Clay head

I’m not a religious person or a philosopher, so I probably don’t really know what I’m talking about here. But I’ve been thinking about forgiveness. I think it’s not as simple as the idea that it is ALWAYS best to forgive.  I wrote a blog post last week where I said that I wish I was brave enough to say “I forgive you” . Clair Whitty read the post and commented that someone had hurt her and that she wasn’t sure if she was ready to forgive them. Clair wondered if forgiving them meant that what they did to her was okay.  It really got me thinking.

I think I need to say upfront that I don’t have an answer to Clair’s question and I don’t pretend to be an expert on forgiveness. But I have had a few thoughts and lots of questions that might help Clair, me and others work out their position on forgiveness.

First things first – who benefits from the forgiving? You, or the person who hurt you, or both? The answer will differ depending on the circumstances and what was done to you, by whom.  The forgiveness that I wish I was brave enough to do, is a forgiveness that will benefit me.  I imagine forgiving the person and feeling a huge relief and release, a peace. For me, saying I forgive you, is really saying, I accept you, I accept you and all your failings and I know you are just human, you are weak sometimes and you will and have let me down a lot.  It allows me to stop expecting the other person to be perfect, it allows me to stop feeling so desperately disappointed when they let me down and it allows me to let go of my anger that they are weak and not always there for me. It seems to me that Clair’s forgiveness is a bit different.  It sounds like if Clair says I forgive you, she is possibly saying, it’s okay, what you did to me is okay. I don’t think any of us should ever have to agree with bad behaviour towards to us, we should never have to say it’s okay.  It feels like if we say “it’s okay” we are benefiting the other person and hurting ourselves. We let them off the hook and let them feel less guilty but we damage ourselves by making a public statement that we do not respect our boundaries and ourselves enough to say “no, it’s not okay”.  I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, maybe that’s a bit cold and harsh?  But let’s say I’m right, then how does Clair say “I forgive you” in a way that benefits her and respects her boundaries and her integrity?

For me forgiving is about accepting the person who did the hurtful act. It does not mean accepting the act or agreeing with the act. Forgiving means saying “I know you failed me and I accept and believe that you would like to have not failed me but that you were too weak/incompetent/callous/selfish/stupid/narcissistic (insert relevant adjective for your person) to be able to do anything other than what you did to me at that time”. Forgiveness does NOT mean saying “I know you failed me and I agree with the behaviour and what you did to me”. So forgiveness is about allowing the other person to be wrong and to have failed but it is not about agreeing that the behaviour was right or okay.  I guess for me it’s about separating the behaviour from the person. What they did was wrong and unforgivable but you might be able to forgive them for being bad or weak or whatever in the doing of it.

I think whatever the case, forgiveness has to be of benefit to the person doing the forgiving. It has to help you move on and cut the ties between you and the person who hurt you. That cutting of ties might be permanent and mean never seeing the person again. Or it may mean being able to be closer to the person again because you have cut your ties to the anger and resentment that was between you. Forgiveness has to allow the forgiver to feel they can let go of the bad act, move on from its ill effects on them and take its power away. I think forgiveness can heal us and make us much stronger and more independent and free in the world. BUT I also feel very strongly that some acts or behaviours are simply unforgivable and we should never make someone feel that they have to say what was done to them is okay. I have no idea if I am right or wrong, or if any of this makes sense, let me know what you think?

21 thoughts on “Should we always forgive?

  1. I agree with you in respect to your version of forgiveness and I also agree that the forgiveness has to benefit the person forgiving. Holding on to the pain causes resentment and anger and will only hurt me. But I am not ready to forgive the person, don’t think I ever will be, so ,maybe the only way for me, is for me to forgive myself?Maybe I need to forgive myself for being vulnerable, gullible, trusting and naive in the situation. If I forgive myself, will I will feel better? I don’t know , not ready for that yet. I will keep you posted. However I do believe that forgiveness= freedom.

