

Annie McEwen:

That's what I was most excited about. (laughter)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh my God.

 

Annie McEwen:

Cause she's a great actress!

 

Robert Krulwich:

She is a great actress.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I need to lie down.

 

Annie McEwen:

Anyhow...

 

Mike Dukakis:

That's okay.

 

Annie McEwen:

Let me get, give you a tiny little background on what-...

 

Annie McEwen:

I was actually calling him about something that had happened like, a couple years before he ran for president.

 

Mike Dukakis:

That was a long time ago. And it's not that I'm losing my memory, but-

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, of course not.

 

Mike Dukakis:

-that was a long time ago.

 

Annie McEwen:

And you've had a pretty eventful life, so I wasn't sure whether or not this was the most memorable moment in your career. (laughs)

 

Mike Dukakis:

It wasn't.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah, yeah. This might have been the second most. Yeah.

 

Mike Dukakis:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

So back in 1986, he was governor of Massachusetts, and he had a bill sitting on his desk waiting to be signed.

 

Annie McEwen:

Do you remember this?

 

Mike Dukakis:

I do, indeed. So it was the day before Christmas, the 24th of December. So the bill itself, it had a lot to do with a state senator named Bill Saltonstall.

 

Annie McEwen:

Did you know him personally?

 

Mike Dukakis:

Did I know Bill Saltonstall personally?

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Mike Dukakis:

Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. We worked closely together. Bill was a very progressive republican. One of the most decent people I had ever met or worked with in politics, and I can tell you, he was suffering. Terribly, he and his wife and family.

 

Abigail Saltons:

Yeah, yeah. I, I never really knew exactly what happened. I mean, I would just sort of pick up snippets and try to imagine what happened.

 

Annie McEwen:

This is Abigail Saltonstall, senator Bill Saltonstall's youngest daughter.

 

Abigail Saltons:

We weren't a family that talked about the circumstances in detail. Um, but let's see, I was 12. (laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

Her older sister Claire had just had a birthday.

 

Abigail Saltons:

Yes, she had just turned 16. She was quite athletic.

 

Annie McEwen:

Long hair, blue eyes.

 

Abigail Saltons:

Um, and she had asked permission to bike down to [inaudible 00:18:55] with her boyfriend.

 

Annie McEwen:

And it was going to be a long ride, like 70-some miles, but for Claire, that really wasn't that big of an ask.

 

Abigail Saltons:

She used to bike to go to school, you know, like 10 miles. And stop at the beach, and when it was really cold, and swam with her friend, and then go to school.

 

Annie McEwen:

She sounds cool!

 

Abigail Saltons:

Yeah. She was adventurous, and she did love to bike. And I am not sure, um, where they started. I am thinking maybe somewhere near Boston.

 

Annie McEwen:

They took off, biked for a couple of hours.

 

Abigail Saltons:

The bike ride, I'm sure was exciting and an adventure. But they, they had got turned onto a wrong road, and I mean, she got lost. And, um, my understanding of what happened-

 

Annie McEwen:

They were biking down the road on the shoulder.

 

Abigail Saltons:

There were two cars that were, uh, maybe, maybe playing chicken, maybe racing. I'm not really sure. But, um, the cars, one of them [inaudible 00:19:52] the breakdown lane, and just took out my sister.

 

Annie McEwen:

And she died.

 

Abigail Saltons:

It was awful. It was awful.

 

Annie McEwen:

Do you remember where you were when you heard about your sister's death?

 

Abigail Saltons:

Yeah. I, um, I was at a friend's house, and then my father called and told me what happened.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, wow.

 

Abigail Saltons:

That's how I found out.

 

Annie McEwen:

Wow, over the phone. Wow.

 

Abigail Saltons:

Yeah, over the phone. Yeah.

 

Mike Dukakis:

To lose a daughter, you know, in the prime of life, 16 years of age and under those circumstances, was just, uh... It was so tragic. You can imagine, um, Bill obviously was, was devastated.

 

Annie McEwen:

Eventually Saltonstall found out who the driver was, this 19 year old guy. And they probably could have taken him to court and won, easily.

 

Abigail Saltons:

But my memory is that my family did not press charges. My father said that he didn't see a reason to ruin two lives.

 

Annie McEwen:

But what he did, at some level want, was, was just for this guy to reach out to the family.

 

Abigail Saltons:

The person who caused her death to say, to say that they were sorry.

 

Annie McEwen:

But he, he never contacted them.

 

Abigail Saltons:

So I never knew what that person thought. And at some point, my father told me that he, that he thought that that was because of the law.

 

Lee Taft:

That's right. The driver was afraid of the legal implications of an apology.

 

Annie McEwen:

This is Lee.

 

Lee Taft:

Lee Taft.

 

Annie McEwen:

He's a lawyer and a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. And he says that at that point, pretty much across the entire US-

 

Lee Taft:

The general rule of law was that if I run a red light and I get out of my car, and I say, "Annie, I am so sorry. It was entirely my fault. I was not paying attention. I was talking on my cellphone." You can use my apology to establish that I've caused the accident.

 

Nick Smith:

So your humane empathic reflexes might steer you towards, you know, saying you're sorry.

 

Annie McEwen:

Right.

