Today marks the end of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashannah, and the beginning of the 10 Days of Atonement, when Jews scramble around trying to apologize for stuff they did wrong this year, hoping to be signed and sealed in the Book of Life. Catholics can understand this as 240 hours straight of Confession, during which everyone is your Priest.
About 6 years ago when I officially decided that organized religion was not for me, I gave up the apology thing. But, as I am wont to do, I took it to an extreme. Not only did I not apologize, I made a large production of claiming not to have done anything wrong at all. I know what you’re thinking: how can you be so perfect and so self-deprecating at the same time? Well, it’s just one of my many gifts….
I couldn’t remember why I had this volatile counter-reaction, but the subject was on my mind because this year, for the first time in a while, it occurred to me that I probably did hurt some people in the past 12 months. I started to think that maybe it was time to say, “I’m sorry.”
Then, on Friday, I woke up at 4 am and reached over for my BlackBerry to find an email from someone I hadn’t spoken to in four years. She was my best friend from high school, and in her email, she reminded me that when I was a teenager, I would run around “always trying to apologize…for all the (nonexistent) ways” I had wronged people. She told me that at the time she’d found this sweet but silly, but now had come to understand the benefit of a time for introspection and apology.
She went on to ask for my forgiveness for thing that happened four years ago (the reason we haven’t talked in four years.) But she made me realize that if I’m going to re-engage with the Days of Atonement, I want to employ a new Business model. A Web 3.0 business model.
Basically, just because I have the tools to communicate with an audience for the purposes of apology doesn’t mean that a particular message right for each member of that audience. My harsh counter reaction was based on recognizing how inappropriate my mass, reckless apologies were. On the other hand, my friend’s message to me, which was four years in the making, was highly specific, and highly appropriate in terms of timing and theme.
There are certainly some people I’ve wronged this year, but many of them are people that I don’t ever want to speak to again. There’s no benefit to me calling up some dude and saying, “Remember how I was really awkward on that date because I wasn’t sure if I liked you, and then it turned out I didn’t like you, and you didn’t like me either, but I’m sorry if I led you on in anyway, even if we’re never going to speak again?”
Similarly, if I fought with my roommates in July and then resolved the issue at the end of August, there’s also no point in having another conversation about everything I might have done wrong because we’ve been over that. Apologizing again is irrelevant, and a waste of time.
As I see it, this methodology is analogous of the media’s need to move towards a different way of communicating. Previously, online publishers could assume that there was content and information that should be mass distributed to everyone. Web 2.0 enabled social media, user contributions and more openness, but this free-for-all pales in comparison with receiving a piece of communication (like that email from my friend) that is timely, highly relevant, and tailored to mindset and ideology of the recipient.
For me personally, I’ve noticed that I can look back at the people I’ve offended and recognize what tendencies led to my behavior. In most cases, the present moment awareness I’ve been studying in yoga could have prevented a lot of misunderstandings. The same goes for the Internet: When companies fail to succeed, it is because of inattention to market, audience, and the specific reality of current data. In fact, the semantic Web is just a highly technical, digitalized form of mindfullness. Both I, and any successful Web site, should not be apologizing for what already happened, but thinking about how to adapt–and fast.
So, unless it’s highly appropriate, I’m still not going to apologize. But I am going to commit to being more 3.0 in the next year. And that means clearer messages, with more careful attention to my audience. Or maybe just a lot more yoga.
*If you feel that I have offended you this year, please leave a comment and I will get back to you. Being offended by this shameless ploy to draw blog comments does not count for this year, but can be credited towards next year’s apologies.*