The Three Hardest Words

Real Estate Agent with Utah Homes 9334967-SA00

"Sad Boy With Coins" by the talented photographer Kriss Szkurlatowski


Mea Culpa- Latin phrase that translates into English as "my fault", or "my own fault". - wikipedia

I've heard that the three hardest words to say, for most people, are these: "I love you."

In light of my constant delving into the worlds of big business and finance I'd like to add another couple rare phrases to the ranks.

When was the last time you heard a CEO or politician say "I was wrong" or "I am sorry."

When did these phrases lose favor?

The markets are reeling.

Where did it go wrong?

Turn on the news and you'll hear who is culpable.

Each political party blames the other.

Bankers blame the agents.

Agents blame the bankers.

The rich blame the poor who over-extended themselves.

The poor blame the rich who over-extended their companies.

As each CEO takes center stage and explains the position of their firm it's doubtful that any one of them will admit blame. Each will target market forces outside of their control or pressures too large for any one organization to withstand... we're unlikely to find any willing to accept a measure of responsibility.

Could it be? ... the Mea Culpa no longer exits?


What has happened to us? Are we incapable of culpability?

I asked myself this when I spotted a handy note-card from my car insurance company. It was titled, "What to do in case of an accident." One of the first pieces of advice was "do not accept responsibility."

Perhaps I'm reading too much into that phrase. But it makes me wonder if this is the new credo.


The movie "Love Story" has one of the more quotable lines, "Love is never having to say you're sorry."

Forgive my candor, but that's ridiculous.

Love, in my view, includes not only saying you're sorry, but also accepting responsibility and exhibiting an earnest desire to be open, honest and willing to improve.

Why am I yammering on about this?


Refreshing proof to the contrary:

Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Fed, spoke to lawmakers today. He explained his views on the market's turmoil. A firm believer in free markets, he fought against regulating the market for credit default swaps. This is not a scandalous view. Many capitalists eschew government's involvement in regulating industry.

Yet, he made a candid statement. He said, “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Referring to his free-market ideology, Mr. Greenspan added: “I have found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.” [full New York Times story here.]

OK... there's a bit of the "you-a culpa" in there... but still... this works for me.


Am I alone in thinking that we're better off when those in charge speak candidly?

I realize that the CEOs have a duty... that being, protecting shareholder wealth.

When CEOs speak with candor they are putting their livelihood on the line.

In March of 2007 Don Tomnitz, CEO of DR Horton- the nation's largest home builder said this, “I don’t want to be too sophisticated here, but 2007 is going to suck, all 12 months of the calendar year.” Predictably the company stock fell. More than a few shareholders felt he should be fired.

However, he was right... inelegantly stated- but factually correct.


Unless I'm mistaken, none of us have the ability to accurately predict the future.

We do the best we can with the "facts" before us. We are much better at hindsight. Even the dimmest bulb could explain, with some degree of confidence, his or her own mistakes. Problem is, we're much better at finding the fault of others.

It's just my opinion, but I feel we'd be better off concentrating on fixing our own foibles before spending great deal of time on fixing everyone else's.

So, with great hesitancy I'm going to do the hypocritical thing. I'm going to suggest a way to get through the current crisis facing the nation.

It's not a "to do" list... it's simply a request for the tenor of disposition that should be considered before making any further decisions.

Here it is:

I urge all people in high places to do one thing. It's simple- accept blame. Shun the temptation to spin and point fingers. I realize my request flies in the face of prudence. Anyone who chooses to heed this advice will certainly catch heat for so doing. However, I feel this is a very good first step.


When not riding his high horse, Chuck Willman can be found working in Phoenix area real estate.

Chuck Willman- - 480.292.0600


Photo Credit: "Sad Boy With Coins" by the talented photographer Kriss Szkurlatowski

Comments (27)

Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Deb- I agree... it's rarely a one-person-only thing.  I think there's an amazing power to owning up. We seem to feel these days that offering some sort of contrition is a sign of weakness but I think people tend to appreciate a measure of humanity or contrition from the captains of industry and elected officials.

Paul- No doubt about it! There *is* an issue of vulnerability involved. That's why I threw something as disparate as love to apply to business and politics. I think they're related in one regard- the act of accepting responsibility seems to come from that same place... the zone that makes us ponder how we'll be perceived by those who hear our statement of feeling.

