Monday, September 21, 2009

Some Thoughts on Forgiveness


I've been having a lot of "forgive them for they know not what they do" moments. People seem ruder every day but perhaps that is only in direct ratio to my getting older every day.

I decided to stop cursing in my car just when I had gotten really good at it. Wasting talent is rather like flinging gold in the streets, but expressing my anger in the vocabulary of a sailor's parrot has clearly not helped anyone's driving skills, even my own. Nor has it had an effect on the widespread lack of manners which have been replaced by an aggressive me-first attitude that is not conducive to loving kindness and tranquility. It is time to bring on the heavy artillery, forgiveness, for it can go where anger never can.

I have been contemplating the larger issue of forgiveness as it applies to more serious offenses than those committed by thoughtless, self-absorbed people in their cars. There is a natural reluctance to forgive because it can feel as if we are negating our own importance, but it is actually for the benefit of the wronged party because resentment is a heavy load to carry. Setting it down frees us to do more productive things with our energy, while dwelling in our pain and outrage keeps the injury forever fresh and unable to heal.

One of the lessons to be learned from abuse is to rise above it and not inflict it on others. While we know that most abusive people were themselves abused, it is not a get out of jail free card. Hurting someone else never evens the score. We all need to take responsibility for our actions, no matter how we were treated in the past.

Jesus spoke of "turning the other cheek," which does not come naturally to most of us. I resisted the idea for a long time, not because I am not a Christian but because I thought it meant that I did not deserve to be treated with respect, and I was unwilling to conspire in my own doormat-ness. I now believe he meant that our spiritual goals are more important to our soul's progress than bearing grudges reliving hurtful experiences.

It doesn't matter whether or not someone apologizes, and we further bind ourselves to a person by waiting for his remorse before we forgive. Our forgiveness sets us free. What he does with it is not our concern; our own emotional health is. Forgiving does not mean that it was OK to hurt us, but that we choose to do more rewarding things with our time on earth. We can have compassion for his suffering while protecting ourselves from future harm. When we have both understanding and compassion, we are able to truly forgive and move on. I have found this to be one of life's most challenging lessons, but also among its most rewarding, (right up there with becoming an accomplished cusser.)

“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.”
Paul Boese

36 comments:

nick said...

I find it quite easy to forgive most people for most offences, as I just see them as fallible or stressed-out human beings doing their best to cope with life. But I don't forgive so easily when someone has been systematically devious or manipulative or cruel and caused me (or others) serious distress. I've never forgiven my father for the way he treated me as a child and never will. But it seems absurd bearing someone a grudge or getting in a steaming rage just because they cut you up on the motorway - annoying though it may be at the time.

thailandchani said...

I agree with Nick. There's also a saying that we don't forgive for others. We forgive for ourselves. It takes so much energy to be angry all the time.



~*

TechnoBabe said...

You say it clearly: Resentment is a heavy load to carry. Yes indeed. And it destroys our immune system and encourages sickness. Regarding your last paragraph, it reminds me of step nine, cleaning up our side of the street. Writing this post probably helped you clear the cobwebs and set you free. You wrote in a caring way and you actually spoke to many issues we all face just getting through life.

Maria said...

God, you are a much better person than I am. Just this morning, I got so angry at someone in a car. I was driving to the lab for a round of blood tests that I had been dreading all weekend. The lab is right next to a busy mall and there are lots of twisty roads. I got behind what looked to be an older man and a woman. They were literally driving down the MIDDLE of the road and kept swiveling their heads around, obviously looking for some place. I couldn't get around them and they were impeding ALL of us. I refrained from beeping but was relieved when I was finally able to turn into the lab and lose them. I was sitting in the lab waiting to be called when the door opened and this same couple came in. They were incredibly rude to the receptionist, yelling at her because they didn't want to fill out their paper work. They hadn't bothered to fill in any of the paperwork that had been sent to them in the mail, so had to sit down and do it all at the lab. My appt was at 8:30, there's had been at 8:00 and they were THAT late. When my name was called, I heard the man say, "Why does SHE get to go in right away?"

I turned around and said, "I get to go in because I had my paperwork ready when I arrived.I also arrived on TIME and did not drive like an idiot to get here."

