Not sure whether you’ve ever run into this or not, but I noticed several decades ago that people really don’t want to hear that they’re forgiven. In fact, I’d go so far as to say, that sentence is a pretty good way to start a fight. That’s been my experience and yeah, the corollary works as well. I really, really don’t like someone coming up to me and saying, “Well, Henry… I forgive you.” My first thought is, You forgive me for…what??? My second thought is usually, Who the hell are you to forgive me??? And it usually goes downhill from there.
Though the words sound kind and noble, what they really mean is, “I am morally superior to you. You are lesser in some way…and I forgive you for it.” Don’t believe me? Never tried it? Go tell someone…anyone, that you have forgiven them. Watch their eyes tighten, their jaws clench. Why? Because deep down inside of us, most of us are just trying to do the very best we can. I don’t desire forgiveness from my fellow man…or anyone else for that matter.
More interestingly, I’d like to propose the philosophical question: Are any of us truly capable of genuine forgiveness? I’m pretty sure we abuse the true meaning of the word. There’s a phrase, “I forgive you, but I sure as hell am not going to forget.” To my way of thinking, that isn’t forgiveness at all. What it’s saying is, “I’m not going to take action against you…at this time, but I’m watching you closely and if you do it again, you are dead meat.” This way of thinking makes sense to me, but you can hardly call it forgiveness.
Pressing-On: For the sake of clarity, let’s give it a name. It’s not forgiveness so much as just pressing-on. We all get our feelings hurt. We feel betrayed, or slighted, disrespected, or bruised, and for the sake of not crossing the entire universe off our list, we…press-on.
In-house, I coined a slightly different term for how my mind handles these things. We call it Resetting the Meter. With very few of us being God-like on this planet, if you have a relationship with friend or relative for very long, eventually someone zigs when they should have zagged. We choose the wrong word, or we have a martini and something slips out that shouldn’t have been said. At that point, one of two things can happen. You can pull the plug on the relationship, either quietly or overtly, in which case…it’s over. Or…you can think about it and perhaps realize that there were extenuating circumstances. 99.9% of the time ole Fred has been there for me. I’m just gonna reset the meter and press-on.
If the friend is treasured and basically you’re great friends, you might find yourself resetting that meter, five, ten, twenty times or more. But there remains a little counter in your brain. You know that you’ve set that meter fifteen times already, and everyone…everyone has a tipping point where your mind comes to the conclusion that it’s just not worth it anymore. By the way, everyone’s “counter” is wired a bit differently. Overall, Pamela’s counter is a lot shorter than mine. Don’t mess with Pamela very many times… It’s not healthy for your relationship. Does any of this correlate to real forgiveness? Think about it. When you truly forgive, you’re saying that you have wiped the slate clean and it’s as if that “sin” had never, ever been committed. It is supposedly forgotten and I have, as yet, never run into someone who could consciously decide to completely forget something. That tiny chip on the shoulder is always there waiting to return.
Depending on how you were raised, this is an incredibly easy topic…or…it’s really a bugger and deserves our sitting down and opening up our minds to what we’re actually asking.
Religion: On the off-chance you haven’t considered exactly why it’s either difficult or easy, it usually goes back to religion, or lack thereof. If you are honestly of a mind that every single pink, wriggling, baby entering life via his mother’s womb is already a mortal sinner, then such matters are extremely easy. From the moment you opened your eyes you had already committed a mortal sin and are in desperate need of forgiveness. The only solution: Once you’re old enough to talk, you must confess your sins, and then beg forgiveness…for the sin of having been born.
Moreover, from then on, you must continue confessing all your life, for everything. Only then are you in a position to expect an eternity of complete bliss. I think that’s fine, if you truly believe things are that simple…that everything is either black and white and that babies are sinners because thousands of years ago a woman listened to a talking snake and as a result…someone took a bite out of an apple. A slightly kinder, timeless and omniscient being might have said, “Well, because I’m timeless, I already know she’s going to listen to the snake and take a bite out of the apple. Maybe I’ll just get rid of the snake, or possibly not make eating apples a mortal sin.” If I sound glib, it’s only because I like to think of children and babies in particular as being innocent…at least at the point where they’re coming out of their mommies. Plenty enough time later on to drift into bad habits…
Going Darker…and Deeper with Your Forgiveness: Okay, let’s say that you return from food shopping to see your answering machine blinking. There are fourteen calls, some from the police, some from family and friends to see if you’re okay. It seems that your mom, dad, daughter, son-in-law and your three grandchildren were just gunned to death while they were sitting in church. They caught the guy…he’d run out of ammo from all the killing and apparently he had some kind of political point he was making.
At the trial, you stare at the man dressed in orange sitting there in shackles and handcuffs. He realizes he may very well get the chair for all the murders. He stands up, blubbers a bit and asks your forgiveness. Your entire family is gone completely. You have no one left and your grandchildren will never have a chance at life. Do you forgive him? Honestly? Can you forgive him…honestly? I couldn’t. In fact, I couldn’t even come close. I would be the one to be bounding over the desks to see if I could land one powerful punch to the guy.
