Defensiveness is such a visceral, human response at even the hint that we may not be perfect. None of us wants to be reminded of our flaws, of the times we stumbled- I know I surely don’t! The struggle to be open to uncomfortable feedback has been a lifelong spiritual process for me.
During an Army War College forum this past year I posted a comment in front of my 15 brilliant colleagues in which I referred to the brilliant strategic use of railroads- 20 years before they were invented. Oops! I was SO embarrassed, and wrote an email privately to my battle buddy, LTC Dan Pipes, bemoaning my own imperfection. He completely disarmed me when he wrote back, “You’re not perfect? When did this happen?” Well, it happened a long time ago, and, sadly, it keeps happening, so I have learned that the open-ness to our failings is an important part of our maturation as individuals. We may be defensive in our relationship with others, but in our relationship with God we recognize our many sins- Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazalnu, Dibarnu Dofee.
One of the reasons that our confession on Yom Kippur is in the plural- “For the sin that WE committed. . . “ is to lend each other support with this sometimes overwhelming challenge. Somehow, knowing that we all have made mistakes, gives us the courage to own up to our wrongdoing out loud. I take comfort in the words of Michael J. Fox- “I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; Perfection is God’s business.”
We rely on God for forgiveness, and, I’d like to suggest, that if we would accept responsibility for the ways we hurt others as readily as we accept responsibility for the ways we’ve disappointed God, forgiveness might come more readily in the human realm.
It is part of the deep wisdom of our tradition to set aside this season for us to examine not only our relationship with God and the ways in which we need to do better, but also our relationships with each other, to take responsibility for the pain we have caused and to seek and offer forgiveness.
May we all be blessed on this Yom Kippur, and, indeed, every day, with the emotional maturity and strength to acknowledge and accept responsibility for our wrongdoing, to be willing to do what it takes to right that wrong, to resolve to do better in the future, and, in the end, to ask for forgiveness.