To Wit, I Was a Total Dick

December 11, 2014
Posted by Jay Livingston

Sometimes, somebody gets the apology thing right (see this previous post on how not to apologize) even if they do use the phrase “to wit.”

Ben Edelman is the Harvard Business School professor whose e-mail exchanges about being overcharged $4 for Chinese food went viral. Technically, Edelman was in the right. Sichuan Garden charged him their current prices rather than the prices Edelman saw in their online menu when he ordered.

But Edelman acted like a total dick. To wit, like a lawyer instead of a person.  (He has a law degree from Harvard. In fact, he has several degrees from Harvard – further support for the multiple-intelligences idea. On a public relations IQ test, Edelman would score a couple of standard deviations below the mean.)

 The Sichuan Garden owner, Ran Duan, responding in grammatically challenged English, offers to refund $3.  Edelman cites Massachusetts statues verbatim and adds in pure lawyerese.

It strikes me that merely providing a refund to a single customer would be an exceptionally light sanction for the violation that has occurred. To wit, your restaurant overcharged all customers who viewed the website and placed a telephone order. . . . You did so knowingly, knowing that your website was out of date and that customers would see it and rely on it.

Boston.com ran the story with the e-mails.* It got picked up all over the Internet, and now two days later, Edelman has apologized. He doesn’t say it as bluntly as the title of this post. But to his credit, he doesn’t try to justify or explain.

Many people have seen my emails with Ran Duan of Sichuan Garden restaurant in Brookline. Having reflected on my interaction with Ran, including what I said and how I said it, it’s clear that I was very much out of line. I aspire to act with great respect and humility in dealing with others, no matter what the situation. Clearly I failed to do so. I am sorry, and I intend to do better in the future. I have reached out to Ran and will apologize to him personally as well

Many of the comments at Boston.com (here) are unforgiving. Haters gonna hate. But at least Edelman had the good sense not to given them more ammo by defending himself.

And now, I am imagining a table of lawyers lunching in Chinatown. “I’d like something spicy,” one says to the waiter, “to wit, the Kung Pao chicken.”

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*The original story, with the e-mails, appeared at Boston.com (here). Unfortunately, the last time I looked, the e-mails did not load. Too bad. The Edelman v. Duan difference in prose style makes for great reading.

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