    • Thanks Clair, your thoughts on this have been very inspiring. I definitely think forgiving yourself is in order. Kim Barker just posted a comment about having compassion for ourselves. I think having compassion for yourself is the way to go on this one…never mind about compassion for the other for now, start where you can with yourself maybe 🙂 Love you loads x

  2. Very interesting thoughts about forgiveness. The only thing I know for sure is that it is complex and that there are no formulae or easy answers. And that forgiveness does not mean not holding someone accountable for their actions. But perhaps the journey to forgiveness starts in a different place to what we imagine it does. This is what Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron suggests:
    …it is unconditional compassion for ourselves that leads naturally to unconditional compassion for others. If we are willing to stand fully in our own shoes and not give up on ourselves, then we will be able to put ourselves in the shoes of others and not give up on them.

    • Thanks for that Kim, that’s a great quote. I’ve just replied to Clair and your comment really helped me think of an answer. I think you are absolutely right, we have to start with compassion for ourselves. You can see in Clair’s words how hard it is to have compassion for ourselves, I know I really struggle with giving myself a break too. It is probably the very hardest thing to forgive yourself and have compassion for yourself. Thanks so much for sharing this it’s a really important point 🙂

  3. Hi Trudy, for me forgiveness is about letting go of anger and resentment. This is easy to do when you truly realise that a perfectly happy person would never intentionally hurt or injure you in any way.

    In that sense, there is nothing to forgive… ever 🙂 You wouldn’t be angry with a mistreated dog who bit your leg out of fear and desperation. You’d show it love and compassion — even though it had wounded you.

    Ultimately, that’s the appropriate response for everyone and everything… including human beings 🙂 Someone who’s operating from a place of love and happiness would never, in a million years, intentionally hurt you. So if they do, the only appropriate response is compassion.

    That doesn’t mean you should forget of course 🙂 If you put your hand in the fire it will always burn!

    It’s natural to avoid trusting that person again, at least for a period of time. So you can forgive someone truly and completely — without forgetting. You can forgive someone completely but still not want them in your world anymore. I am in that place with a couple of people who let me down. I hold no resentment toward them at all and wish them all the best, but equally I have no desire to bring them back into my world.

    Buddha said holding on to anger is like drinking poision and expecting the other person to die. I agree with this completely on a deep feeling level. Forgiveness means letting go, releasing, and that’s always good.

    Truly realising that there is nothing to forgive was a wonderful revelation for me. Anyone who acts unkindly towards another is in a bad place, to some extent or other, and so needs compassion and understanding. That doesn’t mean you should forget… if you stick your hand in the fire it always burns 🙂

    Love James

    • Yes James that’s a really nice image to hold on to – the mistreated dog who bites you. I would never hold anything against a dog like that. I like the idea that no one who is healthy and happy would deliberately hurt anyone else. Thanks for reminding me of these things.

      As I’ve been reading the comments and Clair’s comment, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I totally agree with all the comments but funnily enough I also agree with Clair’s position that she simply is NOT going to forgive this person. It feels right and I want to honour that and agree with it, even though I hear and also agree with all the other comments. I wonder if it isn’t a thing about timing? I think before you can forgive, you need to have done a LOT of raging at the injustice. I think it’s important to say a big huge “hell no!” and totally freak out and be very angry and cross if someone has messed with your vulnerabilities. Maybe in a way that’s what Clair is doing when she says she is not forgiving the person? the not forgiving is a big fat “NO”? Maybe a lot of no’s come first, then compassion and forgiveness???

      Glad to hear you have gotten to the stage where you can let people go and forgive them at the same time, that’s a good place to be James 🙂

      • I agree Trudy, I think there is nothing ‘wrong’ at all with Clair’s reaction. It simply is ‘what is’. I think it’s a process and allowing your feelings to ‘be’ is always a good idea.

        The state I’ve described is I believe the ‘finish line’ — the ultimate place to be. I think Buddha and Jesus were there most of the time (and other enlightened souls I’m sure), truly forgiving everyone for everything — or as I say, knowing that there is nothing to forgive.

