Redemption for chicken?

So, I've seen this story circulating around Facebook about Dan Cathy backpedaling for his involvement in the marriage equality debate.  I've seen him get lots of criticism for this action, and I wanted to share my feelings about that.

First of all, I just want to say that I don't believe I'm defending him.  He personally believes that marriage should remain unequal--that only straight people should have their relationships legally recognized.  And I think that marriage should be equal.  So our views differ personally.  But I do want to address my concerns over some of the criticisms that he has received.

The first is the criticism that he's just saying this because he realizes that he's losing money and so he feels financial pressure to relent.  First, I am skeptical because I haven't seen any data on how Chick Fil A sales have been doing over the last year or two.  The last I heard was that in 2012 sales were high, despite the fallout from his comments that summer.  I haven't seen any concrete information indicating that revenue has fallen due to any boycotts that gay activists have tried to push.  (I am personally boycotting the company, and don't plan to eat there anytime soon.)  So, I feel that this assertion is unwarranted on the grounds that it is unsubstantiated.  It seems like pure speculation to me.

The second issue I have with this assertion is that it seems like a perfectly rational reason for him to change his public stand.  In other words "So what?"  If he is saying it simply because he's been losing business, isn't that exactly what we wanted?  Isn't that the reason for a boycott?  Isn't the reason we decided to give him for changing his mind?  It seems a bit irrational to use a certain method to persuade someone to do something and then immediately get angry at that person for doing exactly what you wanted them to do for exactly the reason that you gave them to do it.  To give an analogy, suppose that you have a child who wants to get a video game.  You tell him that if he cleans his room then he can get the video game.  So he cleans his room and asks for the video game.  You then criticize him, saying that he only cleaned his room because you offered to buy the game for him if he did. It makes no sense to do that.  You're the one who wanted him to change his position for monetary reasons to begin with, so you can't get mad at him when he does.

The next criticism I've heard about this is that he's not sincere.  I'm more of a pragmatist when it comes to things like this.  My philosophy is "He's doing what you want him to do, so why does his motivation matter?"  Seriously, he has stated that he'll stop using his company to further the anti-gay agenda.  That's great news.  He hasn't used company funds to donate to anti-gay causes, like he used to.  This is what we wanted.  To complain when you get what you want makes you seem spoiled.  So, maybe he's not sincere.  Maybe he didn't mean it when he said that he had learned his lesson.  So what?  That's his own problem, not yours.  You don't have to worry about why he does what he does, you only have to worry about what he does and how it affects you.

Personally, I believe it is usually best to take people at their word.  Many problems in life are simplified if you simply assume that when someone says something to you, they are being honest--that they really mean what they said.  And I believe that this should apply in this case.  I see no reason to doubt Dan Cathy's sincerity.  He says that he has learned from his mistake.  He has changed his behavior.  He has apologized for estranging gay people by his remarks.  What benefit is there in assuming that he is lying?  There is no benefit.  His heart won't change by us getting mad at him and saying what a horrible insincere bastard he is.  His behavior won't change either.  What effect will such behavior have?  Well, it will do a couple things.  First, it will make you more bitter in your heart.  It will make you angrier and grumpier as a person.  Second, it will send a signal to those in the opposing camp (ie, people who side with Dan Cathy's personal beliefs) that we're just a bunch of spoiled babies who cry when they don't get everything they want.

I believe that Mr. Cathy has done a very mature thing by making this statement.  It isn't easy to be a public figure.  It isn't easy to please everyone.  Regardless of what you say, you'll always have someone criticizing you for how you said it or why you said it.  But the mature reaction when someone makes such a public statement is to accept it graciously.  He has apologized for bringing his company into the debate on marriage equality.  He has asserted that he will no longer do that.  He has not tried to mislead anyone by pretending that he now supports marriage equality when in fact he does not.  He has made it clear that his personal feelings have not changed.  And everyone is entitled to hold their own personal feelings, even if they are discriminatory in nature, as his are.  But he has learned that to use his company as a weapon in the debate on marriage equality is inappropriate.  And he has apologized for that mistake.

Now, if he starts using company funds to donate to anti-gay charities again, then I will join with those who claim that he was insincere in his current statement about non-involvement.  But until such a time as that happens, I believe it is best to give him the benefit of the doubt.  The way I see it, if I expect other people to give me the benefit of the doubt, then I should expect the same behavior of myself.  I would hope that when I offer a sincere apology to a person they will believe that I am being sincere.  So I feel it is good for me to assume other people are sincere when they offer apologies.