B4Peace: Forgiveness is a four letter word

Asking For Forgiveness

Asking For Forgiveness (Photo credit: hang_in_there)

This months peace challenge is about forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a four letter word. I want to say that word is love. I want to encourage everyone who reads this to believe that to forgive is to love and in loving each other we somehow make all the Bad Things that have ever happened to us magically disappear. I am an optimist at heart but I struggle with this one because there are some situations that are very difficult to forgive. I’m not talking about the trivial things, the ones that aren’t worth getting upset about in the first place.  I am talking about events that lead us to feel deep despair, burning anger or heartbrokenly hurt.  Turning those emotions into love is almost as challenging as splitting the atom – it’s feasible but it takes the right environment, a lot of energy and specialist skills to make it happen. For most of us leaving the atom whole is much, much easier.

At this point you might be thinking ‘ah, she’s saying forgiveness has parameters – if its small don’t fret about it, if it’s huge you’re saddled with it and anything in between might be worth a shot.’

So many of the things that offend, upset or annoy us are intrinsically linked to our personal values. A situation that might cause me to be deeply unhappy may not even register for someone else. Parameters don’t really work because they’re as individual as we are and our boundaries for good/bad/acceptable/unacceptable behaviour start and end in different places. Promises and lies are good examples. I don’t care if someone I barely know breaks a minor promise or tells me a few half-truths because it’s unlikely to have a life-changing impact on me.  It’s a different story if a key person in my life breaks a major promise or tells a half-truth that will have a significant adverse impact on me or my loved ones. The chances are I will be deeply unhappy about it. It’s not just about the adverse impact  – I’m upset for three reasons – the person responsible caused a Bad Thing to happen and it’s impact is significant, I’ve invested in a relationship with that person and didn’t expect them to abuse my trust, trust is one of my core values and once broken its difficult to reestablish.  I’m not much fun to be around when this kind of thing happens!

In spite of all this I still see forgiveness as a four letter word. Not the one that’s an anagram of a popular fashion label though sometimes it might feel easier to say FCUK, FCUK off or for FCUKs sake. Tempting as they may be, forgiveness is none of these things. Saying them out loud a few times can help relieve tension but has nothing at all to do with absolution and I’ve realised over the years that in order to move forward with our lives we have to leave the past behind. Playing it over and over on a loop is a path to despair, resentment or partial insanity. A life filled with bitterness and loathing is no life at all and retaining a state of unforgiveness over an extended period of time is a good way to end up permanently bitter and enraged.

It is difficult to forgive people who cause Bad Things to happen in our lives. It’s hard to let go of all that anger, hurt and disbelief.  It’s not impossible though and there are alternative ways of viewing situations that call for our forgiveness. For me the four letter word that sums up forgiveness is GIFT.  I admit it’s not an entirely altruistic gift because it hasn’t slipped my attention that there’s something in it for me when I bestow forgiveness and draw a line through whatever Bad Thing happened. Separating the Bad Thing from the person who invoked it is where the gift begins.

If you stay mad, hurt, upset or disillusioned by the way someone else has treated you, the only person who really suffers is you. You suffer because of what happened and you add to that suffering with your own special mix of negative emotions. Why punish yourself in that way? Why waste your energy when you could be using it to get out of the situation you’ve just been landed in?

Forgiving someone is a gift, not just for them but for you too.  Even if you struggle giving this gift, it’s important to realise that by doing so you give yourself the gift of liberty: freedom to take positive actions to resolve the situation, freedom to move forward and freedom from grudges, bitterness and resentment.

Last year someone in a very influential told me something I believed to be true and acted on in good faith. A few months later that person changed their stance. Their shift in position had serious adverse consequences for me while I was undergoing cancer treatment. As you might imagine, I was upset, staggered and astonished. By Christmas 2012 I was approaching my wits end but it dawned on me I was the only person in turmoil – the other person wasn’t really bothered. The only way for me to move forward was to forgive that person’s behaviour and focus on sorting out the bad situation I’d been left in. Was it easy? No. Did it take me more than one attempt? Yes (a bit like splitting the atom – it didn’t happen straight away). Did I feel better when I was free to solve the problem instead of focusing on why it happened? Yes. Has my relationship with that person changed? Yes. Was that detrimental to either of us? No. Have I been able to let go of the negative emotions associated with the Bad Thing? Yes. Do I feel better without them? Definitely!

Forgiving is a four letter word – gift. It’s a gift to forgive someone else’s detrimental behaviour. It’s a bigger gift to free yourself from resentment, upset or loathing to move on with your life. It would be nicer, in my view, if we could live our lives and behave in such a way that we never have  cause to say sorry or forgive one another. Until that day comes keep giving the gift.

