In previous articles I wrote about apologies and forgiveness. Making amends is a natural follow-on topic. Working to amend harm is different from apologizing or asking for forgiveness. You can make amends for hurting someone without doing either.
Amending a situation means to put right what was made wrong—literally, fixing the problem. Sometimes this is possible, but often not. I’ve found that many of the bad situations I’ve created can’t be amended directly: I can’t undo what’s been done. Sometimes, even contacting the person is impossible or risks further harm, too.
In these situations, I’ve learned to practice ongoing “living amends.” After looking deeply into the nature of the situation and my part in it, I set out a course of action that I hope will help me grow and change such that I won’t repeat such a problem in the future, and even contribute to an indirect benefit that opposes the problem I created or amplified.
As one example, I used to hold a lot of attitudes towards some people that I now realize were harmful. These were mostly unconscious, unexamined biases: the product of growing up in a deeply bigoted culture, and influenced by bigoted role models. Very little or none of it was deliberate or malicious. Nonetheless, at some point I started to see that my mindset was causing a lot of harm, and I determined to reeducate myself and change my mindset. I have made a lot of progress, clearly visible in my journals, and continue to grow—and I intend to always do so.
That helps me avoid causing further harm, but what of the harm I already caused? I can’t undo what I did, but I can work to help those types of situations in the large. I dedicate a portion of my efforts and resources to addressing systemic, structural problems of the type that influenced me; and I support the efforts of others doing similar work.
This is the most valuable lesson I’ve taken from making amends: when an individual harm can’t be undone, I try to do a systemic good instead. In fact, even when I can undo a mistake, I usually can extrapolate from that single instance to the larger pattern, and try to address the pattern, not just the instance.