For this post, I shall pick on WORLDmag writer, Tony Woodlief. It’s nothing against you, Tony. I just like your topic for the day and think it has value on the atheist side of things as well. Onto it then.
I’ve been thinking about forgiveness, and how easily it gets misconstrued. For example, there are some who want to couple forgiving and forgetting and who think that you have not really forgiven someone unless you pretend with him that the transgression he committed or the injury he caused never happened. The problem is that transgressions often leave wounds.
I completely agree. Pull out the old chestnut about sticks and stones if you like, but the whole truth is the words will hurt a lot longer than a bruise might. The wrong words can batter the psyche beyond repair, if they happen often enough. And it’s not just words that are a problem.
there are those who think of forgiveness as an event that one must manufacture. It’s almost as if we think there is an incantation we can utter, after which we have officially forgiven the person who has wronged us. But the pain of wrong—serious wrong—doesn’t depart with the incantation.
Behaviour of any kind that is less than positive can have ramifications that may potentially cripple a person for a lifetime. Science Daily reports on a study done regarding mothers and favouritism. Turns out that it doesn’t matter who’s assumed to be the favourite, every child in the family is going to be tainted by the belief that one of them is somehow better than the others. Most people really can’t just “get over it.” That shit can sit with you forever, it turns out. How you deal with that fact is what needs the focus and adjusting. It happened, so how best can you live in spite of that now? Never mind attempts to forgive parents. Forgive them if you need to in order to remain on good terms with them. It won’t change the fact that it’s made a drastic difference in your life in terms of how you deal with other people and keep your own relationships healthy.
These two misperceptions—that to forgive is to forget, and that forgiveness is an event—collide sometimes, so that the transgressor, upon seeing the continued suffering of his victim—for example, someone he has lied to or betrayed or simply let down—is tempted to imagine that he is the wronged party, that if his victim had truly been Christian about the whole matter, then he wouldn’t be feeling bad right now.
That’s a whole kettle of fish, right there. “You didn’t react the right way. I wouldn’t have to feel so guilty about what happened if you were a better Christian and turned the other cheek instead calling the police to report me.” That kind of childish rationalizing process says nothing good about the state of mind of the perpetrator. It’s like he’s trying to play his own victim card on top of the first one and somehow void the original. And somehow this gets treated like it’s a better way to deal with the problem than just coming out and apologizing for being an asshole in the first place. This method never helps anything; it just builds up the conflict and makes it even harder to resolve.
When we are truly repentant, we don’t bristle at the mention of our sin. We accept it, just as we have (hopefully) accepted forgiveness for it.
Okay, I can almost buy that sentiment — except in those very annoying cases where the person you wronged won’t quit harping on that time you threw a bread roll at her in a restaurant, even though you’d thought the matter was forgiven and resolved ages ago. It is not always fun to be reminded of all the times you were a shithead. It can be fun thing if it’s you laughing over how stupid you were when you can be thankful the relationship survived it and grew stronger because of it. If it’s used as an example of all the ways you’ve disappointed the person in the past, and gets brought up each and every time a fight starts up again..well, by that point I suspect you’d be bristled thicker than a pig hair paint brush.
forgiveness is not an off or on button. Just as it is a process, something to be strived for, it is something that we can adopt to greater or lesser degrees. For example, we can release in our hearts our desire for vengeance or recompense. That is no small thing.
I agree. Wishing for karma to deal a good blow, or wandering around thinking you’ve earned some eye for an eye payback plus interest is not the way to demonstrate that you’re the mature adult in situations like this. Real maturity would dictate an awareness that those things are not necessary (and won’t even work) for healing relationships. Real, honest forgiveness for something done to you isn’t to make you feel better about what happened. It’s to make them feel better. Which reminds me of a Buffy the Vampire Slayer quote. Oh, I’ve missed quoting the Buffy. If you won’t listen to me, at least believe Giles:
when James possesses people, they act out exactly what happened that night. So he’s experiencing a form of purgatory instead. I mean, he’s, he’s doomed to, to kill his Ms. Newman over and over and over again, and… forgiveness is impossible.
Buffy: Good. He doesn’t deserve it.
Giles: To forgive is an act of compassion, Buffy. It’s, it’s not done because people deserve it. It’s done because they need it.
Forgiveness is an act of compassion. Consider trying it sometime. You might be surprised by how good it feels to make someone else feel good for a change.