“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” ―Oscar Wilde
No one is perfect. Not even close. We’ve all got our share of moral shortcomings and personal failures enough to make us blush. But in this life we live, we often tend to think of ourselves of at least morally decent people, if not morally superior. Let’s be real here, we often turn a blind eye to our own faults and failures as if they didn’t happen so we can maintain a certain level of dignity when we look in the mirror. So is it possible that people also have a tendency (not you, never!) to magnify the faults of others? It’s very possible.
Sometimes we might label people with a stigmatic label, issuing scarlet letters of moral ineptitude so that we might…umm…feel superior? If this sounds like you, relax, you’re in good company, because this sounds like just about everyone…your secret is safe with me.
The truth is, we hate to admit to ourselves that labeling people is a useful tool that helps us cope, and other people provide us with ample opportunity to seize in reinforcing this fact, that we do, in fact, compartmentalize the people in our lives, putting them into little groups with neat little labels, usually with us somewhere near the top of that moral totem pole.
In another story I covered the “why” of the forgiveness question, aptly titled Why We Should Forgive,which is well and good, but is of no use if we don’t ask the question, “How should we forgive?”
No One is Perfect
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone,” says Jesus in John 8:7 — wise words that many live by on a daily basis. Like I said in the beginning of this story, no one is perfect, and when we first choose to come to forgive someone, we must accept this basic fact about them — and about ourselves — on the deepest level.
All things human are flawed by the very nature of their incompleteness, and it doesn’t matter if you’re the most die-hard Christian or devout atheist subscribing to the most chic of Existentialist doctrines, this very fact holds true by the simple fact that all things human are a rough draft.
We’re unfinished copies committing temporary acts with incomplete knowledge, acts which we carry out on unpolished impulses with varying degrees of success. We generally hope things will go favorably, but sometimes the people in your life aren’t quite cut out for a situation they find themselves thrust into, and they reach back into the deep recesses of their memories to find whatever tools they feel would most suitably apply — and sometimes they fail. We do too. And when we do, more often than not, we want their forgiveness.
Forgiving someone means accepting all of these deeply existential concepts into our very core, so much so that we actually live them in both spirit and practice.
Acceptance is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal, especially for dealing with things we don’t like — we can accept things while at the same time believing they should be different — and we can accept people on the same premise.
People can change, they can grow throughout time into better versions of themselves as they progress and learn. Not everyone grows at the same rate, and sometimes, it’s our duty to help someone else along in their path of growth, something I discussed in Why We Should Forgive.
We must learn to love those who’ve wronged us for being themselves, while understanding they are a work in progress. I know this is hard, but if we want to strive to better ourselves, to become the best version of ourselves we can be and truly forgive the people in our lives who’ve hurt us, it’s a very necessary step.
This means that in order to wholly forgive, we must come to a complete acceptance of what happened to us that called for us to forgive them in the first place, and we must come to a complete acceptance of who they were at the time. Yes, we must love the version of “them” that hurt us. This is how you practice true acceptance of something or someone, you accept it for what it is, and if you love that person, you must love that version of them as well, or your love will remain incomplete.
Probably the most difficult part of forgiving is continuing the relationship or exchange with someone as if nothing had happened. Many people will advise that you should remain watchful, skeptical, fearful of that person, but if you ask me, that sounds like the fast track to unhappiness, wallowing in a distrustful world where everything and everyone are suspect.
In forgiveness, we must forgive fully in order for it to be effective — we must leave no stone unturned; it’s important that we give a person the chance to return to the same type of relationship we had with that person before their transgression True forgiveness is a daily act, and consists in the continuation of our path with that person as if the wrongdoing had never happened in the first place, because the goal of forgiveness isn’t just to create the balance of justice, but also to try to return to normal life — prolonged strife is not the goal of forgiveness, but rather, roughly the polar opposite of what it means to forgive. We as a culture seem to have largely forgotten this concept.
The continuation of a normal life should be the case, however, if someone has done us wrong, and intently made up for their wrongdoing, whether through a sincere apology, or a large favor through which they say, “I’m sorry.” If we can’t do this, if we can’t continue one with said person as if nothing had, in fact, happened, have we actually come to a complete acceptance of what happened? Or are we still dwelling in it? If we are dwelling in it, why? Do we think reliving the pain every day will somehow make it right, or not hurt anymore? Does this sound sensible? I don’t think so.
Forgiveness doesn’t wallow in the pains of old, but rather, it serves as the lumber with which we build the joy of our futures, with ourselves and with others. We can’t be happy until we accept the wrongs of the world at large and forgive life for our moments of unhappiness and pain, and we can’t be happy with others until we accept their faults, and forgive them for the pains which they put us through.