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8 Steps to Forgiveness or 20?

You don’t have to be Jewish to reflect on forgiveness at this season of the year.

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The expression “to forgive and forget” is faulty on two accounts. It is really hard to forgive. It is near impossible to forget. If we set “forgive and forget” as the moral standard, we will fail ourselves and likely fail others in the difficult job we have of atonement. Yom Kippur, from the days of the Bible onward, is not a time to think about repentance. It is a time to achieve atonement. If that is the case, since forgiveness is so very hard, how can we get there, liberating ourselves and others from the tyranny of wrongdoing and offense?

Some years ago, The Wall Street Journal published findings from a University of Waterloo study on forgiveness that claimed that for forgiveness to be believable and accepted, your sorry needs eight dimensions. Leave one out, and the process is less comprehensive and effective. What are these steps, you wonder? Let’s waste no time. I know you want to memorize the steps right away because the holiday is around the corner.

· Remorse

· Acceptance of responsibility

· Admission of wrongdoing

· Acknowledgment of harm

· Promise to behave better

· Request for forgiveness

· Offer of repair

· Explanation

What we see through these steps is that sorry alone is not enough. Without regret or confession, the person you apologize to lacks the trust to believe that the future will be different. You may be sorry for an act, but the conditions of wrongdoing have not changed; you will be stuck in the cycle - a repeat offender with little future for the relationship.

The study also makes us aware of the need for a way forward, some form of repair that is accompanied by an explanation. In order to forgive, people want to know why we did wrong in the first place. Explanations are important, if for no other reason than in articulating our motives we have to reckon with our own intransigence.

In preparation for the High Holidays – and you don’t have to be Jewish to reflect on forgiveness at this season of the year – think of one person who needs a sorry from you. On a piece of paper, trace the eight dimensions of forgiveness in the specifics of a single apology and travel through the emotions you feel about yourself and the person. Ask yourself if your apology will further alienate the person or will create greater intimacy. This outcome is often missing from the apology exchange. How do I want to feel about this person, and how do I want this person to feel about me after forgiveness has been requested? If you are not there yet, consider what it will take to get there.

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