WASHINGTON, May 24, 2011 — Forgiving is not forgetting, and it doesn’t absolve the other person from the legal or societal consequences of their behavior. Forgiveness implies no acceptance or approval of transgressions, past, present, or future.
While love requires the ability to forgive, forgiveness does not necessarily require loving one’s transgressor. Sometimes civility is as much love as one can muster while forgiving, and that itself is admirable.
Finally, forgiveness is not stupidity on your part, unless you force it before you’re ready, which means that you’re attempting to employ the enemies of successful forgiving described in Part 1: logic, will power, and/or conscience.
Forgiveness Is Illogical
Actually, forgiveness isn’t even strictly fair, is it? If you forgive someone, you’re not making anything even. No eyes for eyes, teeth for teeth. Forgiveness isn’t a zero-sum game, which is a regrettable situation for the quantitatively inclined.
In fact, forgiveness is outrageously illogical. On the surface, one person who actually appears to be damaged is letting off another person who appears to be intact—even victorious! How strange. Is the victim’s action another form of yielding? Of weakness?
Dead or Alive: Does It Really Matter?
Consider a different scenario: What if you had attempted to forgive this person while they were alive and your forgiveness was refused? This brings the question back to whom forgiveness is for.
Do you forgive someone so they will feel better? Not necessarily. It goes back to control. We can’t control how people feel or think, or how they’ll feel if they’re forgiven.
So if you want to forgive someone who refuses to be forgiven, whose problem is that?
Not yours. Here’s why: You may forgive someone because you think that doing so might make the person feel better. In fact, you may have even delayed forgiveness because you didn’t want your tormentor to feel better.
But you can’t plan for how another person will feel, good or bad. The only emotional outcome over which you have any hope of control is your own.
Forgiveness means that you’re choosing to give up the emotional entanglements caused by someone else’s effect upon you. That’s not easy. Sometimes it may not even be possible.
Who Is Forgiveness For?
You, presumed to be a victim who has nothing, actually have something your victimizer can never give you. The real triumph is yours, as long as you realize that forgiveness is a deliberately considered personal decision that produces an illogical outcome.
Here’s the crux of the matter:
- Belying its mild-mannered exterior, forgiveness zings an unexpected and powerful volley against the perpetrator of your misery, dead or alive, the consequences of which you cannot predict. But your message is clear: “Whatever power you had over me is gone forever.”
- The presence of the person, dead or alive, is unnecessary. In fact, the person, if alive, doesn’t even need to accept or reject your forgiveness for it to be real, and for it to have an elevating effect on you.
- Ironically, your forgiveness of others—as well as your increased ability to do it as a result of practice over time—is ultimately an ego-freeing, energy-empowering gift you give to yourself.
Next time: Part 3, Asking the dead for forgiveness
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