A few weeks ago I wrote about Forgiveness. I shared my belief that, at times, forgiveness only happens as a result of something else happening first—forgiveness happens because an apology comes first.
Is forgiveness always best?
I was challenging the popular idea that forgiveness is always the best choice. I was even challenging the idea that forgiveness is always a choice.
Many people think that a lack of forgiveness means we are chewing ourselves up or keeping our hearts shut, but this is not my experience. When I set boundaries, clear boundaries with my father, including refusing to forgive him unless he got help and apologized, I emboldened myself. I freed myself. I helped myself.
Maybe that’s why I am revisiting this subject today. I want those who burden themselves with the belief that they “should forgive” to give yourselves permission to decide for yourselves if that is indeed what’s best for you.
Several people expressed discomfort with my previous article. A thoughtful friend and member of our community questioned my ideas. Thank you! He shared his belief that forgiveness is something you can do unilaterally, by choosing to let go of your resentment. He offered a quote from Maya Angelou’s new book “You must forgive. It’s for your own sake – to rid yourself of that weight.”
In Dr. Angelou’s book, one example she offers about the act of forgiveness comes from a time when she was beaten nearly to death by a jealous lover. She says she chose a path of forgiveness rather than revenge.
She tells of her ex-lover begging her not to shoot him when she confronted him in the street with a gun. He said: ‘please don’t shoot me, please, please don’t hurt me. I’m sorry.’ She responded: “You disgust me, go away, go away,’” Angelou then said she let him go and said “I’m not carrying him another moment.”
From a Live Conscious perspective I would say that what Maya really did that day was let her revenge go by choosing not to have anything more to do with her ex-lover. She no longer burdened herself with seeking revenge. I think she just let go, and she took her power back.
Forgiveness is one way to un-weight ourselves from resentment. I believe that compassion is another way and that there is a difference between forgiveness and compassion.
Compassion is being able to understand our human condition, our imperfection, another’s weaknesses and ignorance, and having sympathy for the suffering of another and thus letting go of revenge.
For me, the difference between the two is this. If I forgive you, I also welcome you back into my life. But, if I don’t feel safe with you—largely because you haven’t taken responsibility for your actions, then I’m not welcoming you back into my life. Instead, I will have compassion for you, and I will keep my distance.
A Jewish perspective
Interestingly, in Judaism, one must go to those he has harmed and apologize in order to be entitled to forgiveness.
A Christian perspective
Whereas in Christianity, “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’” (sounds more like compassion to me than forgiveness). Jesus advocated forgiveness without the offender accepting any responsibility or even an understanding of his actions.
A personal perspective
I think that what really matters is to consciously choose what is best for you. And I want to offer caution to people who too frequently assume that the best thing to do is to forgive. If I forgive prematurely, I can be denying some aspect of my true experience—and in this way I disrespect myself.
Perhaps there are three options to dealing with un-weighting ourselves from the burden of resentment:
1. Let go and close the door—no continued relating with the offender.
2. Accept an apology—forgive, learn and grow—and open the door to a new way of relating with the other person.
3. Live in a Live Conscious orientation in which we really don’t experience resentment.
Resentment is the result of holding other people accountable for our pain or suffering. When we stop seeing the world in this way, resentment is replaced with responsibility. Maybe this is why, in part, I don’t relate fully to the people who are talking about forgiveness as the way to release resentments.
In closing, I suggest we each decide for ourselves what is best for us. And when it comes time to relate with people who you perceive as unsafe, consider if compassion is a better solution for you than forgiveness.
p.s. It is this kind of personal exploration—figuring out what you believe, what kind of boundaries you need to create—that allows each of us to shape our own lives. This is what we do at our personal growth retreats. Consider coming to our next program, in January, if you want to reshape your life.