 

Nick Smith:

Saying, "Oh, I, I, you know, it was my fault. I wasn't looking. Or I was wiping my kids nose or something."

 

Annie McEwen:

Again, Nick Smith.

 

Nick Smith:

But the takeaway is, wait, don't do that. Because if you in that moment apologize, um, you're conceding that, that you deserve the blame.

 

Annie McEwen:

In other words, in the eyes of the court-

 

Mike Dukakis:

An apology is an admission.

 

Annie McEwen:

And Saltonstall thought, "Maybe the driver of the car isn't apologizing, because he's afraid that we'd use it against him in court." So he figured-

 

Abigail Saltons:

Let's rectify this situation.

 

Annie McEwen:

Let's just change the law, which brings us back-

 

Mike Dukakis:

The bill was, it was in response to that, and-

 

Annie McEwen:

To that bill sitting on Governor Dukakis' desk.

 

Mike Dukakis:

It was designed to make it possible for people to apologize without implicating them as guilty parties.

 

Annie McEwen:

Meaning after the accident, you get out of your car, and you say, "I'm so sorry." That sorry can not be used against you in court.

 

Mike Dukakis:

And, um, it certainly made sense to me, and I think made sense just to about everybody. And I don't think it had much difficulty in getting through. It was unanimous or close to it.

 

Annie McEwen:

And so, December 24th, 1986-

 

Lee Taft:

Massachusetts passed the first apology legislation.

 

Annie McEwen:

Creating for the first time, this little window, that allowed two people to just be people.

 

Mike Dukakis:

And say I'm sorry. (laughs)

 

Lee Taft:

Without any legal consequence.

 

Annie McEwen:

Do, do you have any sense of whether or not that measure had any effect? D-do you, do you hear of it coming up?

 

Mike Dukakis:

I honestly don't know. I don't know.

 

Abigail Saltons:

I mean, I don't know. I, you know... The person, even after the law was passed, did not apologize.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh.

 

Abigail Saltons:

So it didn't accomplish that specific goal.

 

Annie McEwen:

I actually found and reached out to the driver. Um, and through his son, he declined to comment for this story.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So it didn't work. They, they never got their apology.

 

Annie McEwen:

Well, I, I mean for Abigail and her family, no. Um, but when I dug into the history of this, of it, what became clear was that this little drop of legislation created some ripples that are still spreading today. Because in its wake-

 

Lee Taft:

Other states start to pass legislation.

 

News Reporter:

All right. We're going to talk about this apology legislation.

 

Annie McEwen:

There, so there's a little bit of lag time, but in the late 90s-

 

Lee Taft:

Texas passed a statute similar to Massachusetts. The "I'm Sorry" bill.

 

Annie McEwen:

And then-

 

Jennifer Robben:

In the early 200s, you see a big burst.

 

Speaker 18:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Con-

 

Annie McEwen:

This is Jennifer Robbennolt-

 

Jennifer Robben:

Professor of law and psychology at the University of Illinois.

 

Speaker 18:

Indiana.

 

Annie McEwen:

According to her, one after another, states started-

 

Jennifer Robben:

Passing these kinds of rules.

 

Speaker 18:

Nebraska.

 

Lee Taft:

Colorado does. Oregon does.

 

Speaker 18:

North Dakota, Ohio. South Carolina-

 

Annie McEwen:

South Carolina, south Dakota, Tennessee [crosstalk 00:24:30]. Of course there were slight variations from state to state, but by 2012...

 

Speaker 18:

Wyoming.

 

Annie McEwen:

36 of the states had passed one of these laws, making it okay to say, "I'm sorry."

 

Robert Krulwich:

But now you know that you're saying it without having to pay the consequences.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Do you feel like that makes it less real to say sorry?

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yes, that's, that's... That's not apologizing.

 

Jad Abumrad:

No, but, but... Wh-what if you don't say you're sorry, because you feel like, then I'm going to sue you, and so you say nothing? Isn't it better to have sorry at least come out, even if the sorry is a little bit less of a sorry at that point?

 

Jennifer Robben:

Yeah, so that's the rob, right? Because on the one hand, what you want is a mechanism to encourage good apologies. Right? On the other hand, you know, well, wait a minute. An apology tells us that this person is responsible. And if they are responsible, then you know, perhaps one of the things that comes with that is responsibility to repair to harm.

 

Nick Smith:

Yeah, this is, um, this is a real, uh, double edged sword. Because if you're a sophisticated (laughs) offender, you can manipulate this, against victims to great effect.

 

Annie McEwen:

Like wh-, what are you talking about?

 

Nick Smith:

Think of it like this. You suffered a serious injury. Imagine like, like you lost a child. Right?

 

Annie McEwen:

Nick says what happens is that the people responsible for that death, uh, maybe accompanied by a lawyer. Uh, what they do, is they show up at your house. They sit down at your table-

 

Nick Smith:

And express something that looks like, like a really deep, profound, soul-moving apology. That they're really sorry for what happened, and they take responsibility for it, and they admit blame.

 

Annie McEwen:

It might feel genuine and honest, but Nick says oftentimes-

 

Nick Smith:

You know, this is a combination of lawyering and acting. Because once you've expressed enough sympathy, then you, you make an offer. And you know, you lowball. So victims think they're getting something like a heartfelt repentance or something from the offender, when in fact, it's a negotiation. Right? Of, it's a, it's a negotiation dressed up as an apology.

