Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Apology Test

This is that complicated post I was struggling with. Here’s a little pre-blog survey: When you think of things that require proper apologies, do you think of apologies you need to receive from others or apologies you need to give to others?
    __    Someone owes me an apology for something they did
    __    I owe someone an apology for something I did
By the time I reached my Third Third, I’d heard these two sayings many times:
  1.  First time, shame on you. Second time, shame on me.
  2.  Hate does more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to the object on which it is poured.
So while they’re not complete opposites, they do reflect differences in how to deal with transgressions. Other people’s against us. Do we stay on guard and protect ourselves from people who take advantage, are cruel, or are inconsiderate? (#1) Or does holding onto our feelings (like distrust, resentment, even hate) damage us? (#2) When do the healthy boundaries we set for ourselves become grudges?

So here I am with a discussion group on the subject of Forgiveness and Repentance. In Judaism (the framework for our discussion), there’s no absolution that comes from some designated authority. God isn’t “in charge” of forgiving sins against other people. Only the parties concerned can right the wrongs between them. I like that, but it means the question of whether or not to forgive sits right in our court.

The philosophers came up with all sorts of lists as they closely examined the issue. Repentance is when you’re sorry and you want to make it better. For repentance to count, five things must be present: recognition of the act as bad, remorse, not doing it any more, restitution, and confession. And this is the biggie: none of it counts unless you don’t do it anymore.
So let’s say someone does all five things, is the other person required to forgive? Philosophers agree that repentance must be sincere, initiated by the bad guy, and involve some element of personal transformation. There is no easy forgiveness; you have to earn it and deserve it.

So Judaism is mostly big on repentance, stopping doing bad things. Not so big on forgiveness because the big deal is stopping doing bad things. The idea is that if you forgive too easily, you’re allowing evil to continue. But if you forgive too slowly, when do you become cruel?

So there I was, thinking about all the rotten things people have done and mentally cataloging which of the five things they missed in their inadequate – or even absent – apologies. Concluding, of course, that they did not earn or deserve forgiveness. So my big decision was whether to keep my distance from them (#1) or move on (#2). That was my big issue.

Only afterwards did a light bulb go off and I re-read the bit that said “…mostly big on repentance … because the big deal is stopping doing bad things.” Click! I looked in the mirror and had to ask if I was doing my five things, had I repaired things I might have broken and was I not breaking them anymore?
Oh, no, here I am again at the contest between Better Barbara and Shitty Barbara (who made their original appearance here). Shitty Barbara focuses more on the rotten things other people do rather than her own rotten stuff, so my first concern had been Forgiveness. Like, who’s entitled to it? Not you! But now it’s, What counts as a Bad Thing? To me or to you? Do I even notice my Bad Things as easily as I notice other people’s? Will I fix them?

By the time we’ve reached our Third Thirds, we’ve experienced many wrongs, both as the good guy, the bad guy, and the bystander. I keep hoping I’ll acquire some sort of Wisdom-with-a-capital-W, but really it’s always the same: Does the Better Barbara win?


  1. It's complex sometimes but in my book it is always best to take the High Road.

  2. Well done! There's a lot to think about here (and it needs to be thought about frequently).


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