Progressively Speaking: How important is to say sorry?

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Progressively Speaking: How important is to say sorry?

Rabbi Benji Stanley takes a modern topic and applies a Reform Jewish response

My father, Jack Stanley, passed away this year at age 90, and I was so impressed by those who renewed contact with my family to apologise for being out of touch.

Now that he is no longer with us, I am grateful that he and I always returned to a warm relationship after arguments. So with my dad in mind, I want to return to relationships that matter- and apologise.

Today, public figures are frequently subjected to the demand that they apologise- for something that they said, did or sent out online.

Social media has amplified our every thought and action. We rabbis also need to be careful about every word we say, every Facebook post or tweet, lest it cause offence or be misinterpreted.

This contemporary reality could just add to the plethora of excuses we make to not say sorry to anyone. We tell ourselves that we did and said nothing wrong; they misunderstood; they owe us an apology if anything.

They’re so difficult they might not accept an apology if we gave one. Yet the transformation of this time of year is achieved when we have the self-awareness to realise that we are the “they” to others, that we have also been difficult and caused hurt and should say sorry.

There are two fundamental teachings for Yom Kippur and the whole year that Maimonides emphasises: firstly that, when we have hurt someone, saying sorry to God on Yom Kippur makes no difference unless we have said sorry to the person themselves.

On the flipside, he teaches us that we have to be forgiving. Cruelty is not a Jewish characteristic, he states.

So I am giving myself an extended deadline, and taking time to reflect by myself on who might need to hear a sorry from me, and then I will get in touch with them.

I will also not give up on those who hurt me; I will let one or two people know, kindly, that they hurt me. If we take the time to reflect on who might need to hear a sorry, then this itself becomes an act of real self-work, as we, for once, see ourselves from the outside, cultivating the self-awareness that I am quick to see others as lacking.

Rabbi Benji Stanley, rabbi for Young Adults at Reform Judaism

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