I’ve been thinking about forgiveness quite a bit the last week.
So much so that I started a post that soon became an essay with a side of rant.
I’m not ranting though. Not even mad; not really.
There’s been a meme going round about a teacher who brilliantly provides her students with a lesson on forgiveness. Unless you live under a rock, you’ve likely read it.
We teach our children these things. We “like” and “share” those memes but so many adults do not walk the walk. It’s like there’s been a collective regression in society. I know my opinion is nothing new, it just has touched my life significantly in the last two years.
The last couple days, I’ve come to think that forgiveness and respect have a lot in common. They aren’t just automatically given. Like that crumpled sheet of paper, a terse “sorry” doesn’t fix things and certainly doesn’t entitle you to forgiveness. I think the belief that it should be is part of the culture of instant gratification that we’ve created.
There’s a lot of memes state forgiving makes you the bigger person and it lifts a burden from your shoulders. I’m sure that’s true. I’ve embraced that. There are some situations and circumstances though, where I’ve seen a person who is legitimately wronged being shamed for not instantly forgiving on that grudging, lame-ass “Sorry”. That isn’t reasonable.
In this Internet age we have the ability to hurt far and beyond what we may intend; may in fact, come to regret. As adults, we have a responsibility to curb our tempers, particularly in the public realm. It’s easy to make use of that publish button, that tweet or email. It’s hard to accept that if you deliberately use these weapons to harm someone, they will hit the mark and your acquired target will not be able to defend themselves. It’s highly unlikely that a “sorry” – even if you do mean it – will put things back to rights.That momentary feeling of power – shaming the person you’re angry with, the ego-boosting pets and coos of people who only hear your side, their inevitable jumping to conclusions and their subsequent shaming or punishment of your target – will pass. You’ll want things back the way they were. The worst part of this is how people vent like overgrown two-year olds because they didn’t get their way, or deliberately ignored what the other person was saying and then expect their vengeful behavior to be simply forgiven and forgotten. No one should be made to feel bad because they don’t wish to forgive someone who offers no more than that insincere schoolyard “sorry” or the “well you made me do it”. Or worse, behind the scenes make up attempts, while taking no responsibility for the fallout of making a private “owie” a public stoning.
What may fix things is atonement. Atonement and making restitution. These things prove your sincerity and like respect, may earn you forgiveness. They may not put things back as they were but that isn’t really what they are intended for. They are to right a wrong that you’ve done.
Regardless if you felt justified – as adults, we should understand that personal relationships do not warrant a public airing – because as my other favourite parable about the woman, the rabbi and the feather pillow – we can’t possibly take back every word we spoke on a blog, a private email or anywhere else. That damage is done. It’s all too easy to try to win our point in public only to regret deeply in private. As a compassionate person, I can appreciate someone regretting their actions toward me – I certainly have done when I’ve lost my temper – but if that person had the balls to call me out in public and do my reputation, integrity and professional life significant harm, they should have the balls to atone with a public statement to own their bad temper.
What I carry isn’t a burden but the lesson that no one can be trusted to act with honour or integrity and that our society has become nothing more than a schoolyard full of bullies just waiting to feel entitled.
Unless and until atonement happens, I don’t forgive and I don’t forget.
It’s not my job to make nice so that you feel better.
Don’t treat your relationship like a sideshow because sometimes…
We have to live with the consequences of our actions.
1 November 2014