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Lifelong Work-in-process: Forgiveness

February 3, 2009

So, I was thinking on John’s post at Mind on Fire about Being Good without God, and I’m not saying I wanted to steal his post and write up my own ideas on the bases of my own morality, because really, I probably haven’t written down all of them and wouldn’t be able to (it’s one of those issues of: you know it when you see it. When I see something that really makes my head turn, then I know immorality vs. morality.)

So, I didn’t want to try to make a unifying theory of everything, but I wanted to talk about something personal that I try to work on. I think that goal-setting, especially for ethics and morality, is something that every person should do. I don’t think it requires any religion or god, but I guess if you haven’t forged your own ideas, borrowing never hurt anyone (and most of these religions are old enough that the copyrights/patents/whatever is safely out of way.)

I think that as constant as death and taxes are, we’ll have another situation that will present itself over and over to us: that where someone has wronged us and we ought to forgive them.

Whoa, whoa, whoa, don’t I mean to write, “Where they ought to apologize to us?”

No. I guess that’s part of their moral development (and if we wrong others, that’s part of our moral development too), but really, if we expect and feel “owed” apology, we will be stuck in the wrong attitude.

I don’t know about you, but I know I’ve been wronged in many unique ways many times. I have been wronged for my religion. I have been wronged for what people thought was my religion. I have been wronged for my lack of religion. I have been wronged for race, nationality, and even things much smaller. So, I guess this should be true for most, but I feel at least that I’ve had quite a few run-ins with it. And from my vast experience, I know a few things.

1) Expecting apologies is setting myself up for failure. Between the people who are ignorant of the wrongs they commit against me, the people who commit those wrong in the full spirit just to rile me up, and the people who are trying to “teach” me something through their misdeeds, there’s not a lot of room for people who will apologize. Apologies induce a loss of face; they are an admittance of lower “character” in a way (some may reason: “Actually apologies show who the better man is” but from an emotional standpoint, it doesn’t feel like that.)

2) Getting worked up about all of these things is setting myself up for failure. Because misdeeds happen so frequently (and many times for the express purpose of trying to make me angry or disheartened), if I give in to that, then I am emotionally wrecking my life.

So, what is the lifelong work-in-process? Well, it’s life-long, and it’s always a work-in-process, because it’s hard. No doubt.

Forgiveness.

Forgiveness isn’t just saying, “I forgive you.” I think that forgiveness is a multi-step process that must begin/end/endure with a change of emotional state. When I am perturbed or angry about something or someone, I cannot forgive them. I have to first disengage or dispel that anger. I think this is harder for some than it is for others (for example, for me, I only get angry for about…3 seconds…so if I just walk away for 3 seconds, I’m back in business.)

From there, one has to take upon humility for both themselves and the other person. If one can not (or should not) expect apology from others, then one has to be humble enough to forgive without any apology.

This is difficult, in my opinion. Because the first through 100th thing that you’re usually thinking in such a process is, “Why should I forgive them? I did nothing wrong! I don’t deserve this.”

Perhaps. It could be that you’re blameless in this situation (but if you’re focused on this idea, you have other problems to worry about). Anyway, who do you have control of? You can choose to control one person: yourself. So you can choose to feel entitled or you can choose to move on.

This doesn’t mean to be stupid, of course. When people act against you, know them for how they act. This doesn’t mean you judge them and typecast them as horrible people — because then you wouldn’t have captured that spirit of forgiving and forgetting. Forgetting doesn’t mean become a naive blank slate, because that will lead to undo damage too. All it really means is that when you deal with people in the future, you do so in a lighthearted state, instead of with anger.

I think this gives people a constant and lasting set of weights to benchpress. You’ll always have time and opportunities to work on your humility, forgiveness, and self-control.

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