Please forgive me.
I am sorry if anyone offends themselves, but I’m going to be controversial. Most everything I read these days says that forgiveness of those who have harmed or offended us is something we must do. I don’t agree, not if they haven’t apologized.
A wise man once told me that true forgiveness is not something you can do. It is something that happens as a result of something else happening. I actually think he was right. Forgiveness is something that can happen after a heartfelt apology is made.
At a recent Live Conscious gathering, we showed a remarkably moving TED Talk by Joshua Prager: “In search of the man who broke my neck.” Joshua shares the tale of his search for the reckless man, Ahmed—who had 26 prior driving violations—before plowing into Prager’s car and causing so much damage.
Joshua was severely disabled by this event and another person was killed. Many years later Joshua searched for Ahmed in order to receive two words: “I’m sorry.” When Joshua found Ahmed, not only did Ahmed not apologize, but he complained of his own minor and non existent injuries, and he had conveniently condensed his 26 driving violations and this reckless accident into a one time speeding incident.
After hearing Ahmed’s complete distortion of what happened, had Joshua chosen to forgive Ahmed, I would have been dubious. And I probably would not have been as profoundly touched as I was by what he did with his unfulfilled need for an apology.
Compassion yes, Forgiveness no.
Joshua, for his own healing, found compassion for Ahmed’s ignorance, his inability to be accountable, and his unexamined life. Joshua found compassion– not forgiveness– because there was no acknowledgment and no apology coming from Ahmed.
Sometimes I believe that the popular idea of “forgiveness” ends up encouraging repression or is a naïve ideal we are told we must fulfill, something we think we “should” do for ourselves and others. For me, inappropriate forgiveness may plant the seed for denial.
A patient of mine recently shared that she had long ago forgiven her father’s betrayal, being molested numerous times by him beginning at the age of nine. She explained that she was “a very forgiving person.” My perception was that her excessive alcohol consumption played a big part in her ability to forgive the unforgivable.
Parents are supposed to protect their children. And they are fully aware of that. If they are abusing their kids, they are doing it consciously. And conscious crimes, to me, are the most unforgivable. And if there is no sincere apology, I believe, forgiveness is not an option.
Unresolved feelings surfaced from time to time for this woman, but they were quickly repressed with a nightly bottle of wine. She could not bear her father’s rejection, even as an adult, so it was easier to repress and minimize the abuse than to confront her father. The subject never came up and he never apologized. If feelings arose, she would numb herself accordingly.
Flexing our apology muscles.
Even with way less serious offenses, I amaze myself with how difficult it can be to say two little words: “I’m sorry”. But, sadly, being held accountable, admitting that we’ve made a mistake, is more than some of us can handle.
Were we to know how much better we’d feel after expressing those two words, we might step up to the challenge more often. Certainly with practice, this becomes easier.
I propose that we apologize for anything in our past and be prepared to apologize in the future—begin flexing our apology muscles. The healthier we are the less willing we will be to spend much time with someone who cannot say they’re sorry; but we can still feel compassionate toward them because we understand how difficult it can be to say we’re sorry, particularly when we ‘re unpracticed.
In the Live Conscious paradigm we get good at examining our lives and learning to appropriately Redo ourselves. In this practice we take blame out of the equation and thus, eliminate the sting of using those two words, “I’m Sorry”.
I’m sorry, but forgiveness is not an option for me if “I’m sorry” does not come first. If you find this subject interesting and want to read more about it, you’ll find part II of this article here.