Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Do We Forgive Until We Forget?

This post is going to be a lot more questions and a lot less of an open letter because I don't know how I feel on the topic and am hoping your comments will help shape my thoughts.

How many times have we been told by our closest friends to just forgive and forget someone that hurts us or wrongs us in some way? And we say yes, we've forgiven but it's hard to ever forget. Is it really possible to forgive until you are ready to forget? Isn't forgetting the past, the mistake made by the person and the hurt felt by you an important process in the quest to forgive and move on?

There are many a learned men that have said: "The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget." Why? Isn't remembering the mistake also remembering the hurt caused by the mistake? And not even just the hurt, but the memory alone holds the power over you and your emotions that you might not use to take any action for a while or for ever, but you know that the power is there to stay over you. By just keeping that speck alive inside of you, you are leaving the probability alive that it may manifest in some action some day. Some other wise men have also said: "I can forgive, but I cannot forget, is only another way of saying, I will not forgive. Forgiveness ought to be like a canceled note - torn in two and burned up."

But even before we understand what the process of forgiveness is, which is a challenge in itself, how do we understand what forgiveness is? What do you do to forgive someone? How do you know you've forgiven someone? Is it when you relinquish the need to judge them, which is what Deepak Chopra would say? Is it when you can talk about the hurt and not feel hurt? Is it when you can think of the person that hurt you and smile, wishing them well? Or is one step further still -- that when you have truly forgiven someone, you are also supposed to reconcile with them? If you have honestly forgiven and forgotten, are you supposed to press the rewind button and start again from the point just before the hurtful action was taken?

One part of forgiveness, for sure, is to let go of the hurt, overcome the emotion and let your soul feel free from the burden. But is another level of forgiveness actually realizing that we are all human and we all make mistakes. One mistake or hurtful action should not change how we interacted and communicated with the person. Can you trust the person in the same way? Can you feel and think about the person in the same way? Of course, we're all human and while today you might be the one who is hurt, tomorrow you might be the source of hurt to someone else. Think about the question from both perspectives and not just from being the one who has been hurt. Do these answers depend on the magnitude of the mistake or how much hurt was caused by the action? Or are the measures subjective and variant upon person?

Are you supposed to go back to the roots and first analyze intent and then maybe use an averaging tool to measure their action against their other actions? We all tend to hold a microscope to people's mistakes, we tend to make them appear larger than they might be, we like to analyze them more than they need to be (for the most part, although not always). Are these only weak tools for coping and accepting? And are these the very tools that hold us captive to the emotion of hurt and the feeling of being wronged? When we try too hard to understand why the person did what they did, aren't we continuing to spend time in the plane of judgment? Is it necessary at all to understand why someone did what they did and what their intent really was in order to forgive the person? Or is forgiveness unconditional, done more for yourself than for the other person, to release and free yourself?

Gandhi used to say that forgiveness is the attribute of the strong - the weak can never forgive. And if forgiveness is the ability to think of the person who wronged you and wish them well, then certainly it requires much strength. However, even more strength is needed to continue maintaining a relationship with the person that hurt you. While you may have forgotten the hurtful action in your process of forgiving, you are then accepting to receive a regular reminder of it and have to yet have the strength to keep it forgotten.

Things are always easier in abstract and in thought than in action. While you may wish them well in the grander scheme of things, would you be their friend in the real world of practice? While you know you will be there for them in a time of need, do you also choose to catch up once a month over coffee? When someone hurts you and you realize only people you give that right to can really hurt you, do you want to continue giving them the right to hurt you, believing they won't again, if you've already forgiven them and refrained from any judgment of their action? That requires a lot of strength - a lot of it! You might believe in second chances and might believe people change, but to have the courage to take the risk of giving them back the key to your emotions and the power to control your feelings, is a high mountain to climb.

What do you do in situations where the person hasn't realized the impact of their action, maybe even after you tried to share it with them, and they continue to be unapologetic? What do you do when the person who hurts you isn't accepting the fact that their action was hurtful? One more level - when the person whose actions hurt you is now the one hurt, claiming their hurt comes from the fact that you would consider them hurtful? It definitely makes the process of forgiving and forgetting even more difficult and challenging. But forgiveness would still apply in the same way, wouldn't it? You would still want to be devoid of judgment, wish them well, and release their control over your emotions.

Forgiveness does not come with any expectations that the person recognizes their mistake, commits to changing or is even apologetic for the hurt caused. So then, again, would you reconcile with this person because you have forgiven and forgotten? Would you at that point leave them to their own karma, which will show them in its own unique way those lessons they chose not to learn this time? If you are leaving things to their karma anyway, then should you exercise judgment because choosing to severe ties is an expression of judgment of their character in your opinion and from your perspective.

I guess another thought is to never give anyone the right to hurt you or the power to control you, but that's topic for another discussion post. For now, I will close out with this one last thought -- don't forget to forgive yourself, while you're forgiving the other person; forgive yourself for allowing the other person to hurt you.

"Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it." ~Mark Twain

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