Close to home #1000Speak

scotland trip jan 15 481

I had occasion recently to talk with someone whose actions had once caused me a good deal of pain. I was asked, in the light of later maturity, if I could ever forgive them.

I found that I could not.

I could not forgive because I had never really blamed. I cannot blame what I can understand. That does not mean that I condone, accept or agree with harmful actions. It simply means that if I can see why it was, for that person and at that moment, the only thing they felt they could do, I cannot truly blame. If I were them, I would be in their shoes at that moment and would I have acted any differently? Probably not.

It is something none of us can know. We will never be in their precise position and can only hope that if we were in a similar situation, we would do otherwise. That does not make any of us better than another, or any more likely to take the best course instead of a reactive one. It just means that we approach each moment with a different arsenal of experience with which to make our own choices… and our own mistakes.

“I forgive you.”

The word sounds like the giving of a gift, doesn’t it? In some respects, that is true. But what exactly are we giving… and to whom?  A full pardon for an offence? An assurance that we will put the memory of that offence behind us? Or a complete forgetting of all that the offence engendered? Whatever those words mean for each of us, the simple fact of choosing to forgive implies that we feel a wrong was done and that some aspect of that injury remains. If not, there would be nothing to forgive.

By offering forgiveness, there is also an implication there has been an admission of guilt… a mutual accord that wrong has been given and received.

Is it even humanly possible to choose true forgiveness and forgetting in a single moment? To wipe the slate clean with three words, leaving no trace of hurt, resentment or guilt? I don’t think it is. We may be able to maintain an attitude of forgiveness and genuinely act from the heart, as if it were true, but all hurts take time to heal and memories need time to fade.

The only way I have found to really forgive a perceived injury is to change my own relationship to it. Sometimes a little human understanding is enough and the old platitudes about ‘walking a mile in their shoes’ and ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’ can be enough to create that change. Many injuries are not what we feel them to be but have their cause rooted somewhere beyond the obvious.

Sometimes the change may come with a flash of understanding sparked from an outside source, like the words of a friend or a chance phrase you have read. Most of the time, though, you have to dig deeper, realising that in hanging onto your resentment, the only person who is suffering may be yourself.

We learn such a lot through our interactions with each other. When someone has harmed us in any way, we will, in an ideal world, learn from that experience and not allow ourselves to be in that position again. In reality, we tend to meet variants of these same situations over and over again, each of them dressed differently so that we are fooled into thinking them something new. It is only in looking closer that we see a common thread…and that thread may be traced back through the labyrinth to its source, which is often some aspect of our own personality.

That is not to say that we are to blame for the actions of others, but it is we ourselves who open the doors of experience and any repeating pattern holds a clue to who we are, how we show ourselves to the world and how others will see us… including those who would hurt us.

Learning to really understand ourselves and what is behind our actions can be one of the most difficult tasks we can undertake…and the most rewarding. Systems such as the one we use in the Silent Eye can help give a structure to that quest and hold up a mirror in which we can begin to see ourselves more clearly, identifying the cracks and vulnerable spots in our characters and emotions and allowing us to address them. There is no blame where there is understanding…and the empathy and compassion that leads to real forgiveness must start with ourselves.

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21 thoughts on “Close to home #1000Speak

  1. I have never really considered what it means to forgive, seeing as most of the time we are, through involvement, more than a little to blame too. And forgiving oneself is even harder to do.

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  2. I try to put myself in the other’s shoes, but sometimes I have to ignore, turn the other cheek and move forward. Not looking back and not dwelling upon things is really important. With my own kids, I tried to develop their compassion. Twice my son got physically hurt, the first by a very big special needs kid hitting him over the head with a back pack which held a thick history book. A corner of the book caused a hole (which needed stitches) and when I rushed to the hospital, a policeman greeted me at the emergency room door. He wanted me to “press charges” on the other kid. I went to where my son was and he was adamant that “the big kid didn’t know better.” Another time, just past 21 years old, my son had 10 or more witnesses as a man with a knife slashing the air approached his girlfriend and him. He put his arms to his sides and had his girlfriend get behind him. His chin got slashed as he never put his hands out to stop the guy, who was possibly drugged up. When I arrived to put his emergency room stitches on my credit card I asked him why he didn’t defend himself, again he used the same words, “he wasn’t in his right mind, Mom.”

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  3. So true Sue, so true and so wonderfully put,with the best choice of words i can think of. I have personally wondered over this issue and recent events in my life have kept raising the question.This post is a real help.I however do ask this question.If we end up forgiving,can we forget? Do we not continually live in the fear and with the fear of a repeat performance? Can we afford to drop our guards? Thank you again for the post.

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  4. A powerful piece here Sue. I understand fully what you are saying, as there are many facets to forgiveness. I’ve learned much about that simple word while my mother was dying. Hence I’m in first draft rewrites to that book.
    When you said, “I could not forgive because I had never really blamed. I cannot blame what I can understand. That does not mean that I condone, accept or agree with harmful actions. It simply means that if I can see why it was, for that person and at that moment, the only thing they felt they could do, I cannot truly blame,” was the part that resonated with my decision to forgive.
    I couldn’t blame what I could understand of her, so I found a way to forgive. Also, to me forgiveness freed my own heart, but forgiveness doesn’t mean we never forget. ❤

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