Forgive and Remember

Forgive our errors and transgressions while remembering them to prevent them from recurring. That is the title of a wonderful book on how surgeons correct and address surgical errors, written by sociologist Charles Bosk. It has particular resonance because Wednesday is Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of repentance.

Both Bosk and Yom Kippur teach a similar lesson.

Last week, Yair Rosenberg wrote in the Atlantic about the upcoming highest of holidays for those of the Jewish faith, Yom Kippur. His article What My Favorite Anti-Semite Taught Me About Forgiveness is, for me, a must-read.

My point here is not that we should forget the past, or that people should not be held accountable for it. Rather, it’s that individuals should be allowed to learn and grow from it. That is, after all, the entire point of Yom Kippur. It is not a day on which we forget our sins, but on which we repent for them.”

I tried to capture some of that same distinction a few months ago when I wrote, Thinking Aloud: The Meaning Of The Asterisk. Yair did a better job.

The whole point is that while our mistakes are historically immutable, with repercussions for which we bear responsibility, we can learn and change. That is not a given, but it is a definite possibility. It is why surgeons meet weekly to discuss their failures and errors; we believe we can learn and improve through objective, honest analysis.

More and more, society, as reflected in our media, views our past as “gotchas,” cementing us permanently in the past, leaving no room for growth. This is especially true for the Internet and social media, which are always grounded in the past.

“There will always be time for punishment, and there will always be people eager to impose it, often with justification. But this Yom Kippur, let’s resolve to make room for something else: possibility.”

I stand with Yair; where do you stand?