Have you ever been taken by surprise by someone you trusted? Suddenly out of the blue, found yourself the recipient of accusations, allegations and blame? Have you been the person to whom a criminal offence has been perpetrated? Can you recall a time when someone was just plain mean-spirited and cruel to you?
Something a bit like that happened to me recently.
The worst thing about it was not that it happened…but how easy it was for me to forget what I practiced. I have been practicing for a very long time not to take things personally. I do meditations to calm my mind, body and soul, and work very hard to allow, acknowledge and accept all that life brings to me and yet…I still managed to fall into a panic.
When this very unpleasant thing happened to me, I did not stop, breathe, sleep on it or take my time to consider what to do. Instead, I went into full-blown reactive mode.
My mind ran away with thoughts like, “This is terrible. I can’t manage. What did I do to cause this?”
I know. We are all human. I’m not The Dalai Lama. But I know enough to have put my foot gently on the brakes, and I didn’t. At least, not immediately.
As the week progressed and everything I tried failed, I was feeling tired, angry, hurt and blah blah blah (feeling like a victim is seriously disempowering). Then one week after all that had happened, I suddenly remembered something I had completely forgotten.
There are only a few reasons why one person hurts another.
One is that the person themself is in pain. No one is righteous, vindictive or revengeful unless they are hurting or frightened. Hurt people hurt others because it is the only language they know.
The second is that we all do stupid things thoughtlessly without considering the consequences.
There is a wonderful quote by Robert J. Hanlon of Scranton, Pennsylvania,
“Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.”
My realization came to me in the kitchen. The radio was on and I was listening to Soul Search on Radio National with Meredith Lake who was interviewing filmmaker Gayle Kirschenbaum. She was sharing her true story of her traumatic relationship with her mother and the choice she had made to heal that relationship and to document the journey.
Forgiveness. I had forgotten to just forgive. As surprising as it may seem, it was over in a second. I just let it all go.
According to Peter Lippet, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute for Ethics & Society at the University of Notre Dame Australia, there are two perceptions around forgiveness. One is conditional forgiveness and the other unconditional.
Conditional forgiveness requires the person being forgiven to promise something.
I will forgive her if she……. shows genuine regret and sorrow, for example.
Unconditional forgiveness comes from a very different place. As Peter Lippet describes in his book Loves Forgiveness: Kierkegaard, Resentment, Humility, and Hope, published by Oxford University Press in 2020, when Peter betrayed Jesus and was wracked with guilt, Jesus told him he knows him and loves him and forgives him. There was no need for Peter to say anything. In fact He said that he loved him and continues to love him and forgave him for denying him. Through acceptance and Love, people will learn and change their ways naturally.
In unconditional forgiveness there is, embedded within, a sense of generosity. It is no error or coincidence that the word give is in the word forgiveness.
In French, pardonner is to forgive and donner is to give.
In German, vergeben is to forgive and geben is to give
In Danish, tilgive to forgive and give is to give.
So, if we give forgivingness, who are we giving it to? To hold on to our anger, resentment and pain hurts only ourselves. Forgiveness does not excuse the perpetrator of their actions. Forgiveness is letting go of our own toxic feelings towards them. It is taking the time to realise that if someone hurts, manipulates or betrays us, chances are that that person is in pain, or is very simply acting without thought or care.
Generosity is the gift we give ourselves, to release ourselves from the emotions that cause us to become ill and rob us of living a good life.
It is in the act of letting go that we free ourselves from obsessive thoughts and sleepless nights. In forgiving someone for what they have done, whether it is a parent, friend, employer, employee or someone we have never met, we do not excuse the act but we do take back our power to live the best life we possibly can.