Have you ever told yourself you should forgive someone because they didn’t know any better?
Given yourself a pep talk that they’ve been so hurt or broken by life that you should be the bigger person and forgive?
It can feel good. It feels good to be forgiving. It feels good to make our resentments and anger disappear with a simple reframe. It feels good to soften toward the person.
But is it really forgiveness?
You might say, Who cares how I got there? I forgave. Isn’t that what matters?
I’m not sure.
I have definitely done it many times – I’m still doing it in a few of my relationships – but I can’t help but wonder at the cost. When I tell the story that I’m out here doing my work of healing and growing, and the other person is flame-throwing because they’re not doing theirs, I’m positioning myself as better in my own mind.
That’s a judgement, isn’t it?
The person I’m really forgiving is the broken identity I’ve given them, not the person themselves. Also, how can we have a real relationship if I’m patting myself on the back for my benevolence and looking down at someone with pity?
And that’s the crux of it I think – pity versus empathy. It’s also a great red flag because empathy and pity feel different, so maybe I can catch myself. If I see us as equals who’ve both been a bit battered by life, as all humans have, and who hurt each other from time to time, I can be empathetic. I know how badly I screw up. I know I’ve done my share of damage. I get it. I can forgive the another person for being just like me.
I feel a bit disgusted with myself as I write about this – my use of superiority as a forgiveness crutch. (But then, I’m just splintering myself into the part that is gross and the part that is good and that’s not better, is it?)
Some of these relationships I don’t even want. I do want to feel forgiveness though. When I think of the person from time to time, I want to feel generous. I want to wish them well. I’ve used this superiority strategy to help me get there, but it doesn’t make me feel good about myself.
What if, instead, we challenge ourselves to use the just like me perspective?
It’s a practice I picked up from Buddhist nun and spiritual teacher, Pema Chodron.
Just like me, they sometimes lash out when they’re hurt or afraid.
Just like me, they’re a good person sometimes making a mess of life when they struggle.
Just like me, they want to be accepted and loved as they are.
Just like me, they want empathy over pity.
Just like me, they want to be forgiven.
Maybe this is a tall order and we can’t exercise it everywhere. I don’t mind contradicting everything I just said and agreeing that whatever gets us to forgiveness at least gets us to something that feels better than hatred, disgust, anger, and resentment.
I am gently suggesting, though, that we could hold other people responsible for their harmful actions and forgive them, standing shoulder to shoulder as a couple of humans walking around being imperfect.
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