It's nearly the end of the Ten Days of Repentance, a time in the Jewish religion that begins with the New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and ends with the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). During those ten days, we are asked to seek forgiveness from those we wronged in the past year. We are supposed to apologize for what we said or did that might have hurt others, and to take responsibility for it. Even if the other person doesn't accept our apology, we still are commanded to make the effort, since if we want God to forgive us on Yom Kippur, we have to first forgive others. (That's why you don't wish people a "Happy" Yom Kippur-- it's a time for serious reflection, a time to ask God to give us another year, and a chance to make things right.)
Of course, forgiving others is often easier said than done. I had a very contentious relationship with my father (of blessed memory), and I admit it took me many years to get to a place where I could forgive some of the harsh words he said to me. I've also had a difficult time forgiving some of the men I worked with during my years in radio, men who thought it was perfectly acceptable for them to sexually harass or make crude remarks to their female employees-- just because they could. Trust me, such things are not funny, they're not something women enjoy, and those of us who have gone through such experiences don't forget them easily. But during the Ten Days of Repentance, there's an opportunity to let all the anger go, and to forgive the people who wronged us. Forgetting, however, is another matter entirely.
We live in a culture where blaming and shaming are staples of social media conversation, and where snark and insult can be heard even in presidential debates. (I dread to think what some folks have said about me; in some cases I know, but in others, it's probably better that I don't.) And yet, during the Ten Days of Repentance, we are asked to put aside the tendency to focus on other people's faults and concentrate on our own. We're not supposed to hide behind the so-called non-apology apology, the one where the candidate says something outrageous and then follows up with "I apologize if anyone was offended." (In other words, whatever the person said, crude or demeaning though it may have been, it's YOUR fault if you were offended, not theirs for saying it.) Rather, we are asked to make a sincere effort to acknowledge our faults, to tell the truth about them, and to avoid making excuses. It's not about whether anyone was offended; it's about whether you should have said it in the first place.
Imagine if our politicians could for ten days put aside their tendency to make themselves look good by making their opponents look bad. Imagine if our colleagues at work could for ten days put aside the tendency to gossip or say nasty things behind the backs of people they dislike. Wouldn't it be nice to spend a few days treating each other with courtesy and respect, even if we may disagree with each other's views? Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't obsess over every perceived slight, or dwell on every fault others have (while making excuses for their own)? Wouldn't it be refreshing if people who claim to live by the Good Book actually followed its teachings, especially about showing kindness to others, and forgiving those who don't live up to our standards? Yes, I know, it's not very likely that any of this will happen in my lifetime. But it's still something worth aspiring to.
And on the Day of Atonement, Jewish people world-wide will fast and pray that God will forgive us for disappointing Him or falling short of what He asked us to do in the past year. But whether you are Jewish or not, it's worth taking what my friends in AA and Al-Anon call a "fearless moral inventory": over the past year, have we been too self-righteous, too certain that only we are right and everyone else is wrong? Have we been too ready to criticize and too slow to forgive? Have we brought out the best in those around us or have we been so focused on winning that we were willing to tear others down as long as we came out on top?
So, as the Ten Days of Repentance draw to a close, I can only hope those who know me or those who have read my words this past year will forgive me for anything rude or discourteous I may have said. And whether you are Jewish or not, I wish you and yours a year of peace, health, compassion, and kindness. In a time where anger and resentment seem so prevalent, each of us can and should do our part to create a more courteous world, and now is as good a time as any to begin. Happy New Year and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life.
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