Mea Culpa

Posted on June 16, 2010


I admit it. I completely lack consistency (you had already guessed that, when I posted one day about how everyone needs more hugs, then the next day about turning people to stone.) I also procrastinate and self-excuse by putting entirely too much in my life. I talk big and dawdle with implementation, hence, the blog. But I admit it. And, despite the appearance, I’m working on it in relatively organized fashion.

Mea culpa, latin for “my fault” or “my responsibility,” is less used in commonspeak than it once was. It is slowly disappearing out of the social consciousness. More common is a discussion of “barriers” – the reasons why I can’t. No mea culpa with the dishes on the floor of the family room, the failing scores in Science, the absence of budget balancing, the mortgage crisis, or the oil leak at the bottom of the ocean. Lots of “barriers” all around.

Like most declining virtues, I think we start at home with their reintroduction. I completely forgot a meeting yesterday that I asked for, and several people sat for 30 minutes while I was conspicuously absent. It really doesn’t matter that things at work exploded and I had to work late, because if I had remembered the meeting, I would have rearranged those work fires. I forgot, and it was indescribably rude, because everyone else sacrificed from their busy lives to be there, all for nothing.

I am intensely embarrassed about it, and I think that a lot of our excuses and discussions of barriers are intended to avoid that embarrassment, either for ourselves or for others. We are afraid of taking it on the chin when we mess up, and we can’t bring ourselves to ask anyone else to take it on the chin. The problem is that all of these reasons for failures complicate life and make it more frightening and unpredictable.

If the physician who removes the wrong diseased lung because the X-ray was flipped simply said, “I messed up. This is how we should have done it,” then the next person going in for surgery knows what questions to ask to warn and alleviate the problem. (I know, I know, insurance.) When we complicate the path of culpability, however, we have no plan of action to prevent horrible mistakes, and all of a sudden, surgery is life-threatening and terrifying.

Just one example. I’m a hospital-phobe, so I chose surgery. It applies more widely. We don’t know why our schools are failing, because we are so tenuous about investigating culpability. There are politically correct attitudes to dance around, and a system that is built on skewed values, and there’s politics and statistics and a lot of blustering. Have you ever heard a teacher frankly admit, that, as the person right there where the rubber meets the road, he was having a bad day and really didn’t get a solid positive thing done? Or that he’s retiring this year and couldn’t care less? Or a parent (like me) who just doesn’t do the daily reading that would make the big difference with her child?

I admit. There is such tremendous power in those two words. It’s the beginning place, the point of truth, the surgical cut that gets to the diseased tissue. Religion has long embraced the beginning of the new person with confession. I’ve long laughed about the fact that it’s easier to confess someone else’s sins. And it’s no better to confess our own as excuse (“I have a bad temper.” I’m always tempted to respond, “So? What are you going to do about it?)

I wish BP would admit to pushing production and slighting oversight. I wish we all would admit to pushing production and slighting conservation. Shared culpability. I can take my part on the chin, as an SUV-owning consumer. I wish Child 1-5 would admit to provoking, and Child 6 would admit to whining. Because then we would have something to work with, something with which to craft solutions.

If you’ve given it to me on the chin lately, thank you. I can take it. No excuses. I do, however, want to know what happened to the red flowers.

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