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BlogElul Day 10: Forgive

In past years of BlogElul participation, I’ve written about the Jewish view of teshuvah/repentance. Briefly, repentance is achieved/completed when someone:
1. acknowledges and regrets what happened
2. apologizes to those they’ve hurt
3. offers to make amends (and follows through if the offer is accepted)

For most of us, that would do it. Nothing can change the past, but they’ve done what they can to fix the damage done. But in Judaism, there’s one more crucial step:

4. When presented with the opportunity to make the same mistake again, they don’t.

In my past musings about forgiveness, I’ve also invoked a quote from Oprah, where she says that forgiveness is not about ignoring what was done, or somehow magically deciding it’s OK.:

“Forgiveness,” she says, “is giving up the hope that the past could be any different.”

And that brings me to my BlogElul observation for “forgiveness” this year:

As part of my job, I have the privilege of traveling to many places, and hearing people’s stories: their successes, their failures, their experiences good and bad. What I find is that when I hear stories about a problem with another person, the speaker is often quick to forgive. Maybe it’s because I’m standing right there, but in the conversations I’ve had, people have been open about what was a lack of training, what was a lapse of judgement, when someone was having a bad day (or week, or month). And in recognizing that, they can forgive whatever mistake was made.

Except in one case.

Almost everyone I’ve met – and I include myself in this group – find it next to impossible to forgive ourselves.

The mistake can be as trivial as forgetting to text a brother about a birthday party; or as amusing as triggering 732 email alerts. Twice. In 10 minutes; or as business-impacting as unplugging the primary VAX server because you thought it was a mini fridge.

(Guilty, guilty, and guilty as charged, your honor.)

Part of the reason, I think, is that we don’t trust ourselves to be fair with ourselves. We (or at least I) feel that if I give myself the gift of forgiveness, I MUST have been lenient. I must have given myself special dispensation. I am sure I applied a different set of rules than the ones I hold everyone else to.

Therefore, I think this year, my meditation on “forgive” would be to apply to myself the same rules, and the same generosity, that I would give to another person. If I’ve done the work of teshuvh – regretted my action, apologized, made amends, and faced the same situation but avoided the problem, I’m “officially” permitted to let myself off the hook.

Because it really is un-forgivable to apply a different set of rules to myself than I would anyone else. Even when I do it the opposite of what I’m afraid of.

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