Human Forgiveness


the Basica




  Forgiveness does not necessarily preclude future precaution. It does tend to involve compassion for and, if possible, understanding of who someone is at the time of a mistake. It is also helpful, though not required, to get an idea of how and why the mistake occurred. While we may disagree strongly and even absolutely with other people's reasoning, we can at least acknowledge that they have feelings and a perspective and admit that they perceived cause for their actions. However, one may also forgive purely out of love.

  When dealing with your own mistakes, remember that feeling bad about something is not the same as doing something about it. At the same time, overkill in the effort to make amends can be more a way of satisfying self-martyrdom or speed-dumping guilt than of making things right. Appropriateness is key, as is facing the actual facts of what occurred rather than taking a dismissive, delusional, or overblown view of the situation.

  Two situations are particularly difficult when it comes to forgiveness. One is that of forgiving oneself. Self forgiving can come all too cheaply to those too uncomfortable with taking a good, hard look at themselves. It can also be put beyond reach in a couple of different ways. One is by by self-loathing. The other is through a sense of obligation not to get off the hook too easily that is so strong it leaves the hook impossibly imbedded, far beyond all reason and sense. The solution is not so much one of striking a balance but of finding fairness, which should result in the proper balance.

  On the other hand, you may also consider it to be more important to help others to not come to need to forgive themselves for what they could potentially do than to forgive yourself for what you have already done. In other words, you may deal with your mistakes by helping others not to make the same ones you have. If this is so, it does not make you a hypocrite who judges others for what you find acceptable from yourself. Rather, you may be one of those people for whom such an approach provides what, at least in some cases, may come to be the only reconciliation with themselves they will ever find. In that case, do your best with it. It is a worthy effort, whether you can one day find forgiveness for yourself or not. In what it means to you to do it, your conscience is revealed. Just be sure not to commit another wrong along the way, in an attempt to make things right. Also know and accept that you do not have unlimited power. There will be many times when your help is to no avail.

  What can make us feel most resentful is the struggle of forgiving someone else for a wrong against a third party, especially a loved one. Again, a sense of obligation is at issue. But this is towards the third party and towards truth, right, and justice rather than towards keeping oneself in check. It can seem too hard to think of forgiving when you know the person harmed is still suffering or no longer lives because of what someone else has done. You may feel that forgiveness is not yours to give. To a certain extent, this is true. But to that same extent, it is also not yours to withhold. To at least a degree, your forgiveness must deal with the way in which you are caused to suffer, not the way someone else has been, no matter how loved by you. Remember here that a person's destructive acts have repercussions well beyond the effect they have on their direct target. When someone else is injured, in a very real way, you are injured also. And so are many others. It is not unreasonable to think so, given how even a single, brief act of good directed towards one individual can benefit the whole world. If you feel you are in no position to forgive someone for a thing done to someone else, it is right and fair to expect that the one who has done the wrong direct any apology and corrective action toward that other person. But unless your further participation is needed for some reason, it can be best to let what is between you and another be between the two of you and what is between that other and someone else be between the two of them.

  To receive forgiveness calls for both compassion for oneself and for the one forgiving. Without compassion for oneself, one is left only to reject the forgiveness out of hand. Without compassion for the one forgiving, one only takes the forgiveness as a relieving sign that the burden of the other's unhappiness need no longer be faced. In giving an apology, be sure it is sincere and not just a way of getting an upset person off your back or getting something else you want. A self-serving apology such as that is no apology at all. Once you are forgiven, if you cannot accept it right away, store that forgiveness away in your heart until you can be reconciled within yourself. When you are ready, it will still be there.

  And what of those times when an apology is not forthcoming? You can forgive others for not knowing the hurt they've caused or not caring enough to apologize. On the other hand, if you feel an apology is demanded where none is owed, you can also forgive someone for blaming you when you feel you've done no wrong. This happens often enough, in the midst of our being, as humans, both imperfect and able to have dramatically different perspectives on things. Just bear in mind that as you may be doing one of these things, someone else in the situation may be doing the other.

  It is not always necessary, appropriate, or even possible to deliver either apology or forgiveness directly. There are times when this is an entirely internal matter. Time and distance may have become too great or the attempt to communicate may actually cause more hurt or awkwardness instead of resolving things. If the best you can do to make things right and the best way you can honor someone's feelings is to leave things alone, that supercedes your wish to express remorse or absolution. But do not neglect it within yourself in such a case. It is just as important.

  Also bear in mind that you can forgive a person for a hurt and still be angry from time to time about the hurt itself. This can be quite natural, as the results of a wrong may occasionally still make their effects apparent. You may also forgive for a specific act and then find your trust has been broken and cannot be easily repaired. Broken trust is a separate issue. Forgiving only means you no longer bear animosity and resentment towards someone and no longer seek to impose new consequences for the same offense. It does not mean you are required to leave yourself unwisely exposed to new injury. On the other hand, once again, be fair. Even though you may still be in pain, that does not necessarily mean further hurt is automatically to be expected. It is also possible to forgive a mistake even if it might be repeated. This calls for simple recognition of the human imperfection in all of us.

  Once a matter is over, let it be finished. We can all forgive and be forgiven any number of times, if we feel a matter can be closed. Only when it appears still to be unresolved and ongoing does it seem not yet to be time, though to forgive in the midst of someone causing you suffering is a thing which is also possible. But certainly, if all that remains to close an unpleasant chapter is to find compassion and forgiveness, then do so as soon as you are truly able. In the end, it is the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself.



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