Mirela- There you go again... commenting with the articulation that is completely post-worthy. :-)

There are so many good things in there that I'm wanting to respond to each element. For instance- the question of ethics. On the first day of the ASU post graduate program my instructor said this, "Congratulations everyone. There's been a change to the program and you are no longer required to take an ethics class to receive an MBA." He then went on to express his displeasure with this, saying that it was possibly the most important 3 credit hours in the mix. This was the 80's and the movie Wall Street had played a couple years earlier to packed houses... it included another famous line, "Greed is good." I think I understand why they no longer valued the ethics class- it can end up being one of those personal morality classes that make educators so uncomfortable... after all, if people want religion there are plenty of other sources better suited to teach such principles. (I felt like I'd just witnessed a 5 minute lesson in Buck-Passing 101.) Now... onto another element: Parenting. It's amazing to me how we enter into it so easily. You have a child and now you're responsible for a host of things. By the time a child is raised we realize this: NOW I'm better suited to the responsibility of parenting. By then we have an adult on our hands... someone who needs us less- just when we're getting good at it. Funny how life works.

Kent- HA! That's why I included the line about hypocrisy... it's not like I took any responsibility in this post. As a real estate agent I try to disclose as much as possible. For instance- I point out where I think the opportunities are. I try to show as much supporting rationale as possible. I also try to make it known that there are no guarantees and any purchase has an element of risk. In our current crisis we made a critical collective mistake. Many people undervalued risk.

Carole- Thanks for coming by. If admired your posts from a distance... so many of them hit the nail square on the head. Any comments from you are always welcome here. I appreciate the compliment... I don't suppose I'm alone in this assessment. The current crisis is being felt broadly. There's not a single industry that I can think of that is not feeling the impact. At times such as these we feel it personally. It does us little good to have the power-brokers taking the weasel route. The sooner companies make changes to the fundamental principles that got them in trouble, the sooner the problem goes away. It's not like this is new. Markets always have a few boom and bust phases. I do think though that we're becoming more prone to denial... In the name of optimism we're prone to ignoring warning signs. It's nice when, as you say, people step up to the plate. They earn my respect, that's for sure.

Oct 24, 2008 02:09 AM
Susie Blackmon
Ocala, FL
Ocala, Horses, Western Wear, Horse Farms, Marketing

Love Story.  Haven't thought about that movie in a while.  Re mea culpa.... where were all the OTHER guru's besides Greenspan???

Oct 24, 2008 03:51 AM
Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Susie- Now that he has made his comments I'm hoping others will chime in in like manner.

Oct 24, 2008 04:50 AM
Gail MacMillan
Titusville, FL

Chuck- You outdid yourself with this post, not easy...for so many of yours posts are excellent.  I like you on a high can talk like that any day...very succinct, I understand where you're coming from.  It's starting to unravel out there, I just heard on the news where the US Chamber of Commerce, via an ad, has issued a caution about having a liberal president with a liberal congress.  That brought about an unveiled threat from senator Chuck Schumer saying that when they're in power the US Chamber will have retribution to pay.  Too bad we can't boycott this election, these guys are creepy!!!  BTW, I never did understand that line in Love Story, and good for Greenspan.

Gail MacMillan Titusville Fl Real Estate

Oct 24, 2008 06:34 AM
Charlie Harden
Columbia, SC

Chuck, I agree wholeheartedly.  It's almost too simple, could that be why apologizing or standing up and saying "I was wrong" doesn't happen much?

Oct 24, 2008 07:14 AM
Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Charlie- I think the thing which holds many back is the perceived cost. The cost of doing such a thing is cost of livelihood, or stock price, or legal settlement. Which is a complete shame.

Oct 24, 2008 12:00 PM
Paul LeMay
Caretaker Property Services - Tulsa, OK

Chuck, love applied to business and politics, now theres a novel idea.

Oct 24, 2008 01:22 PM
Lee & Pamela St. Peter
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices YSU Realty: (919) 645-2522 - Raleigh, NC
Making Connections to Success in Real Estate

Great post Chuck - there's a lot our nation and we the people need to get back too.  And admitting we made a mistake is a great beginning!  Your insurance card unfortunately says it all...  everyone else is responsible for our actions.  Sad.

Your Raleigh Realtors

Oct 25, 2008 12:42 AM
Mike Saunders
Lanier Partners - Athens, GA

Chuck - one of the first things I was taught in business was "the sooner you fall on your sword the sooner you will be reincarnated".  I am not sure that Greenspan really fell on the sword, he really took no, or at least not much, responsibility. But overall, I like your post.

Oct 25, 2008 02:29 AM
Cat Zwicker, CRS
Desert Sky Real Estate, LLC - Redmond, OR
Down to Earth Service; Out of this World Results!

