Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On forgiveness

forgivenessWe must be judgmental when there is something to be judged.

The past six months have been difficult, no secret to those who know me best.  No doubt, lots of the problems are of my own making.  But several severe jolts come from people closest to me, people who have simply, suddenly, gone bad in both words and deeds.  They have planned and schemed, deliberately and opportunistically, ending in ruthless and personal incidents.

Their behavior has been truly and repeatedly appalling.

How should I make sense of these events, come to terms with the people, put things into perspective, make good choices, and move on in life?  It’s hard: the first feeling is always to fix it or to get even.  Both are wrong.  They have spilled their issues publicly in ways that are impossible to respond to, and my reputation suffered from distorted truths and fabricated versions of reality already. Escalation confirms suspicion; isolation feeds resentment.

In truth, these people have taken something of deep value away from me, stole and destroyed things integral to me out of me.  I know it every time I get that tight feeling in my chest, recognize the cold feeling climbing from my stomach, or succumb to slow despair, sudden tears, or a flash of frustration.

Healing has to start with connection. weeks of talks and tears, with close friends who know me and who I trust. They can ask the insightful questions, listen to the deep pains, put an arm around during the darkest days.  They have talked me off of several cliffs, and I’m grateful.

I realized that I really needed to bring  life to a full stop, look hard at what happened, talk through what part I played in causing it.  I am deeply reflecting on what I should have done differently, need to change for my future.  I’m starting to understand the underlying context and causes.  I know that I’ve failed at simple matters: color-blind selfishness or tone-deaf communications, too many tasks or too little commitment.  Other causes are much more complex.  But errors of omission and commission, my own attitudes and behaviours, are a necessary first stop. 

I admit the first blame; I take my responsibility. It’s not the same as saying that I am wholly to blame, but it means that I have to face up to my part in triggering subsequent events. 

Then, where I have made mistakes, I sincerely apologize, I try to repair the damage, and I make sure that my errors don’t recur. I admit the real, human impacts caused by my actions, and the emotional pain that resulted. I make amends; I seek forgiveness.

And in return, I would expect to get at least an acknowledgement: affirming our human connection and happier times, admitting some reciprocal responsibility for their role in the situation, and some apology for the impacts of their actions.  Even if there is no future, people will want to make peace with the past: a simple ‘thank you, I’m sorry too’ is enough.  But it must be direct and sincere: passing an indirect message through mutual friends and colleagues is meaningless.

But if the response is 1) I am good :: you are bad, 2) I did what I had to do, and 3) I’m not responsible for unintended consequences, then that is seriously wrong.

People who externalize, publicize, escalate, and perpetuate their own hurt cross the line from simply exhibiting bad bahaviour to becoming truly bad people.

When they cross that line, what is the right way for me to deal with that?  Fight it out with them or turn the other cheek, repeatedly?  Lose confidence in my judgment of people or question my ability to have successful interactions and relationships?   Take the high road that I may someday look back on with pride, or the low road that simply lets me sleep at night?

There is also the public audience to consider.  There is always something to be said for defying expectations and being seen to behave well in the face of mean-spirited provocation.  And sometimes silence is the best reply: simply banish those who betrayed you.

A pressing question remains, though:  Do I, Should I, or Can I, forgive them if they have no regret for what they have done?  People insist that I will, and that I must, in every case.

I know that I have a choice, repeated every day.  I can demonize them and succumb to a general sense of failure with outsized frustration and anger, or I can work consciously to frame events  in a more balanced way and look to a constructive future.

Choosing a  compassionate, empathic human response is what I always strive for.  Not blind acceptance or foolish actions, but just to come to quiet understanding and perhaps even some sympathy for why they felt that they must do the things they have done.  In the end, I need to heal and to forgive myself in order to go on with life, apart.

The only people deserving of unconditional forgiveness are our children, often our parents, and a spouse or partner so long as they are still committed to me.  Ex’s and close friends, people we think we know and trust who then betray that gift, are least worthy without regret; colleagues and strangers who me may not really know can be difficult to judge and easier to forgive.

I can only forgive someone who shows regret.

It will not come to me otherwise.

My neighbors never apologized, never made amends.  It just became impossible to get past broken trust, deliberate betrayal, repeated provocations, and vengeful pain from people who don’t care about their actions or effects.  They’re deeply toxic, and, in the end, I simply left the village and a business without good-bye’s.  Maybe I’ll feel guilty about that decision some day, but none are worthy of conciliatory words or forgiving gestures today.

In the absence of simple human consideration, I can only move on.  But without giving forgiveness,  I’m sorry.  But acceptance lags understanding, sympathy, and action.

And I know that it means that I will always carry a bitter ember in my soul from them that always burns, one that can never heal. 

People will forget what you said.

People will forget what you did.

But people will never forget how you made them feel.

Maya Angelou

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