drawing by Elliot Keeler
Perhaps uniquely, Canadians say “sorry” almost automatically when something goes wrong; it does not (often) imply an admission of guilt, or of remorse. In fact, this is so Canadian that our lawyers had to craft (I am not making this up) the Apology Act, so that prosecuting lawyers couldn’t imply that merely saying “sorry” was an admission of having done something wrong; that it could quite simply be “an act of commiseration”.
I put this propensity down to Canadians’ capacity for embracing complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty. We don’t tend to lay blame for things quickly (and sometimes after a rant we will follow it quickly with a “sorry” for the outburst, and an assurance that “I know we’re all doing our best”).
I am “Canadian-sorry” for many things. That is possibly because my life has been so blessed, so it is in my Canadian nature to feel guilty about that, rather than proud or rhapsodic. Here are some of the things I am sorry for, or about, these days:
I am sorry for being a seemingly incorrigible “joyful pessimist”. Sorry about being joyful, when that comes across as disengaged or unsympathetic. Sorry about being a pessimist, when that comes across as defeatist and undermining.
I am sorry for the terrible state of the world, both human and more-than-human. I more or less know that my contribution to that has been relatively negligible, but I still feel more than relatively responsible.
I am sorry for being a Doubting Thomas, such that when someone comes to me in anger or tears and is looking for compassion and reassurance and I try to parse and understand what they’re saying, so they’re forced to tell me, stupid Canadian that I am, to just STFU and agree with them, for once.
I am sorry for the ghastly plight of the world’s other-than-human animals, both farmed (97% of whom live in incredible misery and stress) and wild (97% of whom live in constant retreat as their habitats are erased by human activity). I’m a vegan, but confess I have on occasion been known to eat a cheese croissant. I excuse my inaction on animal rights on the basis that if I knew or saw more instances of animal cruelty, I would probably commit multiple serious crimes against the perpetrators. Sorry, animals.
I am sorry for being, at least for now, a fan of Radical Non-Duality, which is preposterous and unnerving to those who fear it might lead me to entirely dissociate from all the problems and predicaments of the (illusory) “real” world. Especially their particular problems and predicaments. I am sorry that I cannot explain why that will never happen.
I am sorry for not speaking out more militantly against those, both in my community and in others, who don’t social distance and don’t wear masks and who brag about how their community has done so well during CoVid-19 and are completely oblivious to how outbreaks that kill and permanently sicken people actually occur. I am sorry that I don’t know why I don’t speak out. Potentially shaming people, even for something as dangerous as drunk driving, seems somehow un-Canadian. If it’s because I’m just a conflict-avoiding coward, I’m sorry for that, too.
I am sorry for being so stupid, so self-centred, so inattentive and so un-self-aware as to have said and done all those hurtful things I said and did, and to have failed to say and do all those useful and appropriate things I should have said and done. There is no excuse.
I am sorry for my obliviousness to social, political and economic injustices of all kinds, and for the privilege that has enabled that obliviousness, and for the shameful inaction on my part that obliviousness has enabled.
I am sorry that this list may come across as flip or unsympathetic or passive-aggressive or hurtful or like one of those “Kill all x!; [and then later] you know I was just kidding right?” statements from the shithole president and his toadies and their ilk. I am sorry if this post has caused you to feel there is some barbed double meaning to this post. I am sorry if you think I doth protest too much and that there is definitely an intentional or unintentional double meaning to this post.
I am sorry for the grief and terror and destruction the shithole president and his toadies and their ilk all over the world have done, are doing, and will do, whether or not they are elected, re-elected, or otherwise take or retain power. I can’t help feeling my inaction or ignorance has somehow contributed to and/or abetted this.
I’m sorry for saying “sorry” so much that when you really need me to feel sad and sympathetic for your situation, the word, coming from me, has lost its meaning and comes across as insincere and dismissive.
I’m sorry for being so far ahead of mainstream thinking that most people just cannot fathom what I’m trying to say, so they’ve given up reading this blog. And I’m sorry it sounds so arrogant to say my thinking is far ahead of the mainstream. I didn’t mean you. I didn’t mean anyone. It’s just… I’m sorry.
I’m sorry for all the things you care so deeply about that I just cannot, despite all efforts and a ton of soul-searching and introspection and self-challenging, find it in myself to really care about.
I’m sorry for wasting so much of my and others’ time on things of no importance, and specifically for wasting so much time feeling sorry instead of actually doing something about it.
I’m sorry for being so afraid of so many things that I haven’t gathered up the courage to do things that would make an enormous difference to my life and that of others. And I’m sorry I don’t know why that fear has so paralyzed me.
And I’m sorry it has all been so hard for you. Yes, you. I keep thinking it shouldn’t be this hard, shouldn’t have to be this hard. I keep thinking we make it harder than it has to be, harder than it really is. But then I see how hard it really is for so many, perhaps for you, and I feel ashamed and sorry for even thinking this. Sorry it’s been hard, and hope it gets a bit easier.
And finally, I’m sorry if this post, instead of coming across as a minorly self-deprecating (except for the being too-far-ahead part) and strangely insightful, creative and clever essay, comes across as a veiled desperate plea for reassurance, or forgiveness, or emotional support. Didn’t mean it that way, and so sorry if it struck you that way.
Oh, and so sorry for that thing that happened last week, or was it last month? You know the thing I mean.