Saturday, 12 April 2014

Forgiveness

I'm a forgiving person. I don't hold grudges. I don't look for revenge. I don't persecute people for their shortcomings. I don't think of people with bitterness and resentment.

But that doesn't mean that I overlook their faults, that I don't care if they've done something nasty or harmful. It doesn't mean I just turn the other cheek or pretend it never happened.

Of course I feel angry or disappointed or shocked or disillusioned. I might want them to make up for what they've done. I might want them to see the error of their ways. But I don't harbour any vicious or hateful feelings towards them. To my mind, that would damage me more than it damages them.

I certainly don't believe in an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth. That doesn't solve anything, it usually only escalates the bad feeling as it turns into a tit-for-tat cycle of violence.

On the other hand, I don't much believe in the sentimental idea that forgiveness is only real forgiveness if you not only shun revenge but feel affection and compassion for the person who's wronged you. I think that's possible only if it's someone you love deeply in the first place, like a spouse or a child. With anyone else, it's asking an awful lot, especially if the person has done something quite brutally and coldly abusive.

Plenty of people have treated me badly, starting with my father, but if I'd nursed grudges against them, plotted revenge against them, I would have become a horribly sour and twisted individual. It would have driven all the happiness and buoyancy out of me and utterly contaminated my life. And why give such people the satisfaction of knowing I'm busy obsessing about them, fixating on them, when they're simply not worth thinking about?

But forgiveness seems to be a very under-rated practice right now, in the age of relentless smear campaigns and character assassination. It's about time it came back into favour.

23 comments:

Bijoux said...

I was touched by these photos yesterday, relating to forgiveness: http://www.ryot.org/powerful-images-rwandan-genocide-victims-persecutors-redefines-forgivness/633193

Grannymar said...

I don't believe in an eye for an eye, but if someone continually sets out to be nasty or cause friction, I walk away. The problem is theirs and not mine, so why should I let it spoil my life?

Jay of The Depp Effect said...

It's so true that the person who hurts most when someone doesn't forgive, is that person themselves. It can be very hard though, especially when you have to keep seeing that person walking around without a care in the world. I am not a very forgiving person by nature, it's something I've had to work at. But neither am I a violent hateful person, so that leaves me with a certain amount of conflict. Of course, that can lead to depression, so I've learned to forgive, and these days I've got quite good at it!

Helen Devries said...

I can forgive...but I don't forget.

Nick said...

Bijoux: Yes, very moving photos. You would think it was impossible for the victims to forgive those responsible, but somehow they found it in their hearts to do so.

Grannymar: I think walking away is the best thing if it's possible, but sometimes you're obliged to stay in contact with the person.

Nick said...

Jay: Forgiveness is very hard if it's something that doesn't come naturally. But as you say, if you don't forgive, you just keep on hurting.

Helen: Me too. I may put what happened behind me, but I remember what the person did and I'd be always wary of them.

susie said...

I'm guilty of holding a grudge. For years.

Ursula said...

I am glad of your answer to Grannymar, Nick. As you say, sometimes you CANNOT walk away if you are bonded by emotion.

I dislike "the walk away" brigade. Who would, out of their free will, NOT walk away from hurt if only it were possible? We are slaves to our emotions and, in many ways, I think that's a good thing. If painful at times.

Mind you, one of my sisters has just proven - to my mother's utter dismay - that not only can she cause tremendous hurt but walk away from it, into the sunset, looking radiant. Maybe she and Grannymar should get together and compare notes. How do they do it? I don't want to know.

U

Wisewebwoman said...

I am the receiver of some massive shunning at the moment by family members. Do I still love them? Yes. Do I harbour revenge? No. Can I walk away? No. Of course not.
They have walked away into the sunset, I've asked for their reasons, for meetings to resolve whatever is troubling them. Silence.
Does it break my heart? Yes.
if they called would I be there?
In a heartbeat.
XO
WWW

CheerfulMonk said...

Yes, walking away and getting on with your life is a no brainer if you can do it. Otherwise learn as much as possible from the situation.

Ursula said...

Cheerful Monk, "learn as much as possible from the situation". You are pragmatic. and that is good.