 

Annie McEwen:

But wh-, how do you know that? How do you know that that's the line of thinking?

 

Nick Smith:

I've been in, you know, the rooms, you know, where the strategies are being discussed.

 

Annie McEwen:

You mean the, the strategies of the apologizers?

 

Nick Smith:

Yes.

 

Annie McEwen:

And Nick says over time, lawyers have realized-

 

Nick Smith:

That by going to people's homes, listening sympathetically, and offering an amount, this was way more cost effective.

 

Annie McEwen:

In fact, according to Nick, one of the major supporters behind that groundswell of apology laws in America were lobbyists.

 

Nick Smith:

You know, lobbyists who advocate for corporate interests, who seek to reduce liability for harms cost.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Really?

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So the sorry got weaponized.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah, particularly by corporations. Nick says in the early 90s-

 

Nick Smith:

All sorts of industries started apologizing as a tactic.

 

Annie McEwen:

He told me about one company he studied.

 

Nick Smith:

In eight years, they saved 75 million.

 

Annie McEwen:

Shit.

 

Nick Smith:

And you know, if you want to follow the money, the, the, it's pretty easy to follow the money here.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm suddenly, I'm suddenly starting to argue the other side in my head. (laughs) Which is, isn't, isn't the fundamental aspect of an apology, like you're making yourself, um, smaller, or, or vulnerable to the person you're apologizing to?

 

Robert Krulwich:

I think so.

 

Jad Abumrad:

So if, if a company is apologizing without legal repercussions. And I hate that the law is involved, but it is. And they're doing it for their own financial benefit, then they're not actually making themselves vulnerable to the person. And so the, the apology is robbed of something essential, maybe.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yeah. I don't know, though. I can imagine if you're a corporation, you could say, "It's still a human moment." But y-, even then you don't, even if it seems like you're vulnerable, you never know. I don't know.

 

Annie McEwen:

Li-like that is the thing. It all comes down to, when they say they're sorry, do they mean it?

 

Nick Smith:

And you usually can't really judge someone's apology until like years later.

 

Annie McEwen:

And actually, Nick told me a story that really drives this point home.

 

Nick Smith:

Okay, so this is a really interesting example. So...

 

Annie McEwen:

So it's 1076. We're in Medieval Europe.

 

Nick Smith:

Henry IV is the holy roman emperor, and Gregory VII is pope.

 

Annie McEwen:

Two of the most powerful people on the planet, and at some point, the emperor goes behind the pope's back and appoints a bishop.

 

Nick Smith:

And the pope takes particular issue with this appointment. So what the pope does is ex-communicates the emperor. Which means that, I mean he's not really the emperor anymore, because the pope has just said, "Well, he's not part of the church anymore."

 

Annie McEwen:

So for Henry, this is really bad news.

 

Nick Smith:

Potentially disastrous for his rule.

 

Annie McEwen:

Right. Violence is breaking out. People are demanding he step down.

 

Nick Smith:

So what the emperor does-

 

Annie McEwen:

Henry.

 

Nick Smith:

Henry takes a walk across the Alps with his wife and small child, and I don't know who else is in their, their entourage. But it's in Winter.

 

Annie McEwen:

It's bitterly cold. They march for days and days, which turn into weeks and weeks. Through snowy valleys, across icy rivers. And, and because he's been ex-communicated, there's certain places he can't go, so they have to make, take like the most dangerous, most steep route across the Alps.

 

Annie McEwen:

And then finally, after months of travel, he arrives.

 

Nick Smith:

I-it's some sort of castle he arrives at, where the pope is staying.

 

Annie McEwen:

But-

 

Nick Smith:

The pope refuses the emperor entry. It is allegedly snowing and something like a blizzard.

 

Annie McEwen:

So he's standing at the gates of this castle-

 

Nick Smith:

Standing at the gates.

 

Annie McEwen:

-in a blizzard.

 

Nick Smith:

In a blizzard, with his wife and small child. He stands there for three days.

 

Annie McEwen:

Three days.

 

Nick Smith:

Fasting and-

 

Annie McEwen:

Wow.

 

Nick Smith:

-it is said that he's... There's many paintings of this, and he's, he's said to have taken a penitent posture. Sort of, you know, the bowing position. You know, sometimes kneeling. He's wearing a, you know, what's called a hair shirt, which is traditionally associated with repentance and supposed to be painful.

 

Annie McEwen:

Like a horsehair shirt.

 

Nick Smith:

Yeah, right? And it's said that all his family take off their shoes in the snow.

 

Annie McEwen:

Jeez.

 

Nick Smith:

So the, the pope is watching this from the castle, from his nice toasty castle. And of course, we have to keep in mind, right, that there are long traditions within Christianity, that we must forgive.

 

Nick Smith:

So after three days of watching this, the pope lets the emperor and his entourage in. They reconcile. Henry's back in, or he's back in the church. Apology accepted.

 

Annie McEwen:

Wow, okay.

 

Nick Smith:

Okay, so then-

 

Annie McEwen:

That's a very good apology. I gotta say.

 

Nick Smith:

Well-

 

Annie McEwen:

It'd be very hard to refuse that.