Chuck- This was exceptional. I have always been a fan of you are only as good as your word and when you make a mistake own up to it, say you're sorry and then ask what you can do to make it better. What a different world if we all lived and thought that way.

Oct 25, 2008 02:43 AM
Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Gail- Though I'm stopping short of endorsing one party over the other I do have to admit a measure of concern. There is a checks-and-balances aspect to politics. I prefer to have some debate on the hill. If the House, The Senate and the Chief Executive are all of one political philosophy, and the balance power in congress reaches the level of being veto-proof- the debate process may be shortened, limited or non-existent. We rarely have that situation but it appears to be a definite possibility in the coming year. If anything- such a condition does have one quality- it limits the blame shifting.

Paul- I was going to put a Tina Turner picture in there... the "what's love got to do with it" approach. I know- it's a stretch. :-)

Pamela-I wonder if what passes for public relations these days is the concept of limiting liability.

Mike- I agree... he didn't take a great deal of responsibility (hence the "youa culpa" line... but he came closer than most of the people who have gone before congress. Watching the various testimonies before the committees can be so cumbersome. I'm not a "yell at the tv" kind of guy but sheesh... it's getting hard to watch at times.

Cat- Some of the most successful companies in the world "get it". They practice customer relations and discover such things. People tend to relate to those who are less defensive with regard to service issues.

Oct 25, 2008 03:50 AM
Jane Page Thompson
Aiken Properties - Aiken, SC

Chuck, great post and you are right people have no culpability anymore.  I have been a victim of some vicious attacks recently because I do speak my mind and say "I am sorry that ..." but what I have found is that not only do we not take responsibility, we do not accept apologies either.  Instead people threaten lawsuits or try some social power play.  I am sorry for venting, but you struck a nerve, thanks!

Oct 25, 2008 11:18 AM
Judy Greenberg
Coldwell Banker Long Grove - Buffalo Grove, IL
Coldwell Banker - Buffalo Grove - Long Grove Homes

Chuck, I always admit when I am wrong, maybe not to my husband of course,  but to others I have no problem with it.  You mentioned liability, so its hard to admit you are wrong in writing or on the internet, since you never know who wants to sue you and benefit from your mistakes. 

Oct 26, 2008 01:53 AM
Joan Whitebook
BHG The Masiello Group - Nashua, NH
Consumer Focused Real Estate Services

It is difficult for people to admit they are wrong.  However, as you point out, it is healthy and necessary.  I don't think we will see a lot of mea culpas however.  We have a very litigious society and so the finger pointing will continue.

Oct 26, 2008 04:52 AM
Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Jane- No apology needed (and, if you want... I'll accept one anyway). I'm sure that we're not alone in this thought. There are a few courtesies that seemed to be a part of our natural make-up. I'm hoping we don't lose some of those elements that appeal to our better nature.

Judy- That's so funny. Reminds me of the joke... if a man says something in a forest and there's no woman there to hear him, is he still wrong? It would be nice if there weren't such a penalty (perceived and actual) for "coming clean".

Joan- I've noticed it seems to be easier for high-profile people to apologize after the time of employment passes. Then we get to read about it in their book! :-)

Oct 26, 2008 10:21 AM
Mirela Monte
Buyers' Choice Realty - North Myrtle Beach, SC
Myrtle Beach Real Estate

Chuck:  I am happy to see this many comments to this well deserving blog!  It's enlightening to also note the people who commented to this.  There are a few more names I expect to see on here yet... 

...It takes one to know one...

Oct 27, 2008 01:14 AM
Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Mirela- Isn't that cool? The comments have been very good... it has been quite a treat for me to read them.

Oct 27, 2008 02:53 AM
Pam Pugmire
Silvercreek Realty Group - Meridian, ID
Meridian Idaho Real Estate

That would be refreshing wouldn't it? 

Oct 27, 2008 03:28 AM
Sandra McCarty
Keller Williams - Southlake, TX
Sandy McCarty your Relocation agent for Iowa

The movie "Love Story" has one of the more quotable lines, "Love is never having to say you're sorry."

Forgive my candor, but that's ridiculous.


Love it!  I am currently working as a buyer's agent with a very active REO agent and find myself saying sorry allot.


Oct 27, 2008 04:08 AM
Chuck Willman
Utah Homes - Alpine, UT
Utah Homes

Pam- Refreshing but odd. I would have to wonder if I'm dreaming.

Sandy- Very funny. REO properties are, as another movie would say, "like a box of chocolates." You never know what you're going to get (until you see them all).

Oct 28, 2008 08:14 AM