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Selichot: Forgiveness, Acceptance and the Ability to Move On.

September 4, 2015

I am not a religious person, but I do look to Jewish tradition for inspiration sometimes, as in this, my 200th post! on this blog.

Now, as we do every year, we are approaching the Jewish High Holy Days and the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim). The Days of Awe are the days between Rosh Hashanah (The Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement).

“During this period, individuals examine their behavior over the past year, consider atonement for misdeeds, and seek a closeness with God. Practically, this is done through repentance, reconciliation, and forgiveness.” See, .

In the month of Elul, which precedes Rosh Hashanah, we prepare for what follows. On the Saturday night preceding Rosh Hashanah there is a beautiful religious service known as Selichot. (The word Selichot is also used more broadly to refer to penitential prayers said during this time of year.)

Selichot means forgiveness, which is so central to this time of year, and also to mediation (in many cases, not all).

In mediation, I come across people who are caught up in the anger, outrage, regret, embarrassment, defensiveness, etc. etc., of their conflict, and usually they blame the other person/people in the dispute for their predicament.

Without help, they cannot see past this to get to settlement or to any resolution of their dispute, or to peace.

Many times the lawyers can and do help with this, but their focus is not always on the human/emotional component of the conflict but instead generally, not always, on the legal points and authorities they bring to the table.

The trained mediator sometimes can help. I try my best, with empathy, an attentive ear, and nonjudgmental sincerity, among other things.

By way of example and not limitation [that’s a phrase I remember from law practice] …

In dealing with anger, sometimes I try to speak about a quote attributed to the Buddha, or maybe to someone else, that goes like this:

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

I then also talk about forgiveness when appropriate.

In a book (I forget which one) that I read by Kenneth Cloke, who writes extensively and perceptively about conflict and dispute resolution, Cloke refers to forgiveness this way:

“Forgiveness is giving up all hope for a better past” or words to that effect.

I like that a lot.

It points out the two things I see as most important in forgiveness, and in getting to the resolution of a dispute in mediation where the emotional blocks that include anger, retribution, revenge, and so forth, are present.

They are: Acceptance and the Ability to Move On with one’s life.

In the Days of Awe, Jewish tradition focuses on looking inward, examining ourselves, our circumstances, our actions, our deeds and misdeeds, our foibles and mistakes, and then doing something about all of it: repenting, reconciling, forgiving.

(We do not only forgive one another; we can and do forgive ourselves as well).

To accept the circumstances of one’s own situation, within the context/process of mediation, is also to allow one to forgive himself or herself, and/or the other person/people, in order to move on with one’s life.

In the mediation context too, looking inward can be most helpful and productive, if people will go there. (They don’t always.)

But it will take the time and patience of all concerned for this to happen, if it will.


David I. Karp is a full time independent mediator of real estate and business disputes in Southern California. His website is at .


From → Mediation

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