 

Nick Smith:

Well, the story's, the story's not over.

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs) But it is.

 

Nick Smith:

It's not over.

 

Annie McEwen:

I mean, the hair shirt, the barefoot in the snow, the family. Also using his kid.

 

Nick Smith:

This is... I want to warn against the temptation to judge apologies in the moments their given, because now what happened. Okay, so the emperor races back home. Civil wars are breaking out. The emperor wins these civil wars.

 

Annie McEwen:

Eventually invades Rome and-

 

Nick Smith:

He drives out this pope (laughs), and replaces him with his own guy.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh.

 

Nick Smith:

So... You know, what did we actually make of the emperor's apology? He did something very dramatic and spectacular to restore his power, that he then used to destroy the person he was apologizing to.

 

Annie McEwen:

Wonder what God thought of all this.

 

Nick Smith:

(laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

He's like, "Oh, brother."

 

Nick Smith:

Good question.

 

Annie McEwen:

(laughs)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Man, I, uh, I feel like I'm never going to trust an-another apology again.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah. I know. But, uh, so, let's take a little break. We're going to take a little break, and wh-when we come back, um... I don't know. I guess I, I've got an apology that despite sort of being at the very center of all this confusing stuff we've been talking about. Modern, corporate, legal, secular stuff... I don't know. It does something that I really didn't expect.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Okay. Uh, we'll be right back.

 

Melissa Gutierr:

This is Melissa Gutierrez in Evergreen, Colorado. Radiolab is supported in part by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, enhancing public understanding of science technology in a modern world. More information about Sloan at www.sloan.org.

 

Speaker 31:

Great podcasts deserve a great platform. That's why Pocket Casts delivers a beautifully designed, simple but powerful experience that offers more control. It's the premium app for podcast listening, search and discovery. And it's now free. Download Pocket Casts today at PocketCasts.com, or find us in the Apple App or Googly Play stores.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hey, I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich. This is Radiolab.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And, uh, we're still, we're still with Annie McEwen, talking about sorrys.

 

Annie McEwen:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Jad Abumrad:

Hopefully rescuing from the quagmire i-in which you left us, with that pope thing.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yes. (laughs) Yeah, right. I mean, I kind of left us in a dark space, and that's how I was. I was in this muddy state of apologies. Like, "Uh, what are we doing with this word?" Uh, but then I stumbled across this, this one story, and things have started to shift.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Hey Annie! I've got a microphone in front of my face.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, so fun. So lucky.

 

Leilani Schweit:

(laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

Much better than like an ice cream cone or something obnoxious like that.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yeah, yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

This is Leilani Schweitzer.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Right, or a shot of tequila, right?

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah, I mean-

 

Annie McEwen:

So in 2003, uh, Leilani was living in Reno, Nevada, and she had a son named Gabriel.

 

Leilani Schweit:

He was born on December 21st. I remember it snowing and like looking out the window of the nursery, and... (singing) White Christmas was playing on the radio in there. There was all this Christmas stuff. And just thinking like, what has happened here?

 

Annie McEwen:

When Gabriel was born, the doctors had learned that there was something wrong with his brain, but they didn't know what yet.

 

Leilani Schweit:

I remember I got to go home pretty quickly. I don't think I stayed there even a day, and then I would go back and see him.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, so he had to stay there.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yeah. They knew he had a brain bleed, and so they've got to look at those kids.

 

Annie McEwen:

What did you do for Christmas? Do you celebrate Christmas?

 

Leilani Schweit:

I did celebrate Christmas. You know what, I hardly remember it at all. (singing)

 

Annie McEwen:

After a couple weeks, Leilani was allowed to take him home, and for the first little while, everything was pretty normal. Diapers, long nights.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yep, pretty normal baby days. And then he ended up where he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus when he was four months old.

 

Annie McEwen:

So, so hydrocephalus. Um, what it is, is it's basically fluid around the brain. Uh, sometimes it's even called water on the brain. When you hear your kid has hydrocephalus, what is that... How do you envision their future?

 

Leilani Schweit:

Well, I remember the neurosurgeon saying, "He's never gonna play football, and he's never gonna be drafted into the army." Which-

 

Annie McEwen:

Sounds great.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yeah. (laughter) Winning, right?

 

Jad Abumrad:

So it's not that serious?

 

Annie McEwen:

Well, uh, I mean, not necessarily. Um, b-but kids with hydrocephalus, you know, they have problems with vision, problems with balance. And they have to get this thing called a shunt, which is like, sort of a tube that acts like a cyphen.

 

Leilani Schweit:

So it would drain off the excess fluid in his brain, and drain it down to his belly.

 

Annie McEwen:

Wow.

 

Leilani Schweit:

And I could feel it, like on the side of his neck. And he had a little tiny incision on his tummy, where they pulled it down.

 

Annie McEwen:

So the shunt, it seemed to do the trick. Um, Gabriel's doctors were so pleased with his progress that-

 

Leilani Schweit:

We went to have an ultrasound done, and the doctor told us that our baby had a serious problem with his brain.

 

Annie McEwen:

They actually starred in a commercial with a local hospital.

 

Leilani Schweit:

And it was a very sweet, sweet commercial.

