Yom Kippur's Big Ask: Forgiveness

Apologies Can Be Life-Changing for Both Giver and Receiver

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By Lenore Skenazy

Published September 11, 2013, issue of September 13, 2013.
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Apologies are hard to make, and they’re embarrassing. But when we’re commanded to give them on Yom Kippur or else, it’s like God is issuing the ultimate in self-help advice: “I command thee to get over whatever’s holding you back and do it already. You’ll feel so much better. Trust me — I’m God.”

Turns out, God has a point. (God would.) So, in time for the holiday, here are some stories I heard when I asked folks to tell me about “the apology that changed my life.” But first, here’s what the experts ad vise about ’fessing up.

“A big thing that gets in people’s way is pride,” said Jennifer Thomas, co-author with Gary Chapman of the recent book “When Sorry Isn’t Enough: Making Things Right With Those You Love.” When pride is holding you back from apologizing, she says, remember that the people we really respect are the people who humble themselves.

Another way to help you over the hump, says Valerie Utton, a writing coach in Suffield, Conn., and the author of “Letters of Apology: How To Stop Waiting for Permission To Be The Wonderful Person You Are,” is to remember that apologies are a gift. So instead of just feeling like a loser, try to remember that you’re also giving someone something valuable. What you might not realize until you do it, however, is just how generous you’re being to yourself.

That’s what Utah outlet store manager Swan Workman came to realize after doing something pretty terrible as a teen (He is now 33). “I had been going through a difficult time,” he recalled. Eager to start earning money, he listened to a friend talk about all the dough he was making dealing Ecstasy, and thought it sounded great.

So Workman stole money from his parents — several thousand dollars — and invested it in drugs. “I realized the error of my ways quickly,” he said. “I saw a lot of really bad violence and thought, ‘Do I really want to be doing this?” But even though he got out of the business, he spent two or three years unable to get out the words to tell his parents about the cash. Finally, sickened by the burden of guilt, he invited his father to lunch.


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