So, yeah...I am not evolved AT ALL.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Nick,

It's important to distinguish between minor affronts and the really serious ones, like treating children badly, and choose our battles. Being at a constant angry pitch serves no purpose but to steal our joy in life and make us ill.

Chani,

Anger seems to be the default setting for too many people. It should be saved for "special occasions," expressed if possible, and then deleted by forgiving. It's good housekeeping at its best because it keeps our souls clean.

Babe,

The thing is, our resentment rarely touches the other person even as it destroys us from the inside out. By holding onto it, we allow him or her to continue to hurt us forever. So we die and they win, after all. We deserve better.

Maria,

That's my girl!!! I have always enjoyed your feistiness. Those people were unutterably rude and inconsiderate of others, and probably needed someone to tell them so. Not that it will help as their behavior seems deeply ingrained. I'm guessing that after a lifetime of treating others badly, their forgiveness will have to come from a higher source than mere mortals.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I agree with your insight that forgiveness frees us. Indeed in following Christ's teachings, we will find that it is always for our own good and not just a set of oppressive rules.

secret agent woman said...

Can I just mutter a couple of expletives about stupid drivers before I forgive them, please?

meno said...

I guess i'm not ready for this forgiveness thing, because i got a real thrill from Maria's comment.

Obviously, i have work to do.

Anonymous said...

I have a question on forgiveness. A friend wrote a strong letter of dislike of my behaviors. I too had issues and after months of silence wrote a letter of my dislike of their behaviors. Prior to the letter she came to me asking for my forgiveness. I gave it but half heartedly. I didn't feel she really understood what had occured and how I had been hurt. I shared my perspective of this and she is of course incredibly angry now. Forgiveness requires 3 steps, confession, repentance, and penalty. Was I wrong for sharing my perspective? How do I get over my anger if I don't share why I was angry or hurt? I shared and forgave. I am no longer hurting but was it at her exspense? I also no longer have that "old" friendship. I would whole heartedly like to start a "new" friendship. Have I forgiven or have I only sought vengance?

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Hearts,

You need to write a book. You do.
A thick one on thinking, forgiving, street smarts, common sense, laughter, and life itself.

Essentially everything you put on your blog. In a book. Please.

But we'll still keep coming back here; yours is food for the soul.


HUGS

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Oh yes... and a note on driving with fools (as I do not suffer them lightly, most of the time):

Instead of cussing them out, I started praying fervently for them, "Lord, PLEASE bless this person with BRAINS and CONSIDERATION for other drivers!"

... ;o)

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Calvin,

Jesus may have been the greatest psychologist the world has ever known in addition to his other marvelous qualities.

Agent,

Sorry, but I can't hear you over my own profane backsliding.

Meno,

So did I. Maria also leaps tall buildings in a single bound.

Anonymous,

I am no expert on such matters, but simply someone groping toward becoming a better person. That said, I don't think you did anything wrong in expressing how hurt you were by your friend's behavior. That is not vengeance because it was meant to clear the air so you could patch up your friendship. Your friend's anger tells me that she expected to skate, that you would simply suck it up and act like she did nothing wrong. Perhaps you should consider whether or not this person is really your friend or just a playmate because a real friend would care deeply about not hurting your feelings.

Good luck to you!

Scarlett,

You are much too kind, but I'll take it and run.

I'm not ready to pray for other drivers yet. I think it's enough that I no longer swear at them sotto voce.

witnessing am i said...

I am guilty. Being in a car and getting mad at someone is so easy -- we are right, they are wrong, we are the good driver, how could they even possess a license. We are safe in our car - our compact little house - to curse and yell, throw our hands up and flip a finger or two. When one thinks on it, it seems a bit cowardly.

Thank you for this post, your pearls of wisdom, and the reminder that, as thailandchani says, "we don't forgive for others, we forgive for ourselves." I need that.

Molly said...

I just finished The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, written more than fifty years ago. He makes so much sense for today. He thought the world was going to hell in a hand basket way back then. He must be rolling over in his grave at our lack of civility, compassion and respect for each other these days. It's a fine little book, easy to read and full of food for thought.

the walking man said...

I used to beat the crap out of an offensive person, then forgive them. Now I just beat the...nawwww har har har.

