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.