I’m re-running a post from 2016, with some edits.
Prior to today’s post preparation, I knew this holiday mostly through its connection to “the Yom Kippur War” of 1973.
As a result, I set out to write (and learn) about Yom Kippur.
Most of us know that Yom Kippur is the highest of all the Jewish holidays. But, unless you’re Jewish, I’ll bet you didn’t know that Yom Kippur comes at the end of the 10 “days of awe” — a period of introspection and repentance that begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year — and is preceded by a 25-hour fast.
Yom Kippur begins at sundown the night before with the chanting of the Kol Nidre, which asks God to relieve them of promises made. There is a YouTube video of this hauntingly beautiful melody at the end of this post which I encourage you to listen to while reading.
Historically, these were promises made in the early centuries of Christendom, when Jews were forced to convert. That’s how seriously Jews take their vows: only God can relieve them of that obligation.
From those basics of the Yom Kippur holiday, I read about atonement, which moved me to look into the role of repentance in the world’s major religions: Muslims have their Naurez, Christians their Easter.
Repentance seems fundamental to who we are as social beings. We make mistakes, we seek forgiveness, we yearn for reconciliation.
And, as I examined repentance and its many synonyms — apology, remorse, regret, confession, contrition, penitence — I found myself dissecting the concept of an apology, the act of repentance.
What makes one apology work, while another one doesn’t? What, exactly, is the power an apology holds? What does it take to truly repent?
I came to see repentance as the means to heal a fractured relationship.
Whether that relationship is with ourselves, our God, our partner, our parent, our child, our neighbor, our community, or our country, I’m holding to the notion that the structure of the ensuing apology will be the same.
I chose the Identify, Own, and Honor three-step model from Melody Beattie, which I use when teaching about emotions. The model works just fine in understanding apologies too.
An apology begins with the acknowledgment that something was done that caused injury. What, exactly, did I do wrong? What is it I’m admitting to? What is the injury?
In short: name it.
Whether it’s an emotional injury (I embarrassed you; I broke your heart), a financial injury (I broke your window; I embezzled from your company), a physical one (I ran over your child’s bike), or some other type, the specific injury needs to be named and acknowledged. We want to make sure both sides are on the same page.
This is the moment when we admit (to ourselves first), that we erred; we accept the part we played in creating the injury. Sometimes this is obvious and easy to do. But often, this is difficult.
I came across this quote from the Dalai Lama, which, as quotes from the Dalai Lama tend to do, spoke eloquently on just this point:
“When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn
both peace and joy.”
I did it. And I am sorry. I regret.
Sometimes the regret is so great, we grieve the loss of who we thought we were. Sometimes it’s a simpler matter of accepting that we made a mistake. Whichever, this step requires courage.
We become vulnerable when we admit our faults, our weaknesses, our mistakes. And that can be scary. But it is in this very vulnerability that we make the connection needed to heal, to reconcile.
How easy it can be to deflect that vulnerability, to blame someone else, to divert attention elsewhere, away from ourselves. It is in that necessary humility that we acknowledge our humanity.
What can you do to make it right? To heal the rift; right the wrong? This is the reparation part, the “evening up” stage. This is the time to show you have changed, the time to walk the talk, to assure it won’t happen again.
This is not the time for excuses; it is the time for explanation. A good apology requires an explanation that puts the injury into a broader context. It is only through understanding this broader picture that the injured party can begin to believe it will not happen again.
I didn’t know. I forgot. I was not paying attention. I was an insensitive brute. I was greedy; I was wrong. I was ill.
We started with the premise that an apology, at its core, is about healing a fractured relationship. But some relationships aren’t going to mend. Sometimes what it would take to make amends is more than you are willing or able to do.
Can you have a genuine apology without reparation, without repair? Replacing the broken window or paying someone’s medical deductible is simple enough. What about a broken heart, an injured pride, a broken promise?
What about a difference of opinion, the uncovering of a contrasting value? How does one go about making reparations for an intangible injury? How much is one willing to change to please the other?
I am grateful that the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur reminded me.
As I reworked this post from a few years ago, I listened to this haunting melody of the Kol Nidre, recited by Cantor Angela Buchdahl. I play it here for you.
How about you? What makes apologizing possible?