Forgiveness is the first step to peace, always has been always will be.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

David,

I am not a finger flipper, but I have the florid vocabulary of a child who has just learned some dirty words but intersperses the worst of them with insults like "stupidhead" and "doodoo head."

Just what you want, a six-year old behind the wheel.

Molly,

I read that book for the first time when I was in my 20's and it awed me. It still does, so thanks for the reminder. I'm going to read it again.

Mark,

But isn't peace lovely right after a good crap kicking? :)

witnessing am i said...

Oooooh, "doodoo head" is a good one. Perhaps I will save that one, it is too good to give up

Bob said...

I find forgiveness easier the older I get, mostly because I don't remember the incidents as long as I used to.

The only thing I haven't gotten over has to do with how a doctor treated my son when he needed his help the most. I don't know if I'll ever completely get over that.

mrwriteon said...

I believe forgiveness is immensely powerful. I had a very difficult time forgiving my 2nd wife. Nor did she really deserve to be forgiven. But, after a few years apart I realized that seething with resentment over some of the things she had done was giving her power over me. So, I forgave her and I also made amends to her. The result was a lot of anger went away, and we can actually be tolerable to each other today.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

David,

If you really want to make a statement, "gold-plated doodoo head" is even better.

I'm here to help.

Bob,

You made me laugh out loud. My memory is still excellent, which is probably not such a good thing.

I'm sorry your son had an unsympathetic creep for a doctor. I don't know the details but I will hate him too, on your behalf.

Ian,

Some things are extremely difficult to forgive, but not doing so steals our energy from our own present and future. It sounds as if you cleaned the slate magnificently, and of course, if she hadn't behaved badly, you would never have gotten to your happily ever after with Wendy.

Odat said...

"I forgive you" are words I say every night before I close my eyes...It comes easy now that I've forgiven myself.

Thank you for sharing that beautiful post.

Peace

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Odat,

I very much doubt that you have ever done anything that requires forgiveness, but we are always hardest on ourselves.

Jocelyn said...

Can't. even. type. anything.

Too busy copying and pasting and thinking about various folks to direct to this post. Such wisdom.

Rebecca said...

your explanation and understanding for why it is wise to 'turn the other cheek' is the most reasonable and sensible one I've ever heard.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Jocelyn,

Awww, I bet you say that to all the girls.

Rebecca,

It's a concept I've always struggled with, but of course it's all conjecture.

On a limb with Claudia said...

I had to look to see if I commented on this one as certainly I could have written it. I've been stunned at how rude people are now. Just unbelievable.

Personally, I love the Forgiveness meditation. http://www.jackkornfield.org/index/meditations?id=forgivenessMeditation

It's changed my life in more ways than I can express.

TaraDharma said...

beautiful post. you've nailed it.

and forgiving does not mean you condone the behavior that injured you. it's not about that. it's about freeing ourselves so that we have our control and power back where it belongs. Deep within us.

Thank you for sharing this!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Claudia,

I'll check out the meditation. Is there a politeness meditation I can offer to all these rude people, though?

Tara,

I really like what you said about taking back our power and control. Yes, it is about that as much as anything. It took me a long time to understand that forgiveness is not about giving up our dignity but taking it back.

Thank you for your really great comment!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Dearest of Hearts,

If you say them under your breath, I don't think it counts. Really.

Do you?

;o)

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

Probably. But refraining from tossing grenades, actual or verbal, should be good for a few points nonetheless.

Nirvana wasn't built in a day.

DavidShag said...

I am not a Christian, but I tend to agree with your basic ida here. I have a hard time holding a grudge, even when I swear to myself that THIS time I will never, ever let it go. I have a hard time remembering how mad I was. I remember that I was mad, but hot with the requisitee rage in the gut that really makes a grudge worthwhile. I also observed this phenomenon in my self. At times when my angry response is lost on the target (as is swearing in one's car, or giving the finger below dashboeard level) it tends to turn the anger inward, I get a nasty angry feeling that I don't like. Like, "Man, she did THAT to me, and now I can't even be heard!" hard to explain, but I have (spottily, it is true) stopped doing angry things when they can't reach the target (or I don't dare let them do so), since it only makes me feel worse and even more impotent. I'll work on the forgiveness thing, maybe, sometime...

heartinsanfrancisco said...

