Days of Awe: Perfection and Apology
The High Holy Days of the Jewish tradition are nearly here. During these days, we ask for the forgiveness of anyone we may have harmed. We look at ourselves deeply, examine our motives and actions, and atone for any negative effects, intentional or otherwise, we have caused. We do this to repair any harm we have created, and also to repair our own imperfections. It’s an opportunity to make the world better and ourselves better, as well.
With this in mind, to inform someone of a hurt they have caused is a service to their spiritual evolution. It gives them the ability to move ever closer to perfection, or union with a once and future unblemished, untarnished, good, and radiant version of themselves.
When we ask for an apology, it’s important to know it may not be forthcoming. It may never come. And the request itself may be met with further negativity and wrongdoing.
Once, I informed a neighbor that his dog had been incessantly yipping from an open window all day long while he was at work. It was one of those high-pitched, alarming sounds that, after five days, frays the nerves. This information, which I made pains to communicate gently, was met with hostility and attack. Somehow, I found myself apologizing to this neighbor despite the origin of the interaction: his vocally unhappy dog. He responded with accusations and insults to my request that he close the window. It was I who had offended, he claimed, by communicating this information at all, and with weeds that “grew through the fence,” as if my yard were the singular insidious breeding ground of things invasive and unwanted.
His attack accomplished what it intended: intimidation. I apologized and he did not. At the time, I felt that because we were neighbors, I had to give in in order to preserve the peace, to prevent escalation, to maintain the security and peace of my home–even if it was the unhappy state of his pet that had caused the initial disturbance of the peace.
After that, I resolved that I would never again apologize for standing up for myself. I would never allow a bully to intimidate me into accepting his abuse. I would never allow someone to accuse me in response to being called out on their own wrongdoing.
With this and the lessons of the High Holy Days in mind, I take responsibility for my own errors where appropriate and I ask for an apology where I am due one.
Just a few days ago, in a situation unrelated to my neighbor’s dog (who, by the way, unfortunately is barking as I write this), I asked for an apology after being treated abusively–with verbal and physical intimidation–in what should have been a professional setting, from someone in a position of authority. I don’t know if I will receive this apology, but I have given him the opportunity.
I ask for an apology when I have been done wrong because the situations I describe above are how injustice is perpetuated, on a micro scale in these situations and on a macro scale in situations such as the accusations thrown at those working to end racism, antisemitism, and other forms of bigotry during and after the attack at Charlottesville.
When called upon to denounce hatred and uphold the values of human decency and respect, the president instead blamed “both sides,” also saying there were “fine people” marching alongside Neo-Nazis and KKK members while they chanted ugly slogans taken from some of the darkest times in human history.
To normalize bigotry, the president attempted to move the mile markers, resetting standards, redefining acceptable and unacceptable by blaming those who stand for justice, sanity, and humanity equally as those who a world war established were on the wrong side of history.
Accountability and apologies are important. Seeking them serves our own good, the good of our community, and the good of those who do wrong. It’s an act of compassion, even for those who seek to do us harm. It works to uphold standards of justice, common decency, and humanity. Even if we receive nothing in return, just the act of seeking justice is worthwhile–for all involved.
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