Before I start, I’d like to say that some of my points in this essay can be applied to the process of forgiving ourselves, but I’m specifically discussing the process of forgiving others.
Mark Twain wrote, “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.“ I love this quote because it captures the essence of what forgiveness is about, that even after you’ve been crushed, hurt, broken to pieces, you don’t have to do the same back to the person who crushed you.
We, humans, are not flowers, however. I don’t have to point out the obvious differences. One of those differences is the ability to have emotions, another one is a mind. I specifically say ability because some people, for psychological or physiological reason, aren’t able to have or show emotions the way average human beings typically do, and they are not to be judged or the subject of this essay. I am limiting it to normal, regular folks like you and I.
Our mind and emotions are interconnected, and I think that’s where the challenge to forgive often happens. We sometimes say, “I will forgive only if….,” and feel free to fill in the blank with what you see fitting. Even a famous celebrity once said before he died that “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them” (Bruce Lee). In other words, it would be easier for us to forgive the person who hurt us if that person were able to admit what he/she did wrong to us, right? Well, it is true to a certain degree only. I suggest that you don’t hold your breath for that person to come forward and admit the mistake. In reality, it doesn’t always happen that way.
It seems, therefore, that forgiveness requires an ifs free-zone. If we are about to enter an act of forgiving, we better make sure there is no if tagging along to our intention. It takes courage and character strength to start and complete an act of forgiveness. I agree with Mahatma Gandhi when he said the following, also before he died obviously (now why is that most famous quotes come from dead celebrities?), “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.“
I also believe that forgiveness is a process, which means that it takes time. Look at it this way, if we are to forgive a person, it is because that person has committed something wrong to us, which is based on our perception because that person may not even realize the wrongdoing he/she has done and the emotional impact on you. They may have the inclination that they did something wrong to you, but not necessarily how it made you feel. Regardless, however, you felt hurt, sad, angry, disappointed as the result. Those are strong feelings and should not be taken lightly or playfully. They also don’t take an hour or a day to go away. They may linger for a very long time. It is just fair and logical then to allow the same amount of time or more for us to let go the hurt. Mignon McLaughlin put it best, “What we forgive too freely doesn’t stay forgiven.“ I took the meaning of that quote as simply it takes time to forgive. As a matter of fact, be caution and mindful of the times in your life when you forgive too easily and freely because those may not be a true forgiveness. A true forgiveness is a journey.
This then brings us to my last point regarding forgiveness. We already covered the fact that it takes time. What then do we do during the time before and during the forgiving process? We remember, thanks to the wonderful mechanism called memories, courtesy of our brain. We remember, we don’t forget, unfortunately (or fortunately), including remembering the hurt, the sadness, the disappointment, the tears, the ups and downs, all of the above. It would be unfair to ask ourselves to forget the action of what the person did to us when it is often impossible to forget the emotions. My favorite poet (and thank goodness this time we have an alive source), Maya Angelou, wrote, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” We tend to remember the feeling better than the details. Thus, forgiveness is not and should not be about forgetting. They are different processes but interconnected. Many quotes have been written comparing the two, but I think we’ve been looking at it from a wrong point of view. It is not forgetting that we should compare forgiving to.
Herein lies the irony because the core of forgiving is really about remembering. It is about remembering the whole process from the beginning to the end. It is about remembering the feelings, sometimes even reliving the painful moments, but only to be able to arrive at the peace, content, happiness following the journey of forgiving. Peace and happiness are the goals of forgiving, and how could we feel these beautiful feelings if we shut down/off our capacity to feel by forgetting them in the first place? If we can arrive to the peace and contentment part of the forgiving process, then we have discovered the beauty of forgiveness: the remembrance.
I’d like to close this short essay by quoting Thomas S. Szasz, “The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” Well, I think he understood what I mean. Thanks, Mr. Szasz.
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