David,

As I mentioned in my post, I am not a Christian either, but I think Jesus was a great psychologist.

You hit on something that I've noticed, too, a nasty feeling when I have expressed anger which is either irrational or out of proportion to the injury. I strive to do better despite my excellent memory for injustices. In my view, forgiving does not necessarily mean embracing the offender, just letting go of my own anger.

Maria Elena said...

Driving is the acid test of mental self-mastery. If you can refrain from reactivity while driving, you are well on your way. I grew up with a mom who would hurl expletives while driving. She's a great person, don't get me wrong. But in those moments as I peered out the back seat window, I thought, "why bother, you're just making yourself miserable and we're (my sister and I) not the ones driving badly, yet we're stuck hearing the garbage." It didn't take long for me to see the correlation between her reactivity and her being forced to experience the same thing again and again (lousy drivers).

And being subjected to verbal toxic waste is no fun, least of all for the person who hurls it. I would like to add that Lynn Grabhorn suggested something even more radical than forgiveness in her book. Instead of cursing them, or only forgiving them, love them now.

That ends up being forced initially, I recognize, but I have tried it on the road behind someone going 20 miles below the speed limit. I was like, you lovely sweet dear, I know aren't Vermont's leaves magnificent? Kindly move to the side so I can pass or I will be sorry late. Within 10 seconds of that thought, the driver of the car did indeed move to the shoulder, and let me pass. And no, I was not tailgating.

Yesterday I stopped at a Dunkin Donuts. Another woman and I were headed to the door and I was ahead. So I opened the door for her and let her go first. Her face flushed in shock that I was saying You First, as she had scurried to get to the door. I waited in line behind her. When the time came to put in orders, it turned out that I walked out of there first with my coffee as the person serving her was a bit slower. Life is miraculous, and we get all kinds of chances every day to turn the tide.

Some people often get enraged by those of us who try the gentle and respectful approach. I have never met a person who hates when people advocate love and forgiveness who is anything but miserable and painfully insecure. They say things like: who the *$%* are you? Well, I would say, I am a person who has benefited and been inspired by the kind thoughts and actions of others.

Such people can't stand others doing good because deep in their hearts this is what they too want to be able to do but they are so busy draining their own and others' energy being miserable and cruel. They have not yet understood that what goes around, believe me, comes around. The sad truth is that most meanies got that way because they blame everyone else for their problems. But their own minds are the problem, and if they would work to change that, everything else would follow.

Who in their clear grateful mind would rather be remembered for being an insufferable meanie than for being a love? After all, we're not around forever.

Wonderful post you have offered us, Susan. Thanks for the chance to express.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

ME,

I think that road rage is so prevalent in part because it's relatively safe as long as it doesn't culminate in assault or murder since it is generally anonymous and far less uncomfortable to confront someone from the safety of ones own car than face to face.

Of course your mother was forced to encounter the same thing repeatedly because what you give attention to grows, but also because there really are so many lousy drivers out there. Acknowledging is easy; moving on, more difficult.

I think it really takes more energy to return kindness with anger because it interrupts the flow of inertia. But we all know people who are deeply threatened by the kindness of strangers and who, for reasons we cannot fathom, cling to their anger like security blankets, afraid to let down their guard.

If I could undo every mean act I have ever committed, I would be thrilled even though, hopefully, I learned from them. It saddens me that I learned at the expense of others, though, even as I know that we are all here as each others' teachers.

Thank you so much for your visit and for your wonderful, provocative comments. Please do come back!

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

Susan and Maria...

Quite profound. I cannot tell you how much I needed to read that today. Just yesterday and the day before, I let that red-headed temper of mine get the better of me and I had even thought that I'd suppressed it enough (mostly) to justify my reactions, but when held up to the truths that you both shared, the facade of that 'controlled burn' pales and withers immediately.

Thank you.


Scarlett & Viaggiatore

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Scarlett,

I have noticed that your temper tends to flare in defense of those who can't defend themselves, which doesn't count.

Maria is incredibly wise and a dear friend. I hope she graces us with her presence here again.