Saturday, September 8, 2018

The other side of the blanket

At this time of year--Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur--you're likely to see some blanket apologies on social media. In the olden days people sent them through email, often to the entire roster of a listserv.

They're usually formalistic blanket apologies: to everyone and no one, for everything and nothing. I won't be posting one, because I read them as "to no one in particular" and "for nothing in particular."

As I see it, a valid apology is specific: to the person wronged, stating the nature of the offense and agreeing that it was wrong, pledging to try not to do it again. How can you genuinely apologize if you don't know what you did or whom you did it to? The vague "If I offended you in any way" is on a par with the non-apologies that politicians and celebrities offer: "I'm sorry if you were offended." That is no apology at all, because it places the guilt on the victim, for taking offense.

So why are we doing this? In truth, we have all committed offenses that we forgot or didn't even notice at the time. Probably even some that we are still incapable of recognizing. 

That's a big part of what Yom Kippur is about: accepting responsibility for everything we did, even what we did without knowing. A major role--to my way of thinking, the major role--of the Yom Kippur liturgy is to bring our souls back into alignment even after sins that are still unknown to us. 

And that's why the liturgy does so much to induce feelings of guilt, not that we don't enter Yom Kippur already feeling guilty. But another role of the Yom Kippur liturgy is to relieve free-floating guilt (the guilt that we take on for no specific reason at all) in order that we can focus on making amends for what we know we did.

I've written about some of this before. I believe that an apology, in addition to being specific, needs to be made in the right form and in the right place. For example, a private offense does not demand a public apology, but a private apology does not atone for a public offense. In other words, don't apologize in email or on social media for an offense committed in another venue, and don't make a private, secret apology for an offense that you committed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever.

So I'm not posting a blanket apology. If I owe an apology, and if I haven't offered it by, say, Shabbat Shuvah, please tell me about it and keeping telling me until I get the point.

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