 

Speaker 33:

We can help babies before they're born.

 

Annie McEwen:

You see this tiny little baby with a scrap of blonde hair being held by a laughing doctor.

 

Leilani Schweit:

They made us feel like-

 

Annie McEwen:

You see Leilani talking about her experience.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Whatever was going to happen, that we would be able to handle it.

 

Annie McEwen:

Uh, a-and the commercial actually ends with Gabriel, a huge smile on his face, kind of kicking up his legs, a-and kind of scooting across the hospital logo.

 

Leilani Schweit:

He's our miracle baby.

 

Annie McEwen:

And he's just undeniably a very cute kid.

 

Leilani Schweit:

He would let anyone hold him. His eyes were always reaching out to people, and so it wasn't unusual for him to get passed around, like in the line at the grocery store-

 

Annie McEwen:

What?

 

Leilani Schweit:

-or...

 

Annie McEwen:

Seriously?

 

Leilani Schweit:

Oh, yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

And because he did actually have problems with vision-

 

Leilani Schweit:

He would always put his hand on your face, and kind of like turn your face.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh.

 

Leilani Schweit:

And I don't know if he was doing that, so if he could see you better, or if he just kind of wanted... That was just a little like, I'll touch you on your cheek and that's-

 

Annie McEwen:

Right.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Like, my little sweet blessing. I don't know. But he would (laughter), he would do that. And, and people would recognize him. And people would say, "Oh, he's the miracle baby." And I'm like, "Yeah, he is."

 

Annie McEwen:

When did you first notice that there was a problem?

 

Leilani Schweit:

So it was Thursday... I remember it was a Thursday.

 

Annie McEwen:

Gabriel was 20 months old.

 

Leilani Schweit:

And I had been told that if he started throwing up, to take him to the emergency department. And he was throwing up a lot. A lot. He had no fever. He didn't have diarrhea, but he was throwing up a lot.

 

Annie McEwen:

She took him to a nearby hospital. Uh, which was actually the first of two hospitals that will play a role in this story. But anyway, when she got him there, they wrapped him up really tightly, took an x-ray, and everything looked fine.

 

Leilani Schweit:

So he ends up being hospitalized, treated for stomach flu, given anti-nausea medication.

 

Annie McEwen:

And eventually, they're sent home.

 

Leilani Schweit:

He was still really sleepy, and, um... I had a previously scheduled appointment with the neurosurgeon on Monday afternoon.

 

Annie McEwen:

This was four days later.

 

Leilani Schweit:

I walked in, and my mom was holding Gabriel, and Dr. Edwards takes on look at him... And he said, "Why did no one call me?"

 

Annie McEwen:

What was he seeing?

 

Leilani Schweit:

He just saw a really sleepy, beautiful little sick baby.

 

Annie McEwen:

He immediately knew that something had gone wrong with the shunt. The fluid was building up in Gabriel's brain.

 

Leilani Schweit:

And then it was, um... Bad.

 

Annie McEwen:

Leilani needed to get him to a specialist fast. So she, she put him in the car seat, in the back of her car, and drove all the way to Stanford, which is about five hours away.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yeah, and he sounded like a little kitten. Kind of like, a mewing... Like not really crying, but just... And I remember getting stuck on the Bay Bridge, and just wondering, "Can the Navy Seals come rescue me?" I-

 

Annie McEwen:

This is a traffic jam, you were stuck in?

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, God.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

But they do make it to the hospital. They check in, get a room, and... Finally, Leilani just allows herself to take a breath.

 

Annie McEwen:

So you were sitting in a chair that was right next to his bed, or were you given an-

 

Leilani Schweit:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Annie McEwen:

You were, okay.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Just like a-

 

Annie McEwen:

An upright chair, or one that would-

 

Leilani Schweit:

Like, one of those turquoise blue, [inaudible 00:40:16] recliners. You know, like you're sitting straight, or you're laying down.

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah, okay. (laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

Gabriel is lying in bed.

 

Leilani Schweit:

We were on the [inaudible 00:40:26] unit, so that means they're monitoring his heart beat and his breathing really closely. So he had the little monitors on him.

 

Annie McEwen:

He falls asleep, and so does she. But-

 

Leilani Schweit:

Any time there would be any change in his breathing or his heart rate, or even any little kind of twitch...

 

Annie McEwen:

These alarms on the monitors would just go off.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Like a, "Womp. Womp. Womp." It would wake him up, and it would wake me up.

 

Annie McEwen:

The nurse would come in, check him, make sure everything was okay. Leave the room, and... Just as they were settling back into sleep...

 

Leilani Schweit:

"Womp. Womp. Womp."

 

Annie McEwen:

And this, this kept happening over and over and over again.

 

Leilani Schweit:

And so the nurse... When I think about her now, I think of like a bird. Like a, like a swallow. One of those really like, fast-moving birds that's really nimble and, and quick, and can switch directions really fast. Because she was... In and out, in and out, in and out so much. And now I know that she was taking care of another really, really sick little girl, and taking care of Gabriel and I at the same time.

 

Leilani Schweit:

So she... She said, "I'm going to turn off the sound on the alarms. I'm just going to turn the sound off in here." Which I really appreciated, and I thanked her for that, because I really (laughs) wanted to go to sleep.

