Aug 092016
friend request list

This image won’t make sense until tomorrow.

I don’t actually have to forgive everyone, do I? All the time? Everyone?

Why is it assumed that forgiving others is necessary to feel better about yourself?

I used to be a big reader of Slate’s Dear Prudence column, especially when it was written by Emily Yoffe*. She frequently described this societal compulsion to forgive as an artificial requirement, one laid on us by our Christian heritage. One she, with her Jewish heritage, did not share. Some things, she argued, go beyond the need to be forgiven. Sometimes it is better to cut losses, write a harmful person (or persons) out of your life and move on.

* The column is now written by Malory Ortberg, a clever and deft writer that I enjoy, but one who does not have the voice and gravitas that Emily Yoffe brought to the column. Maybe that kind of wisdom can only come with time.

As for me, I don’t generally bear grudges. Most of the times I am “done wrong”, it is clearly impersonal. People who cut me off in traffic. Customer Service reps who are rude on the phone. People who are annoying in the grocery store. These kinds of things are as ephemeral as they are ever-present, a side-effect of living in a society with many other people. Taking those sorts of things personally makes no sense at all: you would have to live your life in a perpetual state of being offended.

No thank you. Besides, that guy who was just a total dick to you, well, he probably is a total dick. Which is its own punishment.

The closer one gets to you, the more power they have to inflict damage on you. But even then, one has to consider actions through a variety of filters. Or in my case, rules. I live my life by a lot of rules, but one of them is “Everyone gets to have a bad day”. Once you start assuming that someone’s action is probably just that person having a bad day it is easier to rationalize. It is probably not personal. It is probably not something worth getting whipped up about. They are just having a bad day, maybe a really bad day. Maybe they are not normally like this at all. Move on.

In both of these cases – the stranger with a random act of insensitivity, and the non-stranger who is probably having a bad day – there is no grudge. No real harm. There is nothing to forgive. But there are other cases:

Sometimes the actions are not just a bad day, they are repeated over and over.

Sometimes the actions are not just a bad day, they are clearly deliberate and thought-out and intentional.

Sometimes the actions are not just bad day but reveal something about a person you had completely wrong.

What do you do with those actions? And those people?

I am fortunate in that I don’t have many grudges. Really I don’t. The list of people who have “done me wrong” to a such a degree that it becomes memorable is very short. Very. I am a lucky dude in life, even if never in games, lotteries, and anything involving randomization.

But the list is not empty. There are three people on it.

This article is part 1 of 2.

You can find part two of this article here.

  6 Responses to “On Forgiveness (Part 1 of 2)”

Comments (6)
  1. Karma makes sure that dicks get what’s coming to them. And when an opportunity presents itself to give karma a lending hand, don’t hesitate. 🙂 Never do a dickhead a favour or anything that would help them out in any way. Then when they whine that the world is against them, you can laugh in their face. Karma’s a bitch man 🙂

  2. There is nothing in Christianity that says that you have to continue to hang around people who maltreat you. Forgive them, yes, but unless you are obligated to them in some way, i.e., spouse, under-age child, business partner, you are not required to associate with them. Friends come and go as you evolve through life, some friends are so close that the bonds of friendship do create an “obligation in love” that would be much harder to break. Unless nourished time apart can weaken even the bonds of close association.

    I agree grudges hurt the grudgor more than the grudgee so better not to have them and raise your blood pressure, besides it takes too much energy to sustain a solid grudge, besides forgiveness isn’t about them, it’s about you.

    I really like your philosophy here and you are, dare I say, “poetic”, in how you express it.

  3. Some people are certainly dicks, dicks all the time, and sometimes it’s deliberate, other times it’s complicated. As for having bad days, some people have all their bad days all at once, and they borrow extra ones too, they may not be bad people.

    I do have a suspicion helping karma along by being a dick, regardless of religious leanings, may not benefit one’s own karma.

    Giving friends, or strangers, another chance isn’t necessarily the same as forgiveness. I’d like to think I can give my friends a second chance, a third chance, a forth… *cough* It’s the thought that counts, right?

    I’m too forgetful and lazy to bear grudges, I’m sure everyone bears them against me, not that I’d remember… I’m probably on Geoff’s list (or should be) 😉

  4. Grudges are mostly a waste of time. But it can be worth keeping a bit of resentment tucked away to remind you of just why someone is on your grudge list if you’re the sort of person (and I am) who sometimes tends to “forget” why you wanted someone out of your life.

    There are just so many times you can take crap from someone before the only prudent (see what I did there?) option is to just cut them completely from your life. I’ve struggled in the past with thinking that this somehow made me a bad person. It’s that Christian upbringing – forgive thine enemies and all that.

    As you said, Geoff, it’s one thing when the incidents are isolated and random. It’s quite another when there’s a steady pattern of… the word I want to use is probably one you’d rather not see in your comment section, but I’m sure you get where I’m going with this.

    Point is, no, NOT everyone deserves forgiveness. Some people are so thoroughly toxic and abusive that the best thing you can do is turn your back on them completely. It probably won’t stop them. You can’t control that. But you CAN take charge of how much you let their (another word I won’t use in polite company) affect you.

  5. Forgiveness is not about the offender, per se, it is about the offendee. Many time I think “we” as a collective whole do not understand what “forgiveness” really is. You hear a lot of people say “I’ll forgive, but I’ll never forget.” and for the most part, that is wrong. If you say you forgive someone for whatever action, but you keep throwing that action back in their face, you have not forgiven. At the same time, forgiveness is not about forgetting the action (per se), but forgetting the hurt that said action caused. Not to sound too Star Wars-ian, but hurt leads to anger, anger leads to bitterness, and bitterness leads to you being miserable. (There is also some evidence that bitterness can lead to all sorts of emotional and/or health issues.)

    As with everyone in the world, I have been hurt by others (whether intentional or unintentional is of no importance for this discussion). I can choose to hold on to that hurt and become bitter, or I can choose to let go of the hurt and forgive (whether the person asked forgiveness or not). It does not mean I forget the action, but I don’t dwell on it and I don’t throw it back in their face. If a conversation leads into “remember that time” I can recall the act, but without the emotion attached with it. I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not saying it’s something that can be done instantaneously, but I can choose to forgive so that I have peace of mind and not become bitter.

    That said, if there is someone who repeatedly hurts me, I can continue to forgive them, but that does not mean I have to continue “communing” with said person. I can choose to eliminate or at least minimize my contact with them. (Not always easy, depending on circumstances, of course, but still mostly my choice.)

    Another thing to consider: people hurt other people all the time, but don’t know it. It may be a “bad day” or just an off-the-cuff remark taken the wrong way. If someone does hurt you, you should not be afraid to speak up and tell them (nicely) “that hurt me”. Many times, the offending person will be sincerely apologetic. And those that are not…well, again, it’s up to you – do you want to forgive or be bitter?

  6. It hasn’t happened often to me – but the few times it has I don’t feel I need to justify giving them any more time or thought.

    I just move on 🙂

What do you think?

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