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?