Forgiveness, it has been said, is the key to happiness. As happiness is such an elusive commodity for so many of us, it seems like exploring a key to it might be a worthwhile endeavor.
According to Webster, the word forgive comes from the Old English word forgifan, and means to give. I think this is excellent news; it means that forgiveness is something that is within our power to do, whenever we want. There are no outside elements or conditions that need to be met in order for us act.
Very often, were we to consider forgiving someone for some act of wrongdoing they may have committed, we think of forgiving them as something we are doing for them, for their sake. This isn’t necessarily true. When we choose to forgive someone, it is we who are being released from suffering, relieved of a draining burden and allowed to heal, not anyone else. Think about it: when you harbor feelings of anger or resentment toward someone, who does it impact the most, you or them? Do you really think your nemesis is impacted? On those rare occasions when they are, they suffer only a fraction of the amount that you do from the effect of creating and sustaining those hardhearted feelings.
The operant healing or restorative quality of forgiveness is the letting go of a demand that people or situations be other than what they are. Often, when we have felt wronged or ill-used, a part of us refuses to accept what has happened and insists a change is in order: someone cuts us off while driving and we insist they shouldn’t have cut us off, someone throws a party and doesn’t invite us and we insist they should have, someone steals an idea of ours at work and we insist they shouldn’t have. The hard part is that we are often justified in feeling the way we do. But it’s not about justification or that we should like or blindly accept that these things happen. It is when we impose a forcing current on the situation, a demand that things work out the way we think they ought to, that we create difficulties for ourselves, difficulties that are resolved only when we let go of the demands. We can’t alter what has already happened; we can only accept it, let go of it and move on with our lives.
I don’t mean to confuse forgiveness with license for people do whatever they want. Particularly when an issue concerns someone in your life, your spouse, a friend, family member or co-worker, then just practicing forgiveness is not enough. The situation, whatever it is, needs to be sorted out and some understanding arrived at, and, if necessary, some restorative action taken. But approaching this negotiation with a forgiving attitude will help make the experience more rewarding and less stressful for all concerned. This holds true as much on a societal as it does a personal level.
Some people argue that Adolph Hitler, a child molester or an unfaithful spouse are not deserving of forgiveness, but this is missing the point. It is a common misunderstanding to confuse condoning a given behavior with forgiving the person who commits it. Hitler will remain a reviled figure in history, the child molester will be a lonely, shunned outcast the rest of his life, and you can leave your unfaithful spouse, all without having to burden and drain yourself with the toxic and cancerous venom of indignant outrage.
In fact, people and the relationships they establish cannot grow or sustain themselves without healthy doses of forgiveness. We make mistakes, other people make mistakes. How could we ever expect to recover from these mistakes without forgiveness? Relationships especially are laboratories for forgiveness; the longer you remain together, the more you love each other, the more lessons you have learned about the healing power of forgiveness.
Self-forgiveness is a very important part of maintaining our mental and physical well-being. How can we expect to forgive ourselves for the things we do when we are hesitant or unwilling to forgive others? I’m not condoning inappropriate, selfish or hurtful behavior, but when we make an honest mistake it comes as a relief to know we have the capacity for forgiving ourselves for it. Forgiveness is probably the single most important process that brings peace and harmony to our lives.
The thing I like most about topics such as this one is that it provides a real and practical laboratory for us to make our lives happier and more rewarding. There are no clubs to join, no meetings to attend, to fees to be paid, no medications to be taken. There is just you, your experience of life and a willingness on your part to be open to new learning experiences. You needn’t buy into anyone’s doctrine; just try on some no risk, no obligation moderate behavioral or attitudinal change in the comfort of your own home and judge the results for yourself. If dissatisfied, return the unused portion for a full refund. No salesman will call.
To learn more about the healing power of forgiveness and overcoming the harmful aspects of resentment, consider taking the SmartLiving workbook Fresh Start: a practical guide to breaking the grip of past hurts.
I’m interested in your feedback. Please comment or “Like.”