Conversations in Management: Bruce Willis

My wife heard me say I love you a thousand times, but she never once heard me say sorry.

 Bruce Willis

WillisBruce Willis built a career—and a fortune—on playing tough guys, so this confession may not seem so strange. He got his start as affable, wisecracking private eye David Addison in the 1980s TV hit Moonlighting. That was just a warm-up for his role as John McClane, a hard-edged New York detective with just enough humor to keep you rooting for him. The movie was, of course, Die Hard which spawned Die Hard 2, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Live Free or Die Hard and A Good Day to Die Hard. (In case this isn’t enough for you, a sixth film is in pre-production.) Every iteration of this franchise finds a new way to beat the reluctant hero to a pulp but, amazingly, he always bounces back. Though he’s made many other movies, the Die Hard series alone is enough to brand him as one tough dude and not the sentimental type. On the other hand, anyone who played the voice of baby Mikey in the comedies Look Who’s talking and Look Who’s talking Too, can’t be completely hard-boiled. Perhaps his inability to say, “I’m sorry,” to wife Demi Moore had more to do with their schedules than with a reluctance to admit wrong doing. A lack of proximity can certainly impair the ability to utter those magic words with anything approaching sincerity. Without a doubt, life for this power couple was frenetic from the start. After dating for four months, they impulsively wed while in Las Vegas for a boxing match. A baby within a year and skyrocketing careers keep them both in overdrive and often in different locales. A small army of nannies, cooks, publicists, retainers and sycophants kept the household together without too much effort from Bruce and Demi. But ultimately two ego driven, successful people facing all the enticements of Hollywood, found it difficult to personally admit fault when things went wrong. After more than a decade of marriage and three pretty nice kids, the two split and a reflective Willis realized that he’d never said he was sorry—for anything.

People have been trying to figure out this “sorry” thing for a long time. Take a quick look at the Bible and you’ll see that it dates all the way back to creation. Whether you take the Bible literally or figuratively, that’s quite a while and we’re still struggling to come up with an answer. Ego has a lot to do with it. You don’t have to be a narcissistic celebrity to at least slightly recoil at the idea that you’ve screwed things up. At some level everyone—even the grouch down the hall—likes to think of themselves as a basically “good” person.  When your best intentions go off the track, it pricks your self-image. That triggers varying degrees of guilt which in turn triggers an automatic response—pretending it didn’t happen. Millions of years of evolution have ingrained the belief that if we ignore something long enough, the problem, issue, person will go away.  Evolution fails us on this score but experience provides the bitter corrective. We’ve learned the hard way that the longer we ignore something—anything—the worse it becomes.

So what’s a weary sinner to do? The most direct approach is the best. If you’ve done the wrong thing or neglected to do the right thing, simply admit it. It takes some courage but take responsibility, admit that the offense doesn’t (hopefully) reflect your best self and promise never to do it again. Genuine sincerity is the elixir that will make a believer of an otherwise doubting recipient. It isn’t all that hard to do and might hopefully provide Willis with a new film opportunity—Look Who’s Sorry—Me! Better yet, Die Hard With an Apology. Then again, maybe we should just keep this among ourselves.     —Ebert  

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