 

Leilani Schweit:

So I fall asleep, and, and then the next thing I remember, is she walks in and she grabs the foot of the recliner with her left hand as she's walking past me, and she swings it around. And she says, "Leilani, you have to get up."

 

Leilani Schweit:

She could see the flat lines on the monitor, because his heart had stopped beating. Then code blue is on the intercom, and he's hooked to machines, and he's not squeezing my hand, and he doesn't feel warm, and... And someone takes me out, and I'm in the hallway, and... You know, I don't know. I don't know if I thought about this later, or if I thought about it in the time. You know how you go back and you, you... You're sure you remember something in the moment, but I don't know that I remember this in the moment.

 

Leilani Schweit:

But I remember just kind of this, like, him saying goodbye to me at that time.

 

Annie McEwen:

Really?

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

What did, what do you mean?

 

Leilani Schweit:

Well, kind of like, like this gentle sort of... Like, "This is up to you now, Mom." You know?

 

Annie McEwen:

Right.

 

Leilani Schweit:

I mean, you're connected, right? You're really connected. And when part of that connection is gone, you feel that. (silence)

 

Annie McEwen:

Leilani says in the wake of Gabriel's death, she did all the regular things you do when someone dies. Like therapy, and in her case-

 

Leilani Schweit:

A lot of snowboarding.

 

Annie McEwen:

Snowboarding. (laughs)

 

Leilani Schweit:

Um, yeah. Yeah. White snow and blue sky was all that really could compute.

 

Annie McEwen:

But she said in those first few days and weeks, just following Gabriel's death, she just kept replaying over and over in her mind, what went wrong? What happened at those two hospitals?

 

Leilani Schweit:

Yeah.

 

Annie McEwen:

So the first hospital, where Gabriel's shunt failure was misdiagnosed as a stomach flu-

 

Leilani Schweit:

You know, this is the hospital where-

 

Speaker 33:

The doctors, the nurses, the parents-

 

Leilani Schweit:

The commercial was for this hospital.

 

Leilani Schweit:

He's our miracle baby.

 

Leilani Schweit:

Those commercials just stopped.

 

Annie McEwen:

Wow. Wh-, so then... Yeah, what happened next?

 

Leilani Schweit:

Nothing happened.

 

Annie McEwen:

She just basically heard nothing from them.

 

Annie McEwen:

How did it feel when you were shut out like that?

 

Leilani Schweit:

Well, it made me really angry. It made me feel like they were denying that Gabriel even existed, or that his life had any importance at all. The fact that he died... That wasn't enough reason for them to talk to me? I just... It still makes me angry, you know? I wouldn't, I would purposefully drive around the hospital. I would not drive past it.

 

Annie McEwen:

So I reached out to this hospital for comment, and they actually d-, sort of declined to give one. So I can't be sure, um, but part of the reason they may not have reached out to Leilani is because this hospital is located in Nevada. And Nevada is one of those states that does not have apology legislation, so you're not protected if you apologize.

 

Annie McEwen:

But California does have a law. So under the California law, you can say things like, "I'm sorry. I feel bad." Uh, but you can not say, "I'm sorry. It was our fault. We made a mistake." That part could still be used against you in court.

 

Annie McEwen:

Uh, and this brings us to the second hospital.

 

Leilani Schweit:

So Stanford reached out to me right away.

 

Annie McEwen:

They invited her back to the hospital.

 

Leilani Schweit:

I had a lot of questions, and I brought all of them. I like printed them all out. I had photos of Gabriel.

 

Annie McEwen:

And so, uh, two months after Gabriel died, Leilani, carrying these photos, walked into a Stanford conference room.

 

Annie McEwen:

Do you remember what the expression on her face was?

 

Pam Wells:

Uh... Just grief-stricken.

 

Annie McEwen:

This is Pam Wells.

 

Pam Wells:

You know, you just, there's a look about people (laughs) that are grief-stricken.

 

Annie McEwen:

At the time, Pam was head of nursing at Stanford. Uh, and, and that day, she, two doctors, and a hospital administrator sat down around a table with Leilani.

 

Pam Wells:

It was a small table that could have sat maybe eight people.

 

Annie McEwen:

Had you ever met her before?

 

Pam Wells:

I had never met her before.

 

Leilani Schweit:

I didn't really know what my intention was, but I do remember, I said, "After you tell me everything you need to say to me, I want to say some things to you." And they said, "Why don't you say what you have to say first." I said I felt like I hadn't been prepared to take care of a kid who had hydrocephalus.

 

Annie McEwen:

She said, "When Gabriel and I arrived at Stanford-"

 

Leilani Schweit:

"There was no one waiting for us there."

 

Annie McEwen:

"There would have been someone waiting for us."

 

Leilani Schweit:

I had to get checked in.

 

Annie McEwen:

And the neurosurgeon who was on call-

 

Leilani Schweit:

He should have seen Gabriel that night.

 

Annie McEwen:

Why did he not come by? And just more generally, "I trusted you guys."

 

Leilani Schweit:

I just needed to get in here, right? Like, I got in here. Now somebody else is going to make sure everything's okay, and that's not what happened.

 

Annie McEwen:

This was a critical moment for Stanford.

 

Pam Wells:

It was unusual at that time, to meet with families after something had happened.

