Sunday, May 24, 2009

"to pardon; to overlook"

As you know, I have been thinking a lot about forgiveness these days. "Someone-who-shall-not-be-named" (what, Harry Potter can do it?) and I have been disagreeing a little bit (well, actually a lottabit) about the act itself. So, I decided to look up the word in the good old "Webster's Standard Dictionary." And I quote, "forgiveness: to pardon; to overlook." Turns out we were both right, just falling on opposites sides of the semincolon. You see, I think that forgiveness entails an actual act of pardoning. I think that unless you tell the person that they have been forgiven, and act accordingly, then the forgiveness doesn't really exist. It isn't manifest... it's still just a thought.

On the other side of the semicolon is "to overlook." This doesn't entail any action on the part of the victim. She simply pretends like nothing happened... Now let me sketch out this scenario for you: A friend does something that hurts you. They know they did this. You know they did this. You are no longer speaking over this thing that was done. At some point you decide that you forgive them (this is in your head). You are feeling better, but the offending friend is still being eaten up with guilt because they don't know they have been forgiven. Is this forgiveness without an act of pardoning sincere?

I keep coming back to the words of Jesus Christ: Do unto others as you would have done unto you. It's the golden rule, and we see it in every religion across the world. It is the foundation for morality. If we all followed that rule, there would be peace in the universe right now (unless we have a larger population of masochists than I think we have). So I ask myself, "If I make a mistake, do I want to be forgiven?" Yes. Do I want to know that the person I hurt has forgiven me? Yes.

But now comes an important part of this blog entry: Does the act of forgiveness need to be preceded by an apology? My thought is, "Absolutely not." Very often the person who hurts you doesn't realize what they have done, or perhaps the extent to which it affected you. Even if they do, we ALL KNOW how difficult it is to apologize, ESPECIALLY if we think the recipient will not be forgiving. Furthermore, it is my experience that an aplogy will immediately follow the act of pardoning. The floodgates open and humanity gushes out from behind the dam.

I am not saying that the offender shouldn't be told that what they did was wrong, that it hurt, and that a relationship may change because of it. They should definitely know, so that they have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and lead a better life. What an amazing position you are in to be able to teach someone how to better themselves!

This is how I live my life. I believe that it's the only way to have peace. If you are unable to forgive (the kind to the left of the semicolon), not only will you carry around a lifetime of pain, you will leave tokens of guilt in the pockets of all who have hurt you. Those are not the bricks that build a foundation of peace.

(I know my blog won't allow comments, but please feel free to comment via Facebook!)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Peace and Forgiveness

"When you disturb the sand dune and everything starts to cave in on itself, there is, granted, a period of time when it feels as if the tumbling will never stop, the chaos will never end, the winds will never cease. But the good news is that the sand inevitabley reestablishes itself in another angle of repose. The pattern may be different; the dunes may be a little bigger or a little smaller, but the sand inevitably return to stasis, to balance, once again, if you just give it time."

-William F. Schults "Hold On" UUWorld

I have read this quote to myself every day, sometimes more than once a day, for the past week. It has been my meditation, my bible verse, my prayer, my mantra... and it has gotten me through. And now my dune is at a new angle of repose. However, looking back, I realize that this wasn't simply a waiting game, sitting through a storm while the sands pelted me and swirled all around me.

I helped the sand to settle, I helped to throttle the storm. My tool? Forgiveness.

What exactly happened to cultivate this storm is irrelevent here. The details are insignificant. I will say that a judgement was made against my moral character (something I hold in the highest regard). And this judgement was made by a friend. And this judgement hurt me, my husband, and could have damaged my family. The winds were whipping all around me, and my angle of repose was deepley disturbed.

For a day or two I was really angry and confused. I struggled and questioned. I read this passage over and over again, along with some verses from the Tao Teh Ching. I have always been a peacemaker, never one to buck the system or rock the boat. Some friends have accused me of being a bit naive, a pushover, too innocent, too trusting. But those are just the words masking the forgiveness that has always been in my heart. It is part of my nature, my character.

Why should I forgive someone who hurt me, broke my trust, and made judgments about me? Because I have the power to forgive. Because once I forgive, I can let go, I can let the sand settle. Once I have sustained a state of forgiveness, I can breathe again. I have released myself from the conflict, and I can heal. Because I want to be forgiven

I hope that, though all of this, my friend will come away with a life-changing lesson: That you shouldn't always walk through life seeing only through your eyes, and never your heart. I truly believe that forgiveness is one of the first steps to leading a peaceful existence. At least I know that it can bring calm to a storm.