The dos and don’ts of apologizing

There is more to ‘sorry’ than just saying it

Dear Families,

As we approach the High Holidays, I am reading more and more on how to prepare. Apologies are definitely being thought about and written about, as this is the season to say “I’m sorry,” and to mean it. offers a fascinating article by Judy Bolton-Fasman titled “The Art of the Apology: The Dos and Don’ts of Apologizing.” The information comes from an interview with journalist and author Marjorie Ingall, who is a co-founder of SorryWatch, a blog that analyzes effective and botched apologies.

One of the key issues with any apology is that you must own the actions and consequences. It is important to say the actual words, “I’m sorry,” not “I regret.” Said Ingall: “An apology needs to stand on its own feet and be unconditional, even if you think the other person owes you an apology.”

The article goes on to refer to Maimonides, who tells us to apologize three times. If the other person does not accept the apology, you have done your best. “Our tradition notes that this notion of holding on to your venom and rage after receiving an apology is like holding onto a lizard while going into the mikveh,” noted a wonderful quote from the article. I’m not sure if that was from Bolton-Fasman or Maimonides, though it sounds more Rambam-like! Meanwhile, you are not obligated to forgive, but who are you hurting by not doing so?

Often at this holiday time, we make general blanket apologies and sometimes even to a group via email. And, we all accept that apology in spirit, of course. Maimonides says, however, that you must state what you did wrong and show remorse and follow by making amends, if possible. The main object is to acknowledge, so the hurt does not happen again.

Here are a few more recommendations from the article.

• If you’re not sorry, don’t apologize because you will do it badly.

• Don’t ask forgiveness in an apology. Forgiveness is a gift for the wronged person to grant. You don’t ask for a gift.

All of these thoughts are good for us at this time of year. Yet often, we hurt others unintentionally without realizing it. This year, as we make our “New Year’s Resolutions” (though we don’t really call them that, from a Jewish perspective), let us all ask for greater awareness of our actions and especially our words. Additionally, don’t wait for this time each year to apologize for everything. Listen to your words, look to see their impact and strive to be kinder all year. And if you have reason to apologize, stand up and own the mistake.

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