Yet, what if the entire lesson is a negative one? When there is nothing "to learn" just a massive hole left. My youngest sister has completely estranged herself from my father in the last two years. She is not a toddler - yet can't get over herself. Causing my father (and my mother by proxy) great heartache. My father is like you in as much as "he moves on". Can't fool me. His heart aches. Same sister made a ridiculous demand on me a few months ago. I have no idea what she wants from me. Anyway, she sweetly assured me that until I fulfill her "conditions" she will not talk to me any longer. Not even last autumn when my mother was taken very ill - myself foolishly thinking that it might bring siblings closer again. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. In the end I told her that next time we'll meet again will be at one of our parents' graveside. And not to come near me. I mean it. When the time comes she may cry crocodile tears. But no longer at my shoulder. There comes a point of no return - quite unlike for WWW whose predicament is far more complicated.

Back to your point, and it's a valid one: I haven't learnt anything. Nothing. Only that where I once thought there were unbreakable bonds I find myself with two sisters so utterly self absorbed and selfish it takes my breath away and leaves me trying to comfort my parents. It's shameful truly shameful. And for all the grief and forgiveness, which WWW expressed so very well, I know that even if either comes to their senses it will never ever be the same again. The consequences of some (in)actions you cannot erase. With the best will in the world. My sisters have thrown us, as the family we once were, out of paradise.

I hope you, Nick, will forgive me for this rather long autobiographical detour. At least I didn't write 800 pages. And it was heartfelt - just as those of your other commentators. Some subjects touch our hearts. Difficult to keep the lid on them.

U

Rummuser said...

I personally believe that forgiveness is an over rated virtue. I will not forgive someone who has hurt me. I have not had any psychological problems because I did not, and believe me I have been hurt as much as anyone else. I am not a saint and I don't want to be one either.

Nick said...

Susie: Do you think it's bad for you, holding a grudge, or do you think it's quite a normal thing to do?

www: That's very strange that family members have started shunning you. Strange again that they refuse to talk about it. What on earth can have caused it?

Nick said...

Jean: "Learn as much as possible from the situation" is good advice. And I think despite what Ursula says, there's always something to learn, even if it's just the sort of person to keep well away from.

Ursula: A long comment but a very interesting one. So many families seem to be riven by hostilities and estrangements of one kind or another. And as you say, even serious illness doesn't necessarily change things. How bizarre that your sister imposes "conditions" on your relationship with her. I agree, there often comes a point of no return (as there did with my father) when you simply can't heal the rift again.

Nick said...

Ramana: That's impressive that you don't forgive but don't feel not forgiving is damaging. I suppose I've never forgiven my father, in the sense that I think he could have treated me much better if he wanted to, but I just put it behind me as one of the ups and downs of life. I don't stew with resentment or wish he'd fallen off a cliff.

susie said...

I'm sure holding a grudge is bad for me. Normally I wouldn't admit it, but I've recently lost my filter. You know, the one in your head...not the coffee kind.

Nick said...

Susie: There's no shame in admitting you hold a grudge - a very human reaction! I'm surprised I don't hold more grudges myself.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I absolutely do not believe in seeking vengeance. I agree that it demeans the revenger (that's probably not a word) as well as, if not more than, the one who seek revenge on. I do however, sometimes indulge in funny vengeful thoughts - ones that make me laugh and give me some distance from the situation.

I make a difference between forgiveness and letting go. It's not about continuing to subject yourself to someone's abuse, just about not making a home for bitterness in your heart.

Nick said...

Agent: I know what you mean about funny vengeful thoughts - I have a few of those as well! I agree about forgiveness and letting go being different. Allowing bitterness to fester is a big mistake.

Jenny Woolf said...

Being able to forgive is a healing thing. I do try to cultivate forgiveness, but actually when something stops relating directly to me then I can't be bothered to feel cross about it any more.

Nick said...

Jenny: The trouble is that if things DO relate to you directly, it's sometimes hard to put them in perspective and not get too worked up about them.

Liz Hinds said...

The restorative justice course I'm helping on in rpison includes a victim's story. On week 3 a victim of crime comes in and talks about the effect. On the current course we had a man and wife whose 19-year-old son was murdered and they've forgiven and met the offenders. They've now made a life of visiting prisons, schools and other organisations and telling them story. And re-living it. being in the moment and crying real tears. Maybe 4 times a week. It's an amazing story and feat and they're doing it to stop others going down the same path, and they're effective. And I think I was the only person who felt at all uncomfortable at the end of their talk. It just didn't seem healthy.
http://www.chrisdonovantrust.org/

Nick said...

Liz: That's an inspiring story of a couple who not only have forgiven the killers but have gone on to help other people in the same situation. I think I would feel a bit uncomfortable too, even though they seem to be doing something so positive.