But what if the guy then said, “In the past twelve hours, I have seen the light and I have accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” Would that inspire you to forgive him? It wouldn’t inspire me. And I would be deeply suspicious of anyone who could forgive all those murders, with the mere utterance, of “Forgive me. I’m a sinner.” How quickly would our prisons empty-out???
What I’m seriously trying to find is a true, 100% pure example of forgiveness in which we utterly and without any exception, zero-out that meter and say, “You’re AOK in my book. You are now…innocent.”
I’m pretty sure there’s a large slice of the pie-chart of humanity that will disagree, perhaps vehemently so. Perhaps you’re farther along in the category of what constitutes humanity. Perhaps not.
Lastly, saying, “I’m Sorry.” This is a topic that is a personal and continual burr under my saddle. I know a whole lot of people who would rather swallow gravel than swallow their pride and apologize. I don’t understand this. I really don’t. Most of these people seem to think that it somehow degrades or lessens them to say the words. I believe wholeheartedly that it is just the opposite. If you screw up… If you hurt someone, inadvertently or otherwise, if you embarrass someone, if you back over their bicycle in the driveway, step on your pup’s tail…whatever… if you’re sorry…say so. It’s the first step to at least pressing on…..resetting the meter. By not saying you’re sorry when you screw up, you have just doubled your culpability.
To modify an old quote from Love Story, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Bullshit. If you intend to be be with your partner for a half-century or so, Love means having to say you’re sorry…whole. big. gigantic. whopping mounds of times. And make sure you mean it.
Here’s hoping 2016 is much much better than 2015.
My ex-wife asked for forgiveness a few years after our divorce. She asked 10 days after my multiple sclerosis diagnosis. “Hells bells, you have to forgive yourself. I don’t have anything to do with it.”
Her four marriages later, I can say, “Karma is a bitch!”
I’m familiar with the concept…abandonment when things go to hell, and the sickness and in health clause comes into play. I don’t think I could truly forgive that…BUT…at some point, for your sake, not your ex’s, you have to press-on and not stick pins in those little dolls you bought. Again, that’s for your benefit. Four marriages later?……yeah, I really do believe in Karma. Once in a while, life is fair.
Interesting piece, especially for those of the cloth – such as myself. In my role as Pastor Richard I am often called upon to forgive various transgressions. This does indeed demonstrate my moral superiority when delivered in plummy, Downton Abbey tones: Bless you, you are forgiven, pax vobiscum, have a nice day, a small donation to my pastoral fund is customary, may I suggest $250? For absolution, dig deeper.
P.S. The words don’t sound kind or noble to me. They are the sort of thing only the most pompous prick(ette) could ever have the gall to spout.
Note to readers:
“Pastor” Richard is about as pastor-like as I am “Father Henry”…..except for the possibility that Pastor Richard is a British ex-pat. I think in the parlance of Church of England, he may qualify. Heh, heh, heh.
Glad you have some at least moderately good news.
Nah….I forgive you for not using ‘bcc’ to send this out…
Can’t comment on the piece ’cause I’m still scrolling down to find it!
Just you wait, Mary Lou!!! I have a special place reserved for people who forgive me. Karma exists!
Actually, I’m surprised you didn’t rise up in righteous indignation about the talking snake and mortal sin of eating apples. I wonder how all the apple growers in Southern CA feel about this. Perhaps they need a counter campaign. Apples are Righteous!!!
I always find your comments interesting.
When I was a teenager I struggled with the love story quote. My take is that it refers to never having to say you’re sorry, because you wouldn’t have done something to hurt them in the first place. Just my thought. … another one is “marriage is a compromise “. I disagree, marriage is an understanding. The sheer definition of compromise implies less than whole as in a compromising situation. When you understand, it’s ok if things are off balance, you know that at some point in the future the scale will be tipped in a different way. It’s not always equal and it doesn’t have to be.
All the best to you and your family in 2016!
Well-put and highly nuanced. Brava!
Like attempting to choose between two Puccini operas, or two brands of single malt scotch, I don’t believe there’s a single ultimate answer.
Probably in some marriages neither party would gratuitously hurt the other. Mine is like that. In others…..not so much. But I also believe that you can inadvertently hurt someone you love very much, just because that happens if you’re in close proximity decade after decade.
As far as love being a compromise vs. an understanding, I think there’s probably a spectrum of situations in which it’s a bit more of one…a bit less of the other in a specific topic. I think sometimes because you deeply understand your mate, you might shift your position on something a bit (compromise) because your intent is for them to be as happy as possible.
And for some, like Pam’s parents and my own there wasn’t a day that went by where my folks didn’t fight….sometimes scarily so. Pam’s too. That’s a shame.
Once again, thank you for your extremely thoughtful comments.