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20 thoughts on “B4Peace: Forgiveness is a four letter word

  1. Pingback: Forgiveness One – B4Peace | heartflow2013

  2. Love this post, Tracy. I don’t know how I missed it. Forgiveness is a gift. Great way to think about it. I love the idea of gifting forgiveness to others and getting a gift for ourselves. Win/win in my book. Four letter words are always tricky and full of potential. I’m glad you were able to put this advice into practice with the person you trusted. I, too, look forward to a day when “we could live our lives and behave in such a way that we never have cause to say sorry or forgive one another.” {{{Hugs}}} Kozo

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  3. Very beautiful post. Tracy, I used to get notifications about your posts in my mailbox. But for the last two months, this is not happening in spite that I a a “Follower” of your blog. I am going to write to WordPress about this issue. I hope they will sort out this problem soon. Jo

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    • Hello Jo, I am not sure what’s happening with email notifications. I have the same problem with some of the blogs I follow too. I ended up going back into the preferences section in the reader and setting up the email notifications again. Its a very odd issues because it seems to happen at random. I hope you’re well, your recent post on Thailand was fascinating.

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      • Hi Tracy, I had written to WordPress and suddenly it worked. Maybe it’s because I once again clicked on the “Connect by Email” icon of your blog. Since my return from Bangkok, I had been travelling a lot within India and that had reflected on the scarcity of my posts. I believe you are keeping well and look forward to your posts. Take care, my friend. Jo 😡

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  4. I think you are correct in saying forgiveness is a gift and I do believe it is as much a gift to ourselves as to the other person. Still, there may be times when we can forgive, but still avoid the offender. I am thinking in terms of repeated abuse by the same person and other persons even after they know they hurt you like in bullying or other forms of abuse. I tried repeatly to reach out to the school that contributed to my daughter’s torment and I never reached out in anger. Still, it is now time to admit that they will not openly accept any responsibility and we must forgive them and move on with our lives. That does not mean that we have to now say they are wonderful if anyone asks. We will merely say our experience with them was not good, but we hope and pray they are growing in knowledge and changing as we grow by letting go of the anger.

    BTW: I shared your post on my FB page Village of Support and on Twitter under my alter ego, @nouturnsinlife. Mahalo for writing this post and for sharing it with us.

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    • Thanks Sue. I agree about avoiding the offender in bullying situations (sadly they happen a lot at work as well as at school). There have been so many cases in the news that I’m amazed any school fails to deal with bullying appropriately these days. I suppose some are still better equipped than others and expect much of it comes down to the attitudes of the staff. Having been bullied as a child (by older kids and by a teacher!!) I understand how horrible the situation is and how helpless it can leave you feeling. I now have a zero tolerance approach to any form of bullying, I learnt the techniques for dealing with it as an adult and have shared these with my son to ensure he doesn’t suffer any abuse in education or the workplace. I hope your daughter is able to avoid the people who’ve tormented her and can move forward with her life happily and without worries. The school have failed you both and you’ve been hugely forgiving in the circumstances.

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  5. Pingback: A Triumph of the Human Spirit | Pondering Spawned

  6. Well said Tracy. I hope you’ve managed to put these trials and tribulations behind you and that you are moving forward again.

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    • Hopefully when I eventually shed this mortal coil my good deeds like saving the wren and helping an elderly man in a wheelchair with his shopping yesterday (supermarkets haven’t realised how difficult it is to open their upright freezer cabinets, hold them open and reach something from the upper shelf when you’re unable to stand) will mean I get reincarnated as something other than an insect or earth worm. Spider would be fine 😉 I don’t see the point in self-destruction and bearing grudges or being unable to let go is a sure fire way to implode. Someone told me I have an indomitable spirit – it sees me through all kinds of things and forward is the only way to go.

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    • Archbishop Tutu is a remarkable man and having studied apartheid during my degree I was shocked at the extent of controls and restrictions placed on black South African people. I hadn’t seen this video before but it’s nice to know my thoughts on this subject are aligned with those of someone who fights for many humanitarian causes.

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  7. Thanks Dianne, it was a torrid situation but I’m glad to have left it behind and you’re right, every day things get a little better… I know there’s still a long way to go but we share the same ‘no such thing as impossible’ mindset so I know I’ll get there in the end :-). Thank you for your support, it means a lot

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  8. Pingback: Forgiveness is… (B4Peace) | Finding Health After Illness

  9. Pingback: Bloggers For Peace: Forgiving Our Critics and 1 Star Reviewers! | rohan7things

  10. Pingback: Goldfish’s All-I’ve-Managed-To-Learn-So-Far Guide To Forgiving Oneself | Fish Of Gold

  11. This is a fabulous post, Tracy! Very inspirational and I’m so glad you’re now without that person and well on the road to recovery 😀 I feel your strength building with every post.

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