By sheer coincidence, the new issue of Grand Cayman magazine (a sister publication), which will be distributed on island in a few days, includes a column by its inimitable know-it-all (and at times insufferable), “Mr. Manners,” on how to apologize (“Dos and Don’ts for Saying ‘I’m Sorry’”).
We mention this not out of any transparent attempt at marketing or “promotion” but because we publish today a long letter to the editor from James Austin-Smith, chairman of the Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission. The letter concludes: “You owe her [Deborah Bodden] an apology.”
We take letters such as Mr. Austin-Smith’s extremely seriously. He is a highly regarded attorney, intelligent and thoughtful, who sits in the head chair of a very important commission. Whenever we receive such letters, it is our inclination to publish them without comment. Let them have their say. After all, we have “our say” in this space every day of the week.
We are deviating from our preferred practice today because we believe Mr. Austin-Smith’s letter raises issues that probably would benefit from further context.
We will not re-argue here our opinion that the Human Rights Commission has not been sufficiently involved, or effective, in Cayman’s Cuban refugee issues. Mr. Austin-Smith thinks differently and re-enforces his position in his letter. Readers can make up their own minds.
But especially troubling to us was Mr. Austin-Smith’s contention that we had treated Ms. Deborah Bodden, manager of the Commissions Secretariat, unfairly and unjustly. (We said that her email responses to Compass questions relating to the Cuban detention center bordered on “being impolite.”)
Deep-breath time. Compass Publisher David R. Legge called Mr. Austin-Smith – they had never met or even spoken previously – and they talked for the better part of an hour. It was a most cordial “introduction.”
Mr. Austin-Smith pointed out that the Compass, in an editorial a few months earlier, had singled out Ms. Bodden for pointed criticism. (The issue involved an unrelated matter which we will not revisit here.)
Frankly, we never made the connection that we were dealing with the same Ms. Bodden. Uh oh.
We say “uh oh” because after the first editorial appeared, a number of Cayman’s most highly respected professionals (attorneys, accountants, and colleagues of Ms. Bodden) came to her defense in emails and phone calls with effusive praise and support for her personally and her contributions to these islands. These were people we knew personally and for whom we had the highest regard.
Likewise, in the conversation with our publisher, Mr. Austin-Smith was passionately clear that Ms. Bodden was a consummate civil servant, a role model for her peers and, he implied, the multiple commissions she serves just might grind to a halt without her. He was convincing.
So, is there a lesson in all of this for the Compass and, more broadly, for all of us? We think so.
It is simply that direct communication, ideally face-to-face, would avert or avoid many (certainly not all) misconceptions and misperceptions that derive from less-personal channels of communications, most notably emails, texts, “tweets,” and anonymous postings to websites.
(For the record, our reporter did reach out to Ms. Bodden, in an email: “If you are available, we can meet in person. I find in-person interviews are much more informative.”)
Unfortunately the “invitation” was never responded to and a personal meeting never took place – but it should have. It’s one of the wonders of human interaction that many differences disappear in face-to-face encounters. They dissolve in a glass of wine, a spot of tea, and, of course, the willingness to find common ground and mutual understanding.