It’s always held up as a good quality, benefiting the forgiver more than the forgivee. And yet I’ve never aspired to be a forgiving person.
It’s just not pragmatic. And when it does seem pragmatic it doesn’t seem moral. Meaning that, if someone has betrayed my trust they’ll probably do it again so forgiveness is self sabotage. Not pragmatic. And in the rare case where it would be pragmatic to forgive someone, because their alliance is useful in some endeavor, then it feels greasy to say I forgive someone just for practical benefit. That places too little value on one’s self. Your trust, your dignity, should be worth more.
There’s a Buddhist aphorism that being angry is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. But I’m not angry when I don’t forgive, and I don’t see staying mad and forgiveness as opposites. I think we have emotions because all emotions have a use, they want something for us. Anger wants to be useful. It wants to help protect us from threats and solve problems. Anger is a tool which means it’s not always the right tool for the job even when it wants to be. As always I believe in pragmatism and I’m good at not responding to anger if I don’t think it’s going to help. And staying mad for a long time seems like it can’t possibly be that helpful so I don’t.
That’s not the same as forgiving though. I think of forgiving as a return to a previous state. If a debt is forgiven it’s as if the debt was never incurred. So for me forgiving a betrayal would mean feeling, not just acting like, that betrayal never happened. Which is putting blinders on and it should come as no surprise I don’t aspire to do that either.
There’s a magnet on my fridge that says “Success Is The Best Revenge” and I keep it in mind whenever I do get angry. I try to use my anger to get better at the things I’m good at, things that make me feel successful, rather than to fruitlessly get back at people. If the eggs already broken you might as well make an omelet.
What I’m wondering about still is people who forgive the unrepentant and the insincere. Parents who say they forgive the murderer of their child and so forth. Because they don’t want to carry around the poison. Are they forgiving in the sense that they’ve returned to a previous state, meaning they feel now about the murder as they did before the murder, or are they choosing not to be mad because it doesn’t do them any good? Or are they saying they feel pity, meaning they’re the bigger better person?
Odd though that in our society that holds up forgiveness as such a virtue we’re critical if a woman doesn’t leave her cheating spouse. So sometimes forgiveness is weakness and sometimes it’s strength.
Christ always turned the other cheek and learned to love his enemies but that’s pretty easy for a fictional character. I’ve seen a lot of talk about learning how to forgive and I think it means learning how to brainwash yourself. We don’t learn any practical tips on flying from Harry Potter either.
And this isn’t to say that I never forgive anyone, I forgive quite easily if someone apologizes sincerely. A lot of people start a string of excuses with the words “I’m sorry…” and think it’s an apology. Or aren’t sorry at all, haven’t thought about how you feel, but are using “sorry.” as a code word to make you get over it. It doesn’t matter how many times you say you’re sorry if you’ve never actually felt sorry. An apology isn’t sincere until the person empathizes, until they see how they hurt you and why it hurt.
That’s when saying “I’m Sorry” actually turns into asking for forgiveness. Which is what it should be, an apology isn’t something pushed it’s something offered, it’s a question. And I’ve always found forgiveness happens instantaneously in that moment. If someone apologizes so sincerely that I feel like comforting them, and I feel suddenly feel like apologizing for being mad or hurt, then we can go back to the previous state. Maybe even be a little stronger for it.
It’s why I’ve never felt reconciled with my sister. I could say I’m sorry because I felt bad for my behavior but I’ve never asked for real forgiveness because I don’t deserve it, I never found the root of where our friendship fell apart and what role I played. When I said I felt sorry to her I was really feeling sorry for myself. When I tried to see it from her point of view it was that I wanted to look at myself. But I knew I wasn’t being the brother or the friend she deserved so I had to walk away until I get better.
So I guess I also don’t believe in self-forgiveness. We all have faults that we need to accept but that’s different than letting go when you’ve done something wrong, mistake or otherwise, without doing something to fix it. That’s just self-excusing. Yet self-forgiveness is something pragmatic too, you see it in parents who children die in accidents. They’re emotionally paralyzed for years because anytime they don’t feel guilty they feel guilty about not feeling guilty. Eventually they have to find forgiveness to move on.
And I think with me, whether I’m the forgiver or the forgivee, I tend to move away instead of moving on. I’ve realized that I see myself as an adult version of my teenage self rather than as an autonomous, tabula rasa, adult. And maybe it’s because I can’t forgive all the things that happened to me then. And I can’t forgive or accept myself, not for what I’ve become, but for what I always was.