 

Annie McEwen:

For obvious reasons. I mean, if a doctor or a nurse said anything in that meeting that even remotely resembled admitting that they screwed up, that could be used against them in court. And so mostly hospitals just avoided these meetings all together. But right around the time that Gabriel died-

 

Pam Wells:

Our quality and risk department had been talking to us about taking a different approach.

 

Annie McEwen:

An approach that was actually led sometimes by Lee Taft. And the thinking was, "Let's be open. Let's be transparent. Just forget the law." And so after this, this like, moment after Leilani sort of reeled off all of her grievances, Pam looks her in the eye and says-

 

Pam Wells:

"We are very, we are..." Let me re-phrase that. "We are so sorry this happened, and this terrible thing happened. No family should ever go through this kind of loss, and particularly not under these circumstances. And we, we really want to be able to help you and understand what you need from us in order to help you navigate this devastating event. We're committed to not only answering your questions, but we are fully investigating what happened and want to make sure that we can put some things in place so that this never happens to another child or family."

 

Annie McEwen:

Then they went one step further.

 

Pam Wells:

The situation that, um, led to Gabriel's death was the, um... The... Gabriel was on a monitor. The alarms kept going off. The nurse in the room turned the alarm off, not knowing that it turned off all the alarms.

 

Annie McEwen:

The nurse in the room that night... Um, when she went to turn off the alarm next to Gabriel's bed to allow Leilani and Gabriel to sleep, she also accidentally turned off the alarm on her pager and at the nurses station.

 

Pam Wells:

And so, he wasn't being monitored, and he really needed to be monitored. And subsequently, um, had an event. Something in our system contributed to this little boy's death.

 

Annie McEwen:

In other words, "We made a mistake." Stanford had just admitted that plainly without dancing around the issue at all. And so what they had just done is give Leilani evidence, evidence that she could take to court and use against them if she wanted to.

 

Pam Wells:

I know she was checking me out. I know she was trying to understand whether she could trust me. I, there was no question in my mind, that that was going through her head. And I was doing whatever I could to communicate that, "Yes, you can. I'm going to help you. I want to help you."

 

Leilani Schweit:

You know, I don't remember a lot of the words, but I remember how I felt.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Imagine like you, you like, you lost a child. And the wrong-doer apologizes to you, right? That can be almost like a religious moment. Like, something really bad has happened to you, and the offender is now in a way like, humbly and vulnerably kneeling before you.

 

Leilani Schweit:

I felt that they listened to me, and I felt that they genuinely cared about me and my family and about Gabriel. And I still feel that.

 

Annie McEwen:

Leilani accepted their apology, and she never filed a suit. But I should say that, that Stanford did a lot more than just apologize. They, they reached out to other hospitals who had this monitor, and, and alerted them of the problem, so it would never happen again to another kid. And also the relationship between Pam and Leilani, like remained very strong. They still are in touch to this day. And all those things are important, but, but the thing is, since Leilani has had this experience, um, Stanford and a few other hospitals who do this full disclosure thing. What they've found, time and time again is that people get an explanation and an apology, they are far, far less likely to sue. And therefore, those hospitals save money, a lot of money.

 

Annie McEwen:

And I guess, you know, you could think about it in sort of a self-serving way. Like if i-it saves money to apologize, you know, what is the motivation behind these apologies? And can you imagine the sort of boardroom at Stanford somewhere, with these people in suits making decisions about whether or not they want their doctors and nurses to apologize. And, and the motivation behind that, I guess makes you feel a little weird. But, but when I asked Leilani about this, she just said like, if money is the driving force-

 

Leilani Schweit:

I don't care about it at all. I don't care. I don't care about the motivation. I would love it, I would love it if human connection was the motivation, but I know that it's not. And the fact that this is, makes good business sense... If that's what drives people... I will get on board.

 

Annie McEwen:

For me, I guess what happened between Leilani and the doctors and the nurses at Stanford hospital, like I don't know. I guess as I was working on this apology piece, I kept feeling like I had to choose between these b-bad apologies I was seeing or no apology... N-neither of those are good. Or just trying to compare these like super corporate apologies to some sort of moment that had deep meaning for the two people involved, these human spaces. And, and I don't know. I guess, I guess with this Pam and Leilani apology. It just felt to me like somehow, this new thing, this new way forward.

 

Annie McEwen:

It certainly felt that way to Leilani, and in fact, several years after that meeting, she actually became a patient liaison for Stanford. Her job is now to sit in that conference room and do for others what Pam did for her.

 

Nick Smith:

You know, in the 20th and 21st century, you've got, you know, humanity sort of staring into the abyss of, you know, maybe there is no God, and maybe this is all meaningless. You know, there is a kind of searching for, what are our values? Do we have shared values? Are there values other than the competition for money and resources? And what, what do we stand for? When it comes time to die, like what, what did my life mean? What values does it have?

 

Nick Smith:

Right, this is an important collective process that like, humanity is going through. And... It's like we're reaching back to these, traditions of repentance to try to find some shared ground, like some shared, even secular ground. And the call to apologize is like, no, we have to share these values. These are the thing that's going to hold us together. (silence)

 

Jad Abumrad:

Nice work, Annie McEwen.

