Justice, Religion

Don't Apologize!

I apologize for being such a slacker this past year in posting. (New job and all that- not an excuse, but still).
Still, this morning I find myself with an embarrassment of riches, which I will try to cover over the next few days.
Today’s topic: a terrific post reflecting on tshuvah, and using the teachable moments recently offered us in public by politicians sports figures and musicians for how not to apologize.
I’ve noticed, myself, the spreading plague of people who “apologize” if I have hurt your feelings, implying that it is the victim who is oversensitive to a rather minor slight, or worse yet, implying that they have done nothing wrong at all, and the victim is to blame.
I actually blame the politicians for this one – the non-apology! It all started as a way for them to seem to apologize without actually taking responsibility for what was done wrong.
I would like to note that this is not really an apology.
In Judaism, we say that tshuvah has a number of steps:
First acknowledge that one has done wrong. This is not a qualification met by “if I have done x,” or “if I have hurt you”.
The next step is to make amends. Again: one cannot get to this steps without first acknowledging the wrong. But should one manage to eke out a sense that one is responsible for a particular wrong behavior – or more often a slough of them, which include not only the wrong itself, but others’ feelings about it, then one is not off the hook until one has cleaned up the mess created. This may mean raising money to clean up that oil spill without cutting all one’s employees’ salaries while giving oneself a bonus.
After all that, you also have to be committed to a new course of action – that means, when the opportunity presents itself again – DON’T TAKE IT. And by the way, that also means, for example, don’t do other things that are slightly different, or that are kinds of different. Or that have a different character, but are essentially the same in meaning. You get my drift here?
Then, once one has made amends to others, and genuinely turned away from the old path, one may (then and only then) make confession to God. Yes, you have to acknowledge your responsibility twice. All those preachers down on their knees letting us know that God forgave them for being caught en flagrante with male prostitutes – sorry – that’s not the first step. I don’t know how you worked it out with your wives, but I would bet it would be a good first step to also apologize to all those “homoSEXuals” you’re always sending to hell in a handbasket.
The word Tshuvah doens’t really mean “repentance,” but “return.” “Return” means that rather than saying one is sorry and moving on to the next wretched remark, one has to realize that one has walked way off the right path, turn around and walk all the way back. It is insufficient to apologize and move on, because usually, the things that we do wrong are not single mistakes in an otherwise unblemished life. No, we humans are creatures of pattern and habit, and that eans those mistakes that we make aren’t just about a one-off. They are usually part of a larger pattern of behavior which we need to observe and reform. That is one of the reasons why Judaism is based on laws – halakha- not feelings: tzedaka, not caritas, for example-
psychology confirms what the rabbis have been telling us for centuries: peoples’ behavior is not driven by rational choice making, but rather by impulses often driven by habit, which are then after the fact justified. Which means that more important than good intentions are good habits, good patterns.
But there’s one more thing to add here. Sometimes one really does do wrong by accident, or by mistake. In our society today, we often try to emphasize intent and show that our action was not intended to do harm – that is, in part, the origin of the non-apology. But in Judaism, accidents too require tshuvah – how do we know this? In the Torah, sacrifices are offered for unintentional sins, moreover, check your high holiday liturgy – you may notice that accidental sins are listed there too. In our society, that is counter-intuitive – if it’s an accident, why do we have to say sorry? But accidents too are often not done in a vacuum – they, too, often result from patterns of behavior that result in outcomes that – while we may not have intended them- are inevitable, and results of our actions.
You may not have intended to fall off the roof and land on someone and kill them- but why were you up on a roof without safeguards? Do you tend to behave in risky ways? You didn’t intend to get drunk again? Well, why were you hanging out with your drinking buddies and depending on them for a ride?
So, I say to all non-apologizers – cut it out! You too, must do full tshuvah. yes, it’s not easy, but take some responsibility. And when I say “you,” I mean “me, too.”

4 thoughts on “Don't Apologize!

  1. Hear hear! This is so true. Although, despite the fact that Jews have this important practice, we are often just as bad as others with using the “non-apology.” Sadly, everyone hates receiving the non-apology, but uses it all the time! So, I wonder how do you convince people to change their ways…especially those who think they’ve done no wrong? Such a complicated situation when it really shouldn’t be!

  2. Small point:
    Apologizing “if I have hurt your feelings” is accepting blame for hurting someone else. Apologizing “if your feelings were hurt” is placing the blame on the victim. It’s the difference between active and passive voice.

  3. KRG, If I was moved by your article and if it was the most concise expression of this quite important idea, I would thank you.
    John, good point. There is a clear difference between the active and passive voice. However, I think the use of “if”, even in the active voice, still makes it a non-apology. It’s quite different than saying, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” which itself is quite different than saying “I’m sorry I (did what I did, said what I said).”
    By the way, thanks KRG.
    A sweet and blesssed new year to y’all.
    Shalom v’ahava,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.