I'd never done this before, mind you, but I thought I could and some other people thought I could, so I dove right in. A guy named Chris agreed to run Gofers, and I said I'd help him out at the convention. Ops and Gofers (and Security and Tech and Logistics) were all in the same room, so I figured that wouldn't be a problem.
It turned out I was very wrong.
Operations is the main office of a convention and most of the problems or other "situations" which occur come to Ops, either in person or over the phone. I was very busy all weekend and didn't have any time to actively work on Gofers, despite the fact that I could see Chris at his table right across the room. I pretty much left him in the lurch all weekend, doing his best to scramble to keep things running on his own.
[For anyone unfamiliar with how SF conventions run, or only familiar with how they run now, note that in the mid-eighties, conventions (in our area at least) tended to run mainly on gofers. It was pretty standard for a department to have a department head, maybe an assistant, and that was it. Other slots were filled on the fly by gofers. So Registration, for example, back then had a department head and (I think) an assistant, and a head cashier, and that was it. All other positions -- the people actually taking your info and most of the people taking your money and the folks typing stuff into the computers and putting your badge together and getting you a packet -- were gofers who were assigned shift-by-shift, and this worked fine. Nowadays, pretty much every department has a department head, a second, three assistants, and fifteen full-time dedicated staff. Yeah, I have issues with this, but my point is that back in '85, having Gofers break down would have been considerably more serious than it would be now, and it'd be bad enough now.]
Chris was awesome, though. He found a couple of people from the gofer ranks (one of whom was in a cast but who worked his butt (and his other arm) off anyway) to help him in the office, keeping things organized and holding down the fort while he did things like eat and sleep. Gofers ran beautifully and hardly anyone outside of the Ops group even noticed a problem, no thanks whatsoever to me.
So yes, it all worked out in the end, but the fact remained that I'd fucked up royally. I'd made a very bad judgement call based on inexperienced ignorance, which resulted in the bad decision of Chris not having a second or assistant on board from the beginning. He ate at his desk a lot and didn't get much sleep, and everything ran okay but he didn't have a whole lot of fun that weekend.
About a month later we had our annual staff barbecue. It's a combination social event and convention wrap/debrief, with some discussion of how things went, a lot of recognition for people who did great jobs, and just generally a chance for the staff to hang out together at a time when they don't have any actual work to do and can relax and chat and play frisbee and whatever.
Which isn't to say we were all bestest buddies. Fandom is fandom and there are always factions and cliques. BayCon was traditionally really good at hiding this crap from the attendees and the rest of fandom, but that didn't mean the problems and divides weren't there. Present at the barbecue were some people I was friends with, a bunch of people I sort of knew but who didn't have much of an opinion of me one way or the other -- sort of like someone you see around in comments and stuff, but don't really know -- and some people who disliked me, a few of whom I'd rubbed the wrong way all by myself and a few of whom disliked me because they saw me as belonging to the "wrong" faction. So present that day were some friends and some enemies and a bunch of people who just sort of knew me.
And I knew that I owed Chris an apology. I'd gotten some back-pats for doing a good job running Ops, especially for my first time, but like I said, most people didn't know the whole story. So during the debrief part, I stood up and made Chris an apology, there in front of everyone, including the people I fully expected would snicker and snark and rub it in. It was one of the hardest things I'd ever done, and I felt sick to my stomach the whole day leading up to it. I wanted to bail, I wanted to leave, I wanted to pretend everything was okay and just ignore it and let it fade into history as the staff shifted and re-formed and geared up for the next year. But that wasn't right, and it wasn't fair to Chris. And it wasn't fair to me, either, because I felt bad and the only way to fix that was to make it right.
So I stood up and I did it. I explained how I'd blown it and what a burden Chris had been under all weekend, and how wonderfully he'd come through, busting his butt to make sure none of the balls got dropped no matter what. Chris got a standing ovation, which he absolutely deserved.
Me? Once I was done I was pretty much ignored. Wow.
No, really, that's good. The debrief went on to the next person and none of the things I'd feared would happen, happened. No one sneered, no one rubbed my nose in what a dumbshit mistake I'd made, no one flamed me for making an error in judgement that could have broken more than one part of the convention. It was just over. I'd made a mistake, owned up to it, apologized to the person I'd hurt in front of the relevant group of people -- making sure he got the acknowledgement for service above and beyond that he deserved -- and that was it. No one, including my various "enemies," ever used it against me.
So what's the point of all this? I'm not looking for any back-pats -- this was over twenty years ago. My point is that I'm not afraid of apologies anymore, even those given in public. I've made a few major mistakes since then [cough] and I've apologized in whatever venue was appropriate, and I've always gotten a positive outcome. It's not that an apology is an excuse for not doing your best to not mess up in the first place, nor is it a substitute for doing whatever you can to actually fix the situation. But it's truly amazing how being willing to stand up in front of whomever and say, "Yes, I admit I messed up, and I'm really sorry," can drain the mad right out of people, even people who aren't necessarily your friends.
We all make mistakes, everyone knows that. I certainly made a huge one at that convention, and it was far from the only time. Being willing to own your mistakes and apologize has amazing restorative powers on other people's opinion of you, though, and on how they feel about the situation you messed up. It can be incredibly scary, especially the first time. But afterwards it feels so much better, I can't even describe it.
Fandom can get rather fraught at times, and I think it's easy to understand how one might find it difficult to believe that there'd be any benefit to apologizing or admitting a fault. It can feel like a show of weakness, and the predators look for weaknesses when they're searching for a target to pull down and devour, so it's easy to think that the thing to do is curl up, hide, and keep silent -- out of fear.
Acknowledgement and apology can bring almost any situation back down from an angry boil, though, and it makes the person who made the mistake feel better. And anyone who'd still spit or sneer after someone has admitted fault and sincerely apologized is an asshat whose opinion isn't worth any attention anyway. [shrug]
It'd be nice if owning one's fault and apologizing became a common characteristic of our culture. Not just in fandom, but all over. (Starting with our current President, maybe?) I think there'd be considerably less festering anger and fear and guilt in the world if that were so.