Last week, Jewish people celebrated Yom Kippur, or “the day of atonement.” Part of the tradition is to approach those in your life and say you’re sorry for any hurt you’ve caused them this past year. And to seek forgiveness.
It got me thinking how rarely we do that in this country. We have an annual Thanksgiving. But not a Forgive Me Day. Truth is, we don’t forgive much anymore. We scold. We scream. We obliterate. We wipe you from existence.
Cancel culture is pretty much the direct opposite of forgiveness, and I’m afraid we’re becoming so used to the former, we’re forgetting the latter. To err is human, but to forgive is dumb, weak, and beneath us. That’s who we’re becoming.
For example, I’m pretty sure, when we reach the last moments of lives, who we voted for president will hardly be the most important thing to us. But how many of us today refuse to forgive others their political choices? There are still families that won’t speak to each other over Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. That’s just sad.
Vaccines? Good Lord. We have turned people who choose not to get vaccinated into creatures who don’t deserve to live. A late night TV host recently suggested that if a hospital had to give its last bed to a vaccinated person or an unvaccinated one, they should tell the unvaccinated one, “Rest in peace, Wheezy.”
That’s considered humor?
Sorry, not sorry?
These days one offensive comment is unforgivable. A suggestion that “all lives matter?” Banishment. A Halloween costume judgment? An unwanted peck on the cheek? A dumb tweet from when you were a teenager? Dismissal. Expulsion. Exile.
It’s not a hammer of justice anymore, it’s an atomic bomb. We want those who offend us to be vaporized.
The worst part is, we keep telling ourselves we are righteous in this approach, that there is only one way to be, one correct side of history, one view on racial or religious issues. But there is no righteousness in such a stubbornness. There is nothing noble about telling your friends “if you voted for (insert political candidate) do not come to my home again.” Nothing to be proud of for unleashing a Twitter mob on an opponent as if releasing a pack of rabid hounds.
The sin of “being stiff-necked” is one of the things Jewish people atone for on Yom Kippur. Boy, has that found a home in America. Between our stiff necks over politics, guns, vaccines, schools and free speech, we should all be wrapped in heating pads.
Since when did forgiveness become a bad thing? Since when did compassion and allowance for others’ mistakes mean you were “soft”? The anger level of our country has gone from simmer to boil. We scream and belittle and dismiss those we disagree with, then move on to the next foe.
Nowhere is this more on display than the nightly cable news programs, where one target after another is lined up, blown up, then moved on from. There is no room for nuance, for understanding, for “Let’s give people the benefit of the doubt.” That is seen as weakness. And weakness doesn’t sell.
Sooner or later, we all need forgiveness
But people who confuse forgiving with weakness are misguided. It takes enormous fortitude to forgive. The falsely accused man who loses decades in prison yet forgives his jailers? The parents who lose a child to a drunk driver, yet forgive the person behind the wheel? The Amish community in Pennsylvania who forgave the gunman who shot and killed children in their one-room schoolhouse, and even raised financial support for his widow?
These are examples of strength, not weakness. And if that strength can be found in such extreme cases, you wonder why we find it so hard to forgive in our daily interactions.
I like the Jewish example of saying you’re sorry to everyone at least once a year. When you think about it, it’s doubtful you haven’t done something in a year to hurt someone’s feelings, even if you didn’t realize it at the time. That person may be harboring pain or ill will, and a simple “Please forgive me if I’ve hurt you” can do wonders in making it go away.
Thinking those you disagree with politically are unredeemable, thinking unvaccinated people are not worth saving, thinking someone who made a comment you found offensive belongs on the permanently unemployed junkpile only speaks to our egos, and how much we think of our own take on things.
But a smarter man than me once said, “He that cannot forgive others, breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.” We’ll all need to be forgiven by someone someday. Maybe the best way to prepare for that is by practicing it yourself.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Thursday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.