Thursday, October 9, 2008

Day of Atonement

Today is the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. It is the most important and solemn day of the Jewish calendar: a time to amend behavior and seek forgiveness.

Every religion has just such a time; for example, Catholics and some other Christian denominations observe Lent and Muslims observe Ramadan, just to name a couple. But making amends is more than just a religious obligation; it is a reflection of something that is basically human, and taking one day, one month, or forty days is merely a symbolic of something we should be doing all the time.

That’s not an attempt to inflict everyone with a guilt trip, nor is it an exhortation to never make mistakes, hurt other people, or do something thoughtless. It’s going to happen, and if we all tried at the outset to avoid it, we’d never get anything done. Atonement — at least to me — is a teachable moment. We find our limitations, our blind spots, our stupidities, and we fix them for ourselves and for those we hurt in the process.

It’s no great revelation that a lot of people have trouble with the concept of atonement. To them it’s a sign of weakness; if you admit that make you mistakes, people will take advantage of you. Sure, that happens. But it’s part of the process, too, that if someone exploits it, they have their own atonement to look after at some point. Or not. Some people are beyond that. But that’s not your problem. And if you’re secure enough in your own self and you know your limitations, you will have no trouble admitting when you’re wrong and you are strong enough to take the responsibility and the consequences of screwing up. By doing that, more than just making amends and putting things right, you actually improve the situation.

In the height of this silly season of election campaigning at all levels and daily accusations of sins of commission, omission, exploitation, “gotcha,” not to mention the smug self-assurance and prideful arrogance from just about everyone — including myself — that we are right and they are wrong and there is no hope for anyone who doesn’t see the world exactly the way we do, it’s important to observe the admonitions set forth in the meaning of Yom Kippur regardless of your religious affiliation or lack of it: seek forgiveness, make amends, learn, and resolve to do better with the full knowledge that it is a never-ending process.

You don’t have to be Jewish or Catholic or Quaker or Muslim or Hindi or Pastafarian to stop for a while, even if it’s only a moment, to realize that you and that which you believe in are not the center of the universe and that getting your way or winning the argument and hurting someone else in the process isn’t just something we shouldn’t do because God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster says so. We know through our human instinct that making amends for our flaws and hurts is the most human thing we do.

Tsom Kal