        But I believe there is no right or wrong in any of this. It’s our choice how to react to anything in our lives. However I agree with you that peace can only be achieved by letting go. 🙂

  4. This has hit the most tender spot for me in my life now. I have let someone go in my life (a fiancé) who behaved very badly and I got myself out of the situation. Right now it feels like my heart is breaking because he has said many times how sorry he is for his behaviour, saying it was because of X or Y or Z. And yet it seems the behaviour displayed was an exaggerated form of previous behaviour (in smaller doses). He has asked me to forgive him “put it behind us” and carry on.

    We had both built ‘our dreams’ of a future together and in many ways I miss him. Yes I can forgive the behaviour, have compassion for the man and his ‘history’ to date and see him clearly, but what if this behaviour is inherent? What if, despite how he tries; despite his determination, mind-set, he just doesn’t recognise what his behaviour does (or what I allow it to do to me). Yes ‘fear’ is here. Fear of what if I open my heart again and it is dashed. Aren’t we supposed to learn from the past? Should we continue to ignore the warning signs at our peril? I don’t have an answer because I’m still very much ‘in grief’. Is accepting someone’s bad behaviour as them doing their best at the time or should we get a diagnosis? If there’s a diagnosis e.g. some sort of personality disorder would it make accepting the behaviour any different or easy to live with, or manage? I don’t know, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to have read (and may read more comments), which may help my aching heart.

    And yes … my response behaviour wasn’t great either. I was silent / tearful and acted out of fear, and I’m sure regressed to a younger person as a defence mechanism. In the end I ran away – and felt relief and it’s that relief I’m trusting now. Thanks Trudy, Clair, James and Kim.

    p.s. I haven’t re-read or checked this.. it has just fallen onto the page multi-coloured, multi-mooded, multi-multi x x x

    • Dearest Anni thanks for sharing this beautiful multi-coloured, multi-mooded, multi-multi. In South Africa, the word for medicine is Muti, your multi-multi heart is hopefully getting some muti from the words and thoughts of others 🙂

      Anni I am in agreement with you. I don’t think we should accept bad behaviour or allow ourself to stay with someone who repeatedly hurts us (even if they can’t help it because of a personality disorder). I think it is right to walk away, run even.

      For me forgiveness is NOT about staying or allowing the person to continue behaving in that way or putting it behind you. For me the only way I can forgive is to say a very big “NO” to the bad behaviour and run or defend or block it however I need to. Then after I’ve done that, I can look at the person and feel compassion for them and soften my heart towards them and say something in my head like “I don’t hate you any more, I don’t want you to change any more, I am finished all attachments to you and your behaviour, you are free, and I am free from you, good luck in your life” I don’t know if that makes sense? So for me it’s not about repair in the relationship or forgetting or moving on, it’s about repairing my own heart and letting go of my need to make the person a better person or a nicer person etc.

      I know in ordinary life and ordinary relationships we forgive and move on all the time but I think it’s clear that we are talking about BIG bad things here.

      I don’t think any of us have the answers but it’s clear we are all delicate vulnerable humans with hearts that need love and protection…we need to start there and care for our little broken hearts. Like Kim said, compassion for yourself is first. Lots of love Anni and sending you good vibes muti for your multi-multi heart x

    • Hi Anni,

      So sorry to hear this. The most sensitive, most loving souls have the hardest time in this world. But they have also have the biggest potential I find… to create music and happiness and love for those around them. Never feel bad for opening up 🙂

      I agree completely with everything Trudy said there in reply to you. You cannot allow yourself to be mistreated but neither is it a good idea to hold on to resentment. Forgive completely, if you can, for your own happiness, but take the lessons with you. As my dad, now sadly departed, used to say whenever life knocked me down… ‘Don’t worry James, it’s all good experience…’.

