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.