A new Jewish year has been ushered in by many people, scattered across the globe. Families, friends, and strangers alike gathered around large tables full of delicious meals, recited blessings, dipped various edibles into honey for a new year sweeter than the prior one, and prepared themselves for the High Holidays that require some undivided attention of their own. Much symbolism comes into play. For the new year, many round shaped foods steal the show (the diamond in the crown: the apple) accompanied by a slew of side dishes. All to ensure the new year will bring us much prosperity, good health and happiness, if not more.
It is an ideal opportunity to revisit our goals and dreams of the past year, to evaluate where we are right here, right now, and perhaps to set up a new set of wishes and ambitions for the coming year. In my experience, it always feels like a more spiritual transition than the regular New Year. How can I, as an individual, together with others, make the world a better place this year? What lessons have I learned that could aid me in achieving goals and realizing dreams, old and new?
The new year entails more than just the personal act of mindfulness and evaluation, since it also heralds a period of forgiveness. Asked from those who you have hurt, be it intentional or not. Granted to those who may have hurt you and whom you wish to be on a good foot with. The individual is not the exclusive center of attention. Rather, the focus lies more on the interrelationships between the individual and the collective, which in our modern day and age is not something to be taken for granted. Although mindfulness has become a booming business and even technology can help us simplehuman nuggets get back on our spiritual track, it usually focuses mainly on the individual, whereas the collective is less taken into consideration. Yet we people are a social species; we interact with others from dusk till dawn from the day we were born and rely on others in order to survive. Needless to say, this doesn’t always go as smoothly as desired.
Personally, the act of true forgiveness may be one of the hardest acts in life, leaving out all the numerous times the word sorry is thoughtlessly thrown around in everyday life. How could such a simple question, formed by such ordinary words, be one of the hardest things to ask for (cue Elton John here, and my generation, in harmony with Blue)?
What does forgiveness actually entail? Firstly, it can only be given after some sort of wrongdoing or harm has been caused, impacting others’ lives negatively. Hence, forgiveness exists by virtue of caused pain.
Cliche but true, it takes two to tango. And it is not the easiest dance to master. When you may have stepped on your partner’s foot and feel like the clumsiest idiot on earth, your partner may have already forgotten about it and is far from holding any grudges against your misstep. Usually such small blunders get settled quite quickly and harmlessly. However, people like me generally grant more weight to the situation than perhaps necessary, and tend to react more excessively than expected or appreciated by the other party. Taking all the blame upon yourself, willing to sacrifice your whole life for such a tiny little slip-up, simply to assure that you’re still on good terms with one another. Instead of repairing a slight damage, you might risk aggravating it unnecessarily because of this insecurity, pushing those who you care about so deeply even further away.
To elaborate on the second characteristic of forgiveness, let me illustrate the opposite scenario, when the wrongdoer doesn’t acknowledge their fault while their dance partner is, in fact, hurt. Not being asked for forgiveness and thus not being able to possibly grant it is harming all parties involved. The one who caused pain is not acknowledging the other’s feelings. This could look as though they seemingly don’t care enough about them and about the relationship to attempt to fix whatever has been damaged, let alone broken. If this only occurs a few times within a long time span, such hurdles can be overcome by many. However, when this pattern becomes the main component of an interaction, forgiveness will no no longer suffice. Some will stay in this sort of toxic relationship. Others are strong enough to cut ties and continue dancing with other partners. It is an honest indicator for what value the relationship holds in someone’s perception for both parties: those who ask for it and those who bestow the other with it.
A usually overlooked important aspect of forgiveness is forgiving yourself. It is so much easier to take all the blame in the universe upon your shoulders and lug it around as a true martyr. What few realize is that this is hindering true introspection and selfgrowth. You are enabling yourself to take responsibility and accept the consequences when it requires you to do so. The act of exaggerated self blame leaves the impression of nobility and modesty, which is only partially true. In most cases, dare I say, it is stronger related to a form of self hatred and a lack of self worth.
When you’re not able, or willing, to forgive yourself for whatever regrets you hold, you form your own obstruction in your own individual growth. Immediately dismissing everything as your fault and blindly following your desperation to fix whatever has been broken, eliminates the opportunity to meticulously analyze the situation and thus preventing you from extracting the true lesson out of it. Most times, life is not following the path you planned out, regardless of the illusionary amount of control you assume to have over it. Sometimes forgiving yourself is simply acknowledging this fact. It should not discourage you to keep on following your heart, but serve as a reminder that what is worth having is worth fighting for. It is a chance taken, not a failed attempt. And every chance provides you with valuable experiences, forming you into the person you are and are becoming.
Granting forgiveness is hard to do, especially when the matter is close to the heart. One may forgive, yet the deed and its consequences are not always forgotten. Invisible scars serve as souvenirs, reminding us of moments where we had to determine where our boundaries lie, when they were crossed, and how to cope with those breaches. Don’t get me wrong: causing some form of damage, albeit unintentionally, is inevitable in every form of interaction. Whilst the negative consequences have been mentioned, the positive sides should not be dismissed. Relationships and interactions, and with that people themselves, evolve and become more complex than they otherwise could have been following such mishaps. The picture becomes more refined, more comprehensive, more complete, providing us with the opportunity to enrich our worlds and relationships and deepen them out even more. Obviously, you will view people in a different light than before. You may risk to destroy the bond you share with the other, yet in many cases, the intimacy will increase and the bond will be strengthened. Showing your true colours also includes those who are not considered beautiful. Yet without them, you would not be you. We all are limited in our own way, yet within those limits, there is plenty of room for growth.
Starting the year with a clean slate, getting on the right foot with one another, knowing where to focus on in the future, and keep improving the world. Forgiveness is an unavoidable component in achieving all of this. However, forgiveness is not a destination within itself. It is the first step to reconciliation, self-improvement, and strengthening the bond with others and yourself. Ideally, past mistakes serve as great learning opportunities. Otherwise an all-encompassing vicious circle will absorb you, providing fertile soil exclusively for frustration and disappointment to flourish. An apology lacks sincerity when there is no intention of trying to do better. Be better. Fixing a hole where the rain gets in by filling it with paper towels only leads to more rubbish after the next downpour. There are more suitable materials. Although the marks of the hole will remain, you will be whole enough to move on.