      And I believe that’s why we’re here — to experience it all. The up and the down, the left and the right, the good and the bad 🙂

      Love James

      • Hi Anni, James, Kim and Clair and Werner, Vanessa and Jan on Facebook – I think it’s amazing and pretty cool that this blog post has gotten more comments and engagement that anything else I’ve written…it seems we humans are not such a bad lot after all…we seem to be interested in and have lots of opinions on forgiveness and for me that’s a very very very good sign. It gives me lots of hope about humanity 🙂

  5. I was just thinking the same thing Trudy, was a brilliant post that touched on something fundamental. And us humans are all soooooo the same, fundamentally. I see that so clearly these days — ultimately we all want the same things.

  6. Hi Trudy

    Just a thought on Jame’s first comment and the wounded dog theory! Its easy to forgive the mistreated dog, but what about the human that is mistreated, such as, having been abused as a child and then goes on to abuse others?. Is it ok to forgive them? Is is ok to blame their actions now on their past mistreatment and say, that we should forgive them. I don’t think it matters if the dog was mistreated or not, it shouldn’t have bitten in the first place and the dog must learn that their mistreatment was in the past.

    Lots of bad things that people do, are blamed on what others have done to them. Bad things happen to good people and the good people get over them. But what about the people that don’t get over them and go on to repeat the bad things? Forgiveness wont help them. They don’t need forgiveness, its irrelevant to start with, they need help first, forgiveness comes later.

    Maybe in Clair’s case the person needs help to understand what they have done wrong, after all how can you forgive someone for something if they don’t know that they have done wrong. Or can you forgive someone if they know they have done wrong but wont admit it?

    🙂 🙂 xxx Missing you

    • Hi Christine,

      More understanding — definitely! If we all truly understood each other’s actions there would certainly be no need for forgiveness. Mike has a brilliant phrase which always me laugh out loud: ‘Let’s get it out in the open and have a look at it.’

      I think it makes me laugh so much because it’s so rare that us humans are simply honest with each other about how we’re feeling and *why* we’re doing things. But when we do truly understand *why* a person has acted a certain way, it’s often hard to take offence because you see the cause and effect so clearly.

      A truly happy person will never intentionally hurt anyone else, so if they do — as you say Christine — the answer is to understand what’s behind it. Only then can they address it.

      Happiness is definitely a multipronged strategy and it’s rare that all the elements are in place, so we all definitely need to help each other along the way 🙂

      I heard a brilliant little story along these lines actually guys, I’ll post it below, hope that’s ok Trudy 🙂

      Love James

    • Hiya Christine

      Yeah I have to agree. I know the idea of forgiveness is great but I can’t help thinking that it isn’t always so simple and straight forward. I thing we HAVE TO say NO to bad behaviour. I don’t think forgiveness = saying bad behaviour is okay. It’s something else, but I’m not sure what it means to forgive. I think it’s about letting something go but its not about agreeing with bad behaviour or saying nothing has to change. I find it hard to let go the feeling that I want the other person to KNOW or understand what they did wrong. Most of the time I can never get the other person to see what they did or to see how bad it is and that makes me so frustrated. So now I’m looking at the idea of forgiving even though the other person has no idea how bad what they did was or they cant see it. I’m not sure I will ever be able to do it but I’m tried of trying to make people understand and see, I’d love to be able to just let it go.

      Miss you loads too X

  7. This is a lovely little story about seeing the big picture and being happier ~ James


    “The Law of the Garbage Truck”

    One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving along when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us.

    My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by inches. The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us!

    My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, really friendly. So I asked, “Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!”

    This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, “The Law of the Garbage Truck.”

    He said people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage (frustration, anger, disappointment… ). As their garbage piles up, it will inevitably get dumped from time to time — sometimes on you.

    Don’t take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don’t take their garbage and spread it around to everyone else 🙂

  8. Thanks for that story James…I’d love to be able to be like this.

    I think when people want to address bad behaviour it’s not that they take it personally necessarily. I think sometimes we see injustice and react strongly to it – it feels like Christine and Clair are talking about the injustice of someone getting away with bad behaviour and how unfair that is.

