We all know the structure of a disingenuous apology. "I'm sorry if you were hurt." "I'm sorry you feel that way."
These are ways of saying either "I'm not sorry." Or "If I'm sorry, I'm not apologizing now."
Some abbreviations are vague: "Sorry, dude." Or "My bad."
This is not about How To Apologize. But, for context and review, let's start there.
How To Apologize
Here's a quick review. I learned this in the study of Jewish ethics. (You don't have to be Jewish to apologize. Jewish ethics might, at times, be the same as universal ethics.)
When I apologize, I must:
- Apologize. Speak of my regret and sorrow. I need to genuinely express my request for forgiveness. I need to demonstrate that I believe I did wrong.
- Pay restitution. I need to pay for the damages. I need to repair the car. I need to replace the cookies.
- (And this is the most difficult one:) I need to be placed in the same situation and not goober it again. I need to be back in the car or beside the cookie jar — and not repeat myself.
When I think of apology, I always think of Bernie Madoff:
- He could announce his regret and offer his apology. Perhaps he's done this.
- He can't repay the damages. The financial damages are too high for him to ever repay. The emotional damages? Too high. The loss of life due to anguish and suicide? These are costs that are too high for him to repay.
- But this is the one that gets me — #3: he needs to be placed in the same situation and not repeat his mistake.
That's not going to happen.
So, he's only one-for-three. Is the crime unforgivable? Good old-fashioned justice might say yes. (Christian love might offer grace. I'm no expert on grace. The folks at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston are.)
In Jewish tradition, we need to apologize twice, if our apology is rejected the first time. And we need to apologize a third time, if it's twice rejected. But, if it's rejected a third time, we are no longer obliged to apologize.
Recently, I spouted off. I used regrettable words. I apologized. My apology was accepted. I bought lunch. And I am studying Emotional Impulse Control, so that I might not spout off again.
Anyway, we all know about apologies.
But there is still something I don't understand about apologies: I don't quite know how to receive one.
How do you receive an apology?
What do we say? "I forgive you."
This reminds me of Danny Maseng teaching that, while receiving a blessing is weird enough, giving a blessing is preposterous. "Who am I to give blessings?" Danny asked, playing the guitar like Segovia, singing like an angel, and dressed like a shaman. "Who am I?"
It feels the same with forgiving.
If you come to me to apologize, that's weird enough, but who am I to forgive you? I might not have even been there when you were acting badly. Or, maybe I was, but it never had anything to do with me. You were shooting yourself in the foot and anyone who knows anything knows that it was all about you.
So who do you really need to forgive you?
The Divine? If so, I can't help you with this.
Me? I'll forgive you, but you will find that my forgiving isn't enough.
Who do you need to forgive you? You!
I find it weird to forgive you, when you need to forgive yourself.
And I find it weird to ask for your forgiveness, when I need to forgive myself.
That's what this is about: self-forgiving.
How To Forgive Yourself
I have no idea.
I once wrote (a #10 post on Net Cotton Content) on how broken hearts aren't mended, but rather placed in the trunk as we drive on.
Self-forgiving is similar. Now my trunk is cluttered with broken hearts, and words and deeds for which I have not yet forgiven myself.
Why is it so hard to forgive myself? You forgave me for the slight. But, to me, my behavior was not slight at all — it was proof of my incompetence, my emotional ignorance, my overblown sense of privilege. You showed me grace.
Imagine someone who is incarcerated. The last assessment the prisoner heard was "Guilty." Time can be served. But for true redemption, true functional reintegration into society beyond bars, the former prisoner needs to achieve self-forgiveness. Self-loathing surely must lead to recidivism.
We can't get to the present, if we are stuck in the past. Christopher Tidrick, who heard my sermon on this subject last week at Temple Israel, explores this idea — illuminating further, beautifully and personally — in "Allowing The Present To Arrive."
Self-Forgiveness Addresses Narcissism
The inability to forgive oneself can be self-absorbing. Suddenly, what started as my insult or injury to you become about me. You forgave me, but I remain a martyr. This doesn't end pretty. Mustn't wallow.
So I would like to suggest a fourth step in the design of apology.
The Fourth Step of Apology
Building on the list above, when I apologize, I must:
- Pay restitution.
- Not repeat myself. (This used to be the most difficult one.)
- Forgive myself. (This is more difficult than #3.)
Apology is difficult. Did you think apology was cheap and easy?
Sorry, dude. My bad.
As the Jewish world enters the High Holy Days, may we be forgiven by the one who is created in image of the Divine, we, ourselves, a vision on earth of the Divine — may we forgive ourselves.