 

Annie McEwen:

Oh, thanks.

 

Jad Abumrad:

(laughter) Do you feel more American now?

 

Annie McEwen:

Um, I don't, I don't know. I, I don't know, that's a good question. But, um, actually, I think I feel like I'm beginning to peel back the layers of this incredibly complicated country. And actually speaking of which, during my reporting, I actually stumbled upon this like, very, very American little moment in history. Um, so apparently, during Michael Dukakis' run for president, um, there was this like very, very negative ad campaign.

 

Annie McEwen:

It's like this guy who got out of president, and then-

 

Jad Abumrad:

Oh. No, this is one of the worst negative ads of all time. Actually, it's one of the first, I think. And it, it, I think it ended his campaign, effectively.

 

Annie McEwen:

Right.

 

Robert Krulwich:

There was a man running for president named George Bush.

 

Annie McEwen:

Right.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Lee Atwater was his campaign manager.

 

Annie McEwen:

Right. Exactly.

 

Robert Krulwich:

They put an ad on television. The television ad said, "Look what's happening in America. People who are criminals are being released on furlough and then they're doing terrible things." In this case-

 

Annie McEwen:

Willy Horton, yeah. He was released, and he, he actually raped someone after he was released.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And this was laid onto the democratic, democrats.

 

Annie McEwen:

Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

 

Jad Abumrad:

And it was so, like... Sorry. It was so unfair. Like, they blamed Governor Dukakis for essentially like, causing the rape of this woman, when he didn't even create the program that allowed the guy to get out of prison. Like that was created before him.

 

Robert Krulwich:

And it was also obviously racist. I mean, you know, a black guy attacking a white woman. So on, so forth. Uh, I mean, it speaks for itself, so...

 

Annie McEwen:

And so, when I was talking to Governor Dukakis, this actually came up.

 

Mike Dukakis:

Atwater was a tough guy, and he was an attacker, and he [crosstalk 00:56:25]-

 

Annie McEwen:

And he told me that Lee Atwater, years later, on his death bed, he decided he wanted to repent for these sins that he felt he had done in his life. And one of those was making this Willy Horton ad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Really?

 

Jad Abumrad:

Wow.

 

Annie McEwen:

So he actually apologized.

 

Jad Abumrad:

What did he say?

 

Mike Dukakis:

He said publicly, and to my campaign manager, that he, he regretted it.

 

Annie McEwen:

And what did that mean to you?

 

Mike Dukakis:

Well, I can't tell you that it made me feel great, because you know, I lost that race, and, and a lot of it had to do with that attack campaign. So I never... I mean, I, I didn't feel any better, but look, at least he was willing to do that. But, um...

 

Annie McEwen:

What does that mean when you say, "At least he was willing to do that?" It's just sort of like he-

 

Mike Dukakis:

Well, I think at least he was willing to acknowledge that, that it was racist, and he said so, and, and apologized for it. And, uh... That at least deserves some, some praise.

 

Annie McEwen:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

 

Mike Dukakis:

But it came a little late. (laughs)

 

Annie McEwen:

Yeah.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Well, Annie. First of all, we should-

 

Jad Abumrad:

I want to apologize to you, Annie.

 

Annie McEwen:

Really?

 

Jad Abumrad:

I don't know what I've done, but I've probably done something. (laughter)

 

Annie McEwen:

Well, [crosstalk 00:57:40]-

 

Jad Abumrad:

And okay.

 

Robert Krulwich:

There you go.

 

Annie McEwen:

Thank you.

 

Robert Krulwich:

So we'd like to (laughter) thank Annie McEwen for both reporting and producing this story with Simon Adler. Uh, rather she reported it, and then Simon and Annie produced it together.

 

Annie McEwen:

That I'm not sorry about. Simon is awesome.

 

Robert Krulwich:

Yeah.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Yes. Special thanks to Jim [Seiffert 00:57:56], Carol Kelly, Donna Bailey, Mary Anne Dupree, Sarah [Hillier 00:57:59], Hannah Chase, Travis Sharp. And also a special thanks to our beloved departing intern, Kat [Laslo 00:58:04].

 

Robert Krulwich:

And finally, a special, special thanks to [Adelle 00:58:08] Irvin, uh, who passed away while we were making this. But who was of, of great to help us and an important part of it.

 

Jad Abumrad:

I'm Jad Abumrad.

 

Robert Krulwich:

I'm Robert Krulwich.

 

Jad Abumrad:

Thanks for listening.

 

Speaker 36:

To play the message, press two.

 

Sophia Summerhi:

Hi. This is Sophia Summerhill. I'm Leilani's daughter. Radiolab was created by Jad Abumrad and is produced by Soren Wheeler. Dylan Keefe is our director of sound design. Maria [inaudible 00:58:31] is our managing director. Our staff includes Simon Adler, Becca Bressler, Rachael Cusick, David Gebel, Bethel Habte, Tracie Hunte, Matt Kielty, Robert Krulwich, Annie McEwen, Latif Naser, Malissa O'Donnell, Arianne Wack, Pat Walters, and Molly Webster. With help from Shima Oliaee, [Kat Laslo 00:58:53] and Mo [inaudible 00:58:55]. Our fact checker is Michelle Harris.

 

Speaker 36:

End of message.




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