    I think we need to value justice and we need to value forgiveness too but sometimes the two values conflict, at least at the start.

    It really is so complicated, I didn’t realise how many different ways there is to look at this!

    • haha yes, I think everyone’s definition of forgiveness is slightly different for starters 🙂 I agree completely about injustice, we should all stand against it, we should never turn a blind eye to people mistreating other people. But do we judge the person committing the injustice or do we understand what’s behind their actions?

      For example, through Happy Guide I got chatting with a guy in Canada who regularly gives the order for his company to dump hundreds of gallons of waste into the sea. Just the idea of that sickens me. People who know him give him abuse for this and he gives it back too. For them, that’s where the story ends — a man committing an injustice who couldn’t give a crap about anyone but himself.

      But he was chatting to me by email and it slowly unravelled that he was desperately depressed. He hated his work but was worried that if he moved jobs he’d have to take a pay cut. His wife was used to a certain standard of living and he wanted to send his daughter to school and so-on. In short, he was being driven by fear of his wife thinking less of him or even leaving him, wanting the best for his family and the general idea of chasing status and wealth that most of us in the West are brought up with (albeit in a very subtle way).

      So although he’s committing this injustice over and over again, he’s living in a desperate state, driven by wrong thinking that he’s finding hard to shake off, and I can have nothing but compassion for him. Because at the moment he just can’t see how to be happy and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  9. Hiya James, I’m sorry it has taken me so long to reply to this story. To be honest I have two very different very extreme reactions to the story so I have been putting off replying until I have a more balanced response, I still don’t have a balanced response so thought I should just reply. I think it’s shocking that that man is dumping waste into the sea, even if he is depressed etc. There’s like his story and his problems and I feel very sorry for him as a person and can forgive him for being sad and weak and scared. But then there’s the morality of hurting the sea, which is just wrong. I think we can be sad for him and understand why he is doing it and empathise with his struggle but it’s not right and so I’m torn. I can’t say what he’s doing is right cause I disagree with it, but I can see that i can forgive him because I can empathise with his struggle. I think if anyone is in a position of power like that though, they have a responsibility to get whatever help they can so that they don’t carry on making dangerous decisions. I know this is really judgemental so I have put off replying! I can’t help having this reaction to that story

    • Bless you Trudy, I wasn’t necessarily expecting an answer. How lovely and typical of you that you’ve been mulling it over! That sounds like a very balanced answer to me. I’m in the same place as you — both outraged and compassionate for his situation. I think that’s entirely appropriate.

      Like we were saying about a truly happy person never hurting anyone, neither would a truly happy person continue in a job where he would routinely dump waste into the sea, no matter what the personal cost. He’s in a desperate state, he’s not seeing clearly.

      Of course what’s behind these actions is the competitive structure of society. This man has to support his family on his own or they’re out on the street. We’re born into a society where it’s ‘everyone for themselves’. That does’t justify his actions, but it’s the biggest factor behind it.

      Competition drives people and businesses to do things they would never normally feel comfortable doing. Everyone’s desperate to get on top, and get ahead. That means no-one can afford to stop and look at the big picture and make decisions for the benefit of ALL.

      So we need a cooperative society where we all help each other. I know how that sounds, soooo tree-hugging, pie in the sky 🙂 But people are beginning to talk about it in larger and larger numbers, and we easily have the technology and infrastructure to make it happen.

      People are utterly sick of the banks, corporations and governments running the show and they know their vote is meaningless because any vote supports the current system. There’s little to choose between parties — the basic nature of government remains the same.

      Did you see Russell Brand’s interview with Jeremy Paxman recently? It was absolutely brilliant, you can really see this new ‘consciousness’ coming through these days.

      People are so tired of struggle and strife and deep down we all know it’s completely unnecessary. You have people born into estates worth billions and billions while others starve or rummage through garbage cans. How insane is that?

      Sorry, I do tend to rant a bit don’t I? 🙂 Anyway, I posted the Russell Brand video on our ‘Designing Paradise’ site if you want to check it out 🙂


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