Weather Forecast


A recall is like turning over a new leaf

The folks at Toyota have to be thankful they don't sell hamburgers, because if you sell a hamburger that's unsafe, by the time you discover the problem, somebody's already in the emergency room getting his stomach pumped. So now that it's clear their cars have accelerator and brake problems, Toyota is doing what the hamburger people can't do -- they're recalling the cars and they're going to fix them.

There is something about the idea of a recall that has great appeal -- it's the appeal of a fresh start, a second chance, turning over a new leaf. I'd like to see more of that.

I have written many columns here that I wanted to recall. Some of my best column ideas came after the column was in the mail. Hold the press! Too late. Like my New Year's predictions where one of the pages didn't go out, it got left behind. It was the page that predicted a major earthquake somewhere south of Florida, a major upset in the U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts and a Super Bowl win for New Orleans. If only I could have recalled that article and fixed it by adding the missing page. But I'm not Toyota and I couldn't do that.

It is most difficult to recall words that we wish we had never spoken. There are five options for handling something you said that is stupid or hurtful. First, you can deny you ever said it, or if you wrote it, you can claim your bad penmanship made it look like something completely different than what you intended. On the other hand, if the message was transmitted by hearsay, you can claim you were misquoted or your remarks were "taken out of context." Or you can argue you were only kidding. Or you can do what politicians do, you can "spin" it and claim it really isn't what it sounds like because of complicated circumstances, etc, etc. None of these are recalls. But there is one desperate measure: you can say, "what I said was stupid and hurtful and I apologize." I wonder if anybody has ever tried that.

The most dangerous statements are the quick answers -- the immediate responses, the quips. They're intended to be blunt, clever or funny. But often they hurt -- they hurt the guy who speaks them and the person who hears. Since we're not Jay Leno or David Letterman, we probably should think before we speak.

Abraham Lincoln had another approach. When he was thoroughly upset with someone he wrote a long, scathing letter that said everything that was on his mind -- in plain, blunt language. Then he would put the letter in a drawer and wait. Quite often he never sent it. We know he did this because many of the letters were never destroyed and were found after his death. I suppose you could say a nasty letter never sent is a form of recall. Better yet -- did not need to be recalled.

Recall is not possible in sports. Ask Brett Favre or Peyton Manning about that last pass each of them threw. They'll think about those passes again and again for years, but once thrown they can't be taken back. There's no recalling the pitch in baseball that ends up being hit for a home run, and there is no recalling the hurried shot in basketball that falls short.

There is a solution. In football there is the two minute warning. Don't throw any careless passes in the last two minutes. In baseball there is the 9th inning -- don't throw a pitch down the middle of the plate in the last inning. In basketball, the clock shows tenths of seconds in the last minute. Your last shot better be a careful one. For Toyota and all automobile makers there ought to be a three day cooling off period between the time the car comes off the assembly line and it gets to the showroom. Three days of testing, resting and making sure. If you call an open mike radio show I understand there is a delay mechanism of 5-10 seconds so if you say something outrageous, it is blocked. We should use our brains as a 5-10 seconds delay mechanism and resist those blurted outrageously stupid and hurtful statements.

The moral of the story is this: Any situation calling for a recall is going to be most painful, difficult and unsatisfactory. It is better by far to give everything we do one last thought before we do it so a recall will be unnecessary.

Wait a minute...don't print this...hold the press, I just thought of a better...