Is it possible to “unring” a bell?
My first attorney in New York argued long ago it was not possible to “unring” a bell once it had been rung.
He explained to me how, in law school, he was taught the first thing you learn in open court is if your client “rings a bell” — that is, says something incriminating or stupid or wrong — you must not draw attention to it by “ringing” that bell again.

“Once the bell is rung,” he would say, “there’s no way to unring it, so ignore it and move along.”
Does “unringing a bell” have resonance beyond a Big Box O’ Justice to find reverberation in our ordinary lives?
If we say something wrong or make a big public mistake — do we apologize and make amends — or is it better to just “move along” without stopping to sound the gaffe again and then try to silently to fix the error with positive future action?
Can a bell be “unrung” or not?

1 Comment

  1. I located this question because I have asked it myself, and tonight, I asked it online. The only way to “unring a bell” is to live true to life-affirming values. If others hear something incriminating in what you or I say, it could be that you or I have done or said something others will judge as wrong. And/or it could mean that you or are unable to support or respresent ourselves in a positive light due to how we see ourselves. (See the film Brokeback Mountain for a view of characters caught in this dilemma.) If we have done something regretful, we may think we are bad and wrong and deserving of punishment. Punishment for behavior or words, rather than inquiry into, and restoration of, life-affirming values if needed, causes us to ask questions like how to unring a bell. And now, contemplating the “sound” uncreated by the unringing of that bell brings to mind the ol’ Zen koan:

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