The Jewish High Holy Days model how authentic, meaningful apologies can transform and renew our relationships and outlook.
As kids go back to school and a nip comes into the air, Jews enter a profoundly spiritual season of the liturgical year.
Called the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe or by their individual names, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the season marks the beginning of a new Jewish calendar year. It also asks each of us to examine our lives, identify our shortcomings and seek atonement within ourselves, among each other and with God. This order is intentional—Judaism teaches that one cannot seek forgiveness from God until he or she has atoned to the person who has been wronged.
But what does a meaningful atonement, apology or request for forgiveness look like? Done authentically and with a genuine desire to make things right, an apology can be a transformative, renewing and growing experience.
I love this checklist from the blog Sorry Watch, which tracks the state of modern apologies from celebrities, politicians and the rest of us alike. The authors offer six ingredients any meaningful apology must have.
1) Make an Actual Apology
This may seem obvious, but it means actually saying, “I’m sorry,” “I was wrong,” or “I shouldn’t have done that.” It does not mean saying, “I regret you are upset,” or anything along those vague and passive lines.
2) Address the Individual
Posting an apology on social media is not a substitute for addressing yourself directly to the person from whom you are seeking forgiveness.
3) Be Specific
The more specific you can be, the more the person will hear how deeply you have thought about what you have done wrong.
4) Acknowledge the Effect of Your Actions
Show that you understand how your actions embarrassed, hurt, shocked or otherwise disturbed the person you’re apologizing to.
5) Offer an Explanation, Not an Excuse
There is no justification for negative or hurtful behavior. But in a heated or stressful moment, you probably had some “reason” for taking the action you did. Share that, but repeat, “I was wrong.”
The final step is to stop talking and let the other person have their say. You might learn more about the extent of the hurt you caused. You might hear something that gives you an idea of how to make the situation right. You might learn that the person is bothered by something else more than the incident you’re apologizing for. Keep your ears and mind open, and listen with compassion and honesty.
Apologies are hard. But to walk a positive path through life means having genuine relationships—and authentic relationships are based on honesty. Being a loving, positive person means that when you do miss the mark, your relationships can sustain and survive the stress of the apology and forgiveness process. In fact, they will likely be all the stronger for the experience.