Exercises in (over) Questioning the Subjectivity of Fault. Sorry. – Lindy Zucker

Lindy Zucker

If Adolph Hitler said he was truly sorry would you…

a) Forgive him
b) See how the Hail Marys took (works for pedophile priests…at least according to the pope)
c) Scream, “fuck you, douche bag!”

Multiple choice was my favourite kind of test at school because the answer was always obvious, of course (yes, this should be intoned with sarcasm).

Here’s a more relatable one:

My mother and I often have arguments because to her, everything in my life somehow garners unsolicited advice from Oprah and/or Dr. Oz, channeled through my mother’s panicky, neurotic Jewish mom-ness. I often and unintentionally end these arguments by telling her the conversation no longer interests me, and can we move onto the next topic? This causes her to hang up, ending our conversation by telling me that I made her feel bad.

Should I…

a) Accept the fault for her hurt feelings and apologize
b) Explain to her that if she stopped watching so much TV we may have a better relationship, and then wait for her to apologize
c) Apologize for not accepting TV advice because if it weren’t legitimate, then why would it be on TV?
d) Apologize for being a douche bag

The real answer is that I will probably apologize just to make peace, not because I am actually sorry for starting the fight in the first place. Perhaps this is fine because as long as I sound sincere (and I am an actor, so this is not overly difficult), my “sorry” will work its magic. The intention of the sorry is not to acknowledge that I am at fault, but to bring peace into the situation and my life for at least 24hrs. I will always apologize for the sake of peace. Not that I ever intentionally start fights or go around hurting people’s feelings, but as a person who believes in brutal honesty and extreme frankness regardless of the company I am swimming in, I am frequently at odds with political correctness and a rainbow of sensitivities.

Some of you, dear readers, may feel this is awfully shallow of me. But I see it more as a positive thing, considering that it has taken me a large chunk of my adulthood to even be able to say sorry without reacting as though uttering that word were equivalent to having surgery without anesthetic (I’m a full-blown Taurus. Sorry).

I also believe that there is something to be said about the ability to recognize the need for a “sorry” in a situation, if only to diffuse anger and lower blood pressure. Anything for peace, right? Because what does it mean to be truly sorry? Does it mean that you really accept the fault, feel guilty and want to make things right, or does it just mean that you were busted for your misstep according to someone else’s opinions on etiquette and/or behavior?

Like if girlfriend A leaves her platonic coffee date at the Annex Starbucks at 6:15 and potential new girlfriend B abandons her Queen St quest for the perfect pair of socks at 6:30, at what time will they both be mad at your double-booking and create a scene at Sneaky Dee’s? Will you be sorry for your adolescent whorishness or will you just be sorry you didn’t read your agenda book more carefully? When you have the separate “I’m so sorry” conversations with each of these ladies, are you truly accepting fault or are you pacifying things?

Here’s another relevant and yet unsettling question: What does fault actually feel like? Most people just feel bad because they have seen the effects of their actions on someone else. It’s like that tree falling in the forest thing. We are all naturally faulty creatures and should be recalled like poisonous toys from Taiwan. Yet because we have access to language and were built to over-think everything and, in turn, over-regulate everything, we are able to use our words to prevent too many impulsive stabbings. Am I implying that humans are naturally barbaric and prone to charging through the world like a monsoon?

You say, “fuck you douche bag.”

I say, think about your natural irrationality next time you have your head in the fridge at the end of your worst day ever and are facing the reality of someone else having eaten the last piece of chocolate cake (or hummus wrap… I’m not judging), and every nerve in your body is vibrating as if you found your dog stabbed and stuffed on the kitchen table with a note that said, “Sorry but this is better because I’m allergic, xo.”

Would you…

a) Forgive, because you really don’t need cake at 4am
b) Punch the wall
c) Punch your roommate
d) Call your roommate a douche bag

So the word sorry comes out of the mouth of the cake-stealing “faulted” party, and the words “it’s okay” come out of your mouth. But is that person really sorry and are you really okay or did polite society just wash over you both?

Acknowledging fault is really a gray area because it’s not a natural feeling. It is our nature to fault at all times. Just go to any club any night of the week and watch people in their true albeit alcohol-induced state. You rarely hear I’m sorry for bumping into you/spilling my drink on you/hitting on your date/mocking your hammer pants. You see fights and fuck-yous in every corner…

…And then Chicago’s “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” starts blaring (every DJ has it whether they admit it or not).

It is truly hard to say sorry because we have a very superficial understanding of that word, but it’s all some of us want to hear at times. Are we at fault for falling for our own “evolved” politeness? Can we forgive when we know that in a “shoe other foot” situation, we may also just be uttering sorry for the sake of the rules?

Sorry is simply a five letter word for “Forgive me father/mother/buddah/lululemon for I know not what I do but neither do you so I ask that you not rip my head off and I will try to remember this moment when you do something stupid to me.” It’s like a “safe word” for those times when your ego goes a little crazy and someone wants off the spanking bench.

If we look at someone like Hitler again, and we all agree that a simple sorry from him would have no effect, then we must admit that sorry is only effective if we deem the degree of fault to be forgivable. While most of us can agree on certain things being unforgivable (i.e. genocide) or forgivable (i.e. late for a play thus couldn’t get past surly usher thus missed you as the best Hamlet ever – this is actually an example of forgivable in the future tense), there are a million other things that will only be forgiven or not forgiven based on persons involved, amount of injury (emotional vs. physical) and personal ability to meditate past anger.

The power of sorry lies in the other person and whether they feel they reacted irrationally (although naturally) in the first place.

If nothing is really our fault because we are not made to be self-aware of our fault, then we can only ever ask of ourselves to imagine the tone of sorry required if someone were to catch us doing whatever it is we do on a minute-to-minute basis. And, if we can’t sell it, then stop moving in that direction. We can also open ourselves to the reception and acceptance of a sorry by simply admitting that we are capable of the very same mistake.


Bonus sorry fun

On top of being a lesson in geology, if you add the appropriate ersatz quotes to the following passage, it becomes an analogy. I know… so much better than butcher paper and crayons.

Because of friction and the rigidity of the rock, the rocks cannot simply glide or flow past each other. Rather, stress builds up in rocks and when it reaches a level that exceeds the strain threshold, the accumulated potential energy is released as strain, which is focused into a plane along which relative motion is accommodated — The Fault.

Lindy Zucker is a writer, an actor, a plebeian performance artist, a freelance theatre technician, a jack-of-very-specific-trades, an intense coffee drinker and a self-proclaimed (moronic) philosopher.