Popsugar Reading Challenge category: A book your best friend would like
On Repentance and Repair: Making Amends in an Unapologetic World, by Danya Ruttenberg
Rabbi Ruttenberg takes her framework from the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides, but her concept of amends doesn’t require a religious viewpoint. It’s flexible enough to apply to individuals, organizations and even nations.
It’s a subject that I’ve been giving some thought, particularly since #MeToo and the immediate backlash against “cancel culture.” Over and over, we heard hand-wringing about “does this person have to be punished forever” when they’d been out of the spotlight for just a few months.
Maimonides proposes five steps:
1. Confession. Accurately naming the harm, and taking responsibility for it. In a world where everyone’s worried about liability, some can’t even get this far.
2. Beginning to change. This might mean anything from therapy to volunteer work, to stepping down from a position of power that the offender has misused. The assumption is that it’s not an overnight transformation, but the start of a good-faith effort, that is expected to continue through the next steps.
3. Restitution. As with the concept of restorative justice (which Ruttenberg also discusses), the victim’s needs must be centered. That might mean financial restitution, paying for their counseling, or agreeing to avoid any location where they’re likely to cross paths.
4. Apology. It’s interesting that Maimonides puts this step after restitution. Ruttenberg suggests that concrete amends are needed to show that the apology is sincere. (And don’t get me started on “sorry if you were offended” weaselpologies.) There’s an obvious caveat: if the victim wants no contact with the offender, that must be respected. And she’s very clear that the victim is never obligated to forgive, even when the apology is sincere.
5. Making different choices. The purpose, ultimately, is to become a person who wouldn’t commit the same harm again.
While Ruttenberg doesn’t explicitly make the connection, I noted that the steps have some parallels with the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous and similar programs: make a “searching a fearless moral inventory,” be “entirely ready for God to remove these defects,” make direct amends “except when to do so would injure them or others,” and to “have a spiritual awakening.”
She gives examples of individuals (Louis CK made a good start with the confession, then demanded everything go back to the way it was before), institutions (a school that had to face its past of covering for abuse, and making better choices with a new offender), and nations (South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission). She raises the topic of restorative justice, but acknowledges that it’s not appropriate for every situation. The framework she presents is for those who genuinely want to do better.
The book is a useful starting point for offender or offended. And, as Ruttenberg points out, we’ve all been both, at one time or another.