I wanted to subtitle this one: “How NOT to forgive somebody.” I got this crazy idea that if somebody whom I have resented would only answer a few questions for me, I would finally “understand” the situation, and therefore finally “forgive” the guy. After all, isn’t there a French proverb that reads: “To understand all is to forgive all?” Sure there is! Therefore, if I could only understand this fellow’s baffling behavior toward me, then naturally I would finally arrive at a moment like this:
“Oh! I get it! That’s why you said all those weird and totally hurtful things! I understand now! It all makes sense!! Finally, I forgive you, man!!!”
Believe me, this is not the way to approach the matter. To illustrate this, I’ve prepared a fictitious email, sent to someone named “Tom” who hypothetically had offended me. The nature of the offense is based on truth, though the names and variables have been altered and mixed, for the sake of discretion and taste. Observe the absurdity of such an entreaty:
Hey Tom –
As you know, I’ve been having a very difficult time forgiving you for nearly two years now. Largely, this is due to a single conversation in which you suddenly decided, among other things, that you were not really my good, close friend, but only a “casual acquaintance.”
Being as we have had many close conversations over a twenty year period of time, this demotion seemed a bit unfair. Come to think of it, however, it was only I who kept revealing all kinds of personal information to you, thinking you were one of my very best friends. Perhaps this explains why you would often take the information I conveyed to you in confidence and freely distribute among your many associates. Had I been your friend, and not just some random guy, you might have been more loyal.
It appears that either you are one of the most malicious people I’ve ever met, or one of the stupidest. I sure hope the latter is the case. If you are stupid, then you simply don’t realize the implications of your statements, and therefore it is more difficult for me to find fault with you.
I have therefore provided you with a 12-point questionnaire, designed to determine whether or not you are an evil genius or a stupid idiot. Once I know the answer, I will understand you perfectly; and therefore forgive you.
Do you see how ludicrous that would be? If the situation were reversed, and I knew that someone hated me, and the person who hated me was insisting that I alter my behavior in some form or another, until he would no longer hate me, how would I feel?
I would be incensed! It is not my purpose in life to adjust my behavior to please him who hates me. That person who hates me is not God, and has no right to insist that I change in any way.
But the aphorism above comes to mind and is wise. This person whom I am calling “Tom” also had a way of lecturing me. Lengthy dissertations on how to live my life, flavored by little gifts he would buy me — running shoes, a cell phone, and lunches. It took me a while to realize that he must not have been all that bright. People who give a lot of advice generally mean well. They’re just not smart enough to realize that they shouldn’t be doing it.
Of course, this begs the question: “Why on earth did I listen to all these uninvited lectures in the first place?
The answer is this:
When you’re homeless, and you’re out on the streets, and you’re not sleeping very well, and you’re being treated left and right as though you are a totally worthless scum bag with no clue how to live your life, you eventually begin to believe it.
So you turn to those who appear to be doing well, and you eat up their worthless advice as though it were manna from heaven. Somehow, you don’t realize until you finally get inside that their advice pertains only to the world of the wealthy. It has no relevance whatever to the world of the underprivileged — the world where you actually live.
As far as forgiveness is concerned, as Bryan Wagner has pointed out, it has nothing to do with the other person at all. The idea of requesting that someone alter their behavior in order that you might forgive them is absurd. Had they been willing to do something like that, you’d have never resented them in the first place.
Forgiveness is an inside job. It can only be accomplished in that place inside you where you meet your True and Highest Self. It can only be accomplished in the heart.
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6 thoughts on “Pitfalls of Forgiveness: Part Two”
Thank you for sharing this. Humans are not stable. I am totally incapable of reading other humans. On the other hand I have this delusion that I can and am an empath. Weird Huh? So, I have this rule: Do unto others as you would have done to you, AND EXPECT NOTHING IN RETURN. It’s the second half I spend most of my time and attention with. Actually, as a philosophy it works. And it seems like it follows most of the worlds religions and spiritual messages. Thank you, Bryan
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You did bring this up when we first met, about the addition to the Golden Rule. I think you said it was from the Sanskrit. It does seem that the second part completes the act of selflessness. One no longer is giving contingent on receiving. Hence it becomes unconditional.
I can also see how this could be the focal point of practice. I think our nature is to want an exchange, and always want something in return. It takes a spiritual act to transcend that more self-serving nature, and to serve others without expectation even of appreciation, let alone reciprocation. That’s when one is free of doing for ego’s sake, and instead it is for the sake of the Act of Love itself.
We live in a marketplace mentality. We were pretty much conditioned that way. But, doing something while expecting a return goes against everything I have ever studied within all religious and spiritual cultures. I think being aware that I am conditioned like that does make a difference if I care to stay aware of it. I know it’s changed my life and reference frame.
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Recognizing how much I am affected by conditioning has enabled me to make some significant changes in the past three years, as well. Be well, Bryan, you as well. — Andy
‘Do unto others as you would have done to you, AND EXPECT NOTHING IN RETURN’ as Bryan says. This is what I try to adopt now…after having been let down many times by people’s promises and suddenly detaching behaviour. it’s actually not too bad as it goes, kind of liberating!
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I agree. It’s liberating. It liberates me from the burden of disappointment or resentment that will transpire if the person whom I have gifted does not return the favor. It also frees me from any expectation of return. And as we all know, expectations can be burdensome. In my opinion, acts of love or giving are not complete without it. Without it, they are not even love, but mere bribery.
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