Ask the Expert: Apologizing

How should I say I'm sorry?

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Question: I know Yom Kippur is coming up and I’m supposed to apologize to people. How am I supposed to do that? Should I literally call everyone I know? Post a mass note on Facebook?
–Miriam, New York

Answer: It’s impressive that you’re serious about asking for forgiveness before Yom Kippur, Miriam. It’s a big responsibility, but I bet it will feel great to walk into Kol Nidre knowing you’ve done everything you can to apologize to anyone you have hurt in the past year.

Ask the Expert JewishFirst of all, you don’t have to apologize to everyone you know, so no need to run up your cell phone bill. You’re only required to ask for forgiveness from those whom you know you have hurt. Some halakhic authorities recommend that you apologize to all your friends before Yom Kippur, just in case you hurt someone unknowingly (Rema 606:2; Arukh Hashulhan, 4). Doing this via a mass email or Facebook message is halakhically permissible.

If you know you’ve hurt someone, you absolutely should make an apology before Yom Kippur. You can do this in person, by phone, via email, Facebook, Skype, Gmail-chat, or even telegram–whatever means you want, but it should be personal.

I spoke with Prof. Everett L. Worthington Jr. of Virginia Commonwealth University, a psychologist who studies forgiveness, about what makes a good and effective apology. He has a handy acronym he uses to help people remember all the steps of a meaningful request for forgiveness:

C-Confess without excuse. Be specific about what you’re sorry for (“I’m sorry I forgot our anniversary.”). Do not offer any kind of excuse. Do not let the word but come out of your mouth.

O-Offer an apology that gets across the idea that you’re sorry, and that you don’t want to do it again. Be sincere and articulate.

N-Note the other person’s pain. Acknowledge that your actions were hurtful.

F-Forever value. Explain that you value your relationship, and you want to restore it more than you want to hang onto your pride.

E-Equalize. Offer retribution. Ask how you can make it up to the person.

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