So today the Jewish religion celebrates the holiday of Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur for those who do not know is the most solemn and second only to the Sabbath as the holiest day of the year in Judaism. Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services. (This is referenced from Wikipedia.) Now, I was raised Jewish and consider myself to be a good Jew even though I may not go to temple today (or ever for that matter) or fast. To me, religion is more about how we treat each other than whether or not we have good attendance at temple/church or regardless of whether you stop eating for a day. I would also like to put a different wording to “atoning for sins or repentance.” I think the best way to look a this day is no different than how we should look at any day of our lives- as a constant learning process.
The best part of being a primary care physician, especially now that I have much more time to spend with patients, is that I really get to see people at their best and worst. I get to deeply learn about the human condition. And as a fellow human, I realize that we all have done and/or said things that we are not proud of. None of us are perfect nor will we ever be. Making mistakes is part of the learning process, and yes some are worse than others, but if we examine them and learn from them we can all grow and become a better person as a result of it. Right now in society there is a lot of rancor and venom being spread around. There is a lot of personal, internal unhappiness being projected or displaced onto others. When this happens, the cycle just repeats and repeats itself and the end result is no one ever heals- neither the person who was hurt nor the person that caused the hurt. We end up just hurting ourselves even more.
So take today- Yom Kippur- and make it and every day a “learning day”. Take the time to reflect about how you can change for the better and apologize to yourself for the mistakes you have made because until you forgive yourself, the people you have hurt won’t be able to feel the sincerity of the apology. I have always said we can only change ourselves and how we respond to people, not people. That change has to come from within. One of my favorite educators was Dr. Aaron Lazare MD who, may he rest in peace, was Dean of UMass Medical School when I was enrolled there. He was a psychiatrist and was one of the kindest people I have ever met. He wrote an incredible book called “On Apology” which spoke to how important an apology can be in life and in medicine. Here is a great quote from it:
“One of the most profound human interactions is the offering and accepting of apologies. Apologies have the power to heal humiliations and grudges, remove the desire for vengeance, and generate forgiveness on the part of the offended parties. For the offender, they can diminish the fear of retaliation and relieve the guilt and shame that can grip the mind with a persistence and tenacity that are hard to ignore.The result of the apology process, ideally, is the reconciliation and restoration of broken relationships.”
So realize we are all human….and we all screw up, but…we can apologize to ourselves so that we can heal from within and then…help others do the same.