The Pitfalls of Teshuva

September 13, 2009

We left Selichot services hopefully ready to truly engage in the hard work of teshuva. Now we have to make certain we do it right….

A Bad Apology Is Worse Than No Apology

Apologies are not pass/fail.  I always told my students:  When giving an apology, any performance lower than an A really doesn’t cut it.

Halfhearted or insincere apologies are often worse than not apologizing at all because recipients find them insulting.  If you’ve done something wrong in your dealings with another person, it’s as if there’s an infection in your relationship.  A good apology is like an antibiotic; a bad apology is like rubbing salt in the wound.

Working in groups was crucial in my classes, and friction between students was unavoidable.  Some students wouldn’t pull their load.  Others were so full of themselves that they’d belittle their partners.  By mid-semester, apologies were always in order. When students wouldn’t do it, everything would spin out of control.  So I’d often give classes my little routine about apologies.

I’d start by describing the two classic bad apologies:

1) “I’m sorry you feel hurt by what I’ve done.”  (This is an attempt at an emotional salve, but it’s obvious you don’t want to put any medicine in the wound.)
2) “I apologize for what I did, but you also need to apologize to me for what you’ve done.”  (That’s not giving an apology.  That’s asking for one.)

Proper apologies have three parts:

1) What I did was wrong.
2) I feel badly that I hurt you.
3) How do I make this better?

Yes, some people may take advantage of you when answering question three.  But most people will be genuinely appreciative of your make-good efforts.  They may tell you how to make it better in some small, easy way.  And often, they’ll work harder to help make things better themselves.

Students would say to me:  “What if I apologize and the other person doesn’t apologize back?”  I’d tell them:  “That’s not something you can control, so don’t let it eat at you.”

If other people owe you an apology, and your words of apology to them are proper and heartfelt, you still may not hear from them for a while.  After all, what are the odds that they get to the right emotional place to apologize at the exact moment you do?  So just be patient.  Many times in my career, I saw students apologize, and then several days later, their teammates came around. Your patience will be both appreciated and rewarded.

Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture


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