Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Have we lost the art of apology?

Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the creation of the world, but more specifically, the creation of humanity. You might think this means Rosh Hashanah is a celebration of the wonder of us, but it’s not. It is a time for serious introspection, meditation, and prayer toward the end of facing our true selves with an honest, critical eye and asking: Am I the best version of myself I can be?

For each of us, self-improvement begins with patching ruptures of the past. Therefore, Rosh Hashanah is a time when we seek forgiveness from those we have wronged in the past year, approaching them to apologize and ask for forgiveness in the hope of achieving reconciliation. That’s not an easy thing to do because it means admitting our faults and failings.

There was a time when even if apology wasn’t easy, it was a normal thing to do. Today, crass behavior is often viewed as strength, and apology is frequently interpreted as a sign of weakness best limited to political necessity.
Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted, “You Lie,” in the midst of the president’s nationally broadcast address on Health Care Reform. Whatever possessed him to interrupt in this manner?

Kanye West interrupted Taylor’s Swift’s acceptance speech for best female video at the MTV Music Awards ceremony to state his personal preference for Beyonce Knowles.

Serena Williams smashed her racket in anger (bending it irreparably) and then launched into a tirade against the line judge at the U.S. Open.
Rep. Wilson apologized under pressure, and a few days later declared he wasn’t going to apologize any more, casting doubt on the sincerity of his apology.

Kanye West, under immense pressure, offered three public apologies – the third on The Jay Leno Show -- before he finally got around to calling Taylor Swift to apology personally. Poor form.

Serena Williams is reported to have said, "I really wanted to apologize sincerely. I think the lady was doing the best she could. She was just trying to do her job. I would like to give her a big old hug and put it behind us." But did she apologize directly to the line judge, or only offer the semblance of an apology to the press? I don’t know the answer to this question, but I’d like to think she did.
If one says: I shall sin and repent, sin and repent, no opportunity will be given to him to repent. [If he says]: I shall sin and the Day of Atonement will procure atonement for me, the Day of Atonement procures for him no atonement.

For transgressions between a person and God, the Day of Atonement procures atonement, but for transgressions between two people, the Day of Atonement does not procure atonement until the one has appeased the other. (Mishnah on Yoma 85)
Many things pass for an "apology" these days: "I shouldn’t have done that to you, but here’s why I did it..." and "I’m sorry you feel that way" are but two examples. These are not apologies.

We can all do better. And when we do, we will repair our relationships, restore trust, and move closer to becoming the best versions of ourselves possible. And along the way, we will experience a wealth of blessings:
R. Chama b. Chanina said: Great is repentance because it brings healing to the world… R. Levi said: Great is repentance for it reaches up to the Throne of Glory… R. Shmuel b. Nachmani said in the name of R. Yonatan: Great is repentance because it prolongs a person’s life… R. Meir used to say: Great is repentance because on account of an individual who repents, the sins of all the world are forgiven… (Yoma 85)
© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman 2009

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