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This is always an interesting time of year for me. The Jewish high holidays are right around the corner. People are speaking all the time about being the best versions of themselves. And there’s never ending talk about teshuva, which loosely translates to repentance.
I find the word “repentance” very off-putting. Not only is it not in most people’s everyday vocabulary, but it has a certain overly religious ring to it. There is nothing inherently religious about apologies. Teshuva is about returning to a previous state. It’s about resetting the situation, taking the errors that have occurred and learning to move past them. It is a fundamental part of the Jewish faith, and an essential part of all quality human interaction.
We all make mistakes. We all hurt other people. Sometimes we do so intentionally, but far more often we either don’t recognize we’ve done it, or we can trick ourselves into thinking we’ve done nothing wrong whatsoever. But with just a little gentle introspection, and none of us will be able to escape the countless times we’ve hurt others in our lives. Very often the people we would least like to harm.
An Odd Tradition
There is a bit of an odd tradition around this time of year that irks me a little. It’s done with very good intentions, but I feel it misses the mark, and removes the depth of the concept of teshuva. People will make blanket statements to many people apologizing if they’ve wronged them in any way, or they’ll do the same kind of thing with scores of people throughout the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur.
Are we all so self unaware that we don’t know when we’ve hurt others, that the only “real” apologies we can offer are for vague actions or events that may or may not have happened?
Bigger and Better Apologies
I propose something far deeper, something that takes a great deal of hard work and introspection. And it also takes digging deep within yourself to find where damage has been done and repairs need to take place.
Grab a pen and paper and start surveying your life. Take a deep look at decades worth of relationships. Look at the good ones along the way. Look at the ones that were really challenging along the way. Start slowly compiling a list of names. Ask yourself questions like you never have before. Did I have a wonderful friendship with someone that went sour? Why’d that happen? Is it something I said or did? Is it possible I pushed someone away from me?
Look at the hurt and pain you’ve caused others throughout the years. Please don’t be naive or arrogant enough to think you haven’t done so. We all hurt people. We all cause pain. That doesn’t mean we’re bad people. It means we open our mouths! Every time we speak we’re risking someone around us feeling hurt. One person’s cute, simple joke is another person’s ruined evening.
Start from your earliest memories and slowly work your way toward the present. Jot down name after name. When you think you’re done, start over. Do it again! Even slower this time. Think just a little bit harder. And get that list as fine tuned as humanly possible.
Please don't be naive or arrogant enough to think you haven't done so. We all hurt people. We all cause pain. That doesn't mean we're bad people. It means we open our mouths! Every time we speak we're risking someone around us feeling… Click To Tweet
Finding The Hurt
We are blessed in this generation to have countless ways to hunt people down. Usually it’s as easy as a simple Facebook search. It doesn’t really get much harder than asking a friend of a friend.
Once you find those people, it’s time to pour out the words. It’s time to search the deepest depths of your humility to admit that maybe, just maybe, you had a hand in the damaged relationship. And it’s time to (gasp) say that you’re sorry. Not empty apologies to a group of people with no real substance or meaning. Not a vague shell of an apology to someone for whom you really don’t see any issues.
Only sincere yearning for someone to forgive you for the wrongs you have done.
Apologies: What Happens?
I took exactly this approach a few years back, and it was one of the most meaningful things I have ever done. By the time all of my introspection was complete, my list had about 20-30 people. There were a couple I couldn’t find. And some for whom I couldn’t eke out a response.
But beyond those few anomalies, finding the remaining couple of dozen was one of the most incredible and freeing experiences of my life. There were a few shocking realizations, such as people who turned out weren’t actually upset with me. Misunderstandings abounded. Sometimes things aren’t as they seem. Sometimes not even close. The only way you could ever know is to open up the dialogue.
The second most common response I received was straight-up, unadulterated, thorough forgiveness. The outpouring of love and understanding was so inspiring. It’s worlds easier to forgive than it is to ask for forgiveness. And once you ask, a beautiful process just pours forward.
But by far the most common response I received from people was a return apology. The willingness to see your own culpability, and to reach out and try and put these life messes behind you, opens up people’s hearts. Introspection is inevitable. And a simple act of contrition turns into so much more than the original intention. Mutual apologies along with forgiveness is the best possible scenario, and it is touching every time it happens.
Obviously we all have different life experiences; however, so long as you interact with other people, mistakes and conflicts are inevitable. As the years progress, the numbers increase. The burden increases as well. And it becomes more and more daunting to think that maybe we should go back and revisit the past. Why can’t we just let it disappear forever? Why? Because it never does. All of our experiences, good or bad, become a part of who we are. What a unique opportunity it is for us to go ahead and flip the switch! We can take the many “bads” that happen over the years and turn them into something truly and unforgettably amazing.
May we have a phenomenal year of powerful connections and even more powerful reconnections.