The last few weeks have given me time for introspection.
Prior to the recent story about me in the Inquirer, I was aware that reporters were calling dozens of my employees, former employees, acquaintances, and opponents to ask them if I had ever made them or anyone they knew uncomfortable. That sort of scrutiny tends to put one in survival mode, triggering something akin to a flight-or-fight response. When the story finally came out, I was angry and defensive. I lashed out, which I regret.
As I began trying to reckon with what happened, I reached out to friends, colleagues, and even some people who don’t think very highly of me. I did a lot of listening.
I learned that I have been largely oblivious to the nature of power dynamics and privilege, both between men and women and between employers and employees. I have never considered myself very powerful or intimidating. I have never been comfortable with a hierarchical structure and have always tried to create working environments that were informal and relatively egalitarian. Thus, I was under an incorrect assumption that anyone who had an issue with me would feel free to address me directly. I now understand that people, especially young women, might be reluctant to approach me with concerns about humor they aren’t comfortable with.
I also asked people if I had ever done anything to make them uncomfortable. Frankly, I was looking for reassurance, hoping for responses like “Absolutely not, Daylin.” There was a good bit of that, which I am grateful for. But some people were candid in telling me that my humor could be off-color or offensive. Some told me they had been offended by my humor in the past, while some told me others might feel that way.
My discussions with others didn’t end at humor. I have always been a somewhat touchy person in conversation with both men and women and, therefore, I always assumed it was OK. But not everyone has the same comfort level with touching. It never occurred to me to even think about this before, which I am mortified to admit.
All of this has left me shaken. It has also taken a toll on my family and staff.
I spent my childhood in profoundly uncomfortable situations. I had very limited parental contact, no siblings, and lived in a series of challenging foster homes. I learned early on that humor and personal contact were ways to make friends and put people at ease. This is not an excuse, but an explanation. While many people have said positive things about my humor over the years, it is clear now that my sense of what is and is not welcome in a given situation has, at times, been flawed. I was sometimes impulsive and thoughtless. That needs to change. I should never put humor before kindness.
As I’ve contemplated where to go from here, one thing is certain: I am truly sorry for ever saying or doing anything that has made anyone uneasy, uncomfortable, or distressed. If there is any way to make things right, I want to do that. If anyone wants to contact me to talk about this, I’m easy to find and eager to listen.
The novelist Craig Silvey wrote that an apology “doesn’t take things back, but it pushes things forward.” I think the best way for me to apologize is to change my conduct. I promise to do that.
I am trying to learn. I know this won’t satisfy everybody, but hopefully, over time, any skeptic will be convinced of my sincerity. I believe that there must be room for growth and forgiveness on this issue and in all areas of life.
We are living through a time in which humanity seems to be in desperately short supply. I hope we can all look at each other as flawed human beings who are constantly trying to improve. I promise that is what I will be trying to do.
Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery) has served in the Pennsylvania Senate since 2009.