Since it's Jewish New Year, and the beginning of the Ten Days of Repentance, I'd like to talk about politics. No, I don't mean the usual arguments between Democrats and Republicans; I want to talk about the way politicians communicate. As many of you know, I teach courses in communication, and there's something I've noticed about the majority of politicians, no matter which party they are from: when something goes right, they immediately take credit for it, but when something goes wrong, it's never their fault.
Of course, they're not the only ones: you may have heard that old saying (often credited to the Roman historian Tacitus), "Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan." Just once, I'd like to hear a politician (whether the president or a member of congress or even a mayor or governor) admit that they were the one who messed up, and not try to offer the typically vague comment, "mistakes were made" (but, by whom? evidently not by them).
We see that behavior in kids all the time-- those of you who have children, or are elementary school teachers, have undoubtedly witnessed it: a kid gets in trouble, and invariably either makes excuses or tries to blame it on someone else. But adults are supposed to be more mature, which is why it really irritates me when our political leaders just can't bring themselves to say they made a mistake.
And what does any of this have to do with the Ten Days of Repentance? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Admitting you were wrong is the first step towards making amends for what you did. In order to repent, you first have to acknowledge that you were at fault, and then express your sincere regret. And it's not just some mechanical "sorry"-- it's being willing to take responsibility, and apologizing to the people your behavior may have hurt.
But while it's easy for me to criticize politicians, I could actually be talking about any of us, myself included. I'd be lying if I said I am always willing to admit when I'm wrong. I'd be lying if I said I've never made excuses or tried to place the blame on others, instead of acknowledging my own part. And like some of the politicians I know, I too find it difficult to apologize. So, while I can easily recognize behaviors I don't like when someone else is doing them, the Ten Days of Repentance are about looking honestly at ourselves, thinking about the mistakes each of us has made, and sincerely promising to do better.
In other words, just like I'd be pleased to see political figures be more honest, I need to apply that standard to myself. So, if in the past year, I have (intentionally or unintentionally) hurt someone or been snarky (a big fault of mine) or judgmental or unkind, I will try to learn from it, and I will try to do better in the new year. Perhaps a blog post seems like a strange place to talk about repentance; but if I can start a conversation, if I can make others think about the amends they need to make, and if I can talk honestly about my own mistakes, maybe something positive will happen. You don't need to be Jewish to observe the Ten Days of Repentance: you just need to be willing to repent.