Forgiveness is one of those concepts I’ve struggled to understand. It seemed as if forgiving people was the same as saying their ‘wrong’-doing is acceptable.
But my viewpoint has changed somewhat.
Firstly, my attitudes about ‘wrong’-doing have changed. I’m not so sure ‘wrong’ even exists. Factor in ignorance and desperation into people’s activities and it becomes difficult to see where the ‘wrong’-doing is.
Secondly, I think there’s something about the belief matrix of Western culture that causes us to suffer in response to our experiences.
We are taught to condemn… ourselves and others. This makes us judgmental, intolerant and punitive. Ergo, we collect grievances and we seek revenge.
We are taught to regard other people as being responsible for our state of being… our happiness, our suffering. We are not taught emotional self-sufficiency.
We are taught to be self-pitying, self-deprecating and to create victim stories for ourselves. “Oh, woe is me,” is our common lament (imagine: back of hand on forehead).
This all creates a blame culture… towards self and others.
I have read about forgiving others not for their benefit but for ours : our own peace of mind. That makes sense. One could focus on this aspect of forgiveness without worrying about getting the hang of the points above. Actually, learning to forgive for the sake of our own peace of mind is excellent practice in emotional self-sufficiency.
I think ‘wrong’-doing is a matter of perception. I think people rarely have malevolent intent. We’re all just stumbling along, getting by as best we can, trying to understand the nonsensical, trying to control the chaotic, trying to be ‘good’. And getting extremely confused along the way. Sometimes things don’t go the way we want them to and we get into a panic, or a fury. We express our distress and instead of being regarded with empathy – instead of receiving any help – we are perceived as wrong-doers, attackers, bad people. And we judge others similarly.
If we can understand this I think it must make it easier to forgive… ourself as well as others. I don’t mean forgive our imperfects so much as forgive our misunderstandings… our ignorance. We have not been taught well. That’s not our fault… or anyone else’s.
The ignorant teach the innocent the ways of their ignorance and it’s a devil of a job extricating our way out of that labyrinth, that’s for sure!
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” (Frederic Luskin)
Buddhism teaches us to focus our attention away from ourselves and on to others. Hanging on to grievances and feelings of victimization are exercises in self-centredness and masochism. An alternative to this self-obsession is to consider others’ perspective and their motivations for the behaviour we perceive as offensive.
“If her past were your past, her pain your pain, her level of consciousness your level of consciousness, you would think and act exactly as she does. With this realization comes forgiveness, compassion and peace.” (Eckhart Tolle)
We should consider, too, the blame culture we live in. Also we’re encouraged to expect perfection, and to expect to have our wishes fulfilled simply by wanting them ‘badly’ enough. Ha ha, I’m reminded of a common exchange in The Apprentice (UK version), which illustrates this: Alan Sugar asks contestants why he should give them the job and a great many answer with: “Because I want it so much”. It’s meant to be business-related competition, for gawd’s sake, not a kindergarten class competing for the potency of their wish-fulfillment fantasies!
So, I think we would do well to:
– challenge our beliefs about right and wrong
– consider others’ perspective; consider that they might not mean us harm
– stop holding others responsible for the quality of our experiences and start taking responsibility for ourselves
– stop telling ourselves victim stories and interpreting our experiences from the perspective of self-pity
And then, we could have a go at forgiving:
– the world – for being what it is, and for it has made us into: creatures whose methods of problem-solving often cause great hurt to ourselves and each other
– ourselves – for being taken in by the beliefs of the world, and defending beliefs that cause such harm
– each other – for being ignorant and for lashing out in fear and panic
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.” (Rumi)
Someone, but I don’t know who, said: “Forgive everyone everything.”
Both sound like recipes for peace, if we were all to follow such advice.