“The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.” — Thomas S. Szasz
I struggle with forgiveness. The concept of condoning, indirectly or by inference, the unacceptable and hateful behavior of others is hard for me to swallow. Forgiveness seems to take two equally unsavory flavors: letting things go that still need to be accounted for, or an artificial, overly pious high road in the attitude of “You don’t deserve it, but I forgive you anyway”, which is in essence a statement of superiority instead of genuine forgiveness.
I have worked hard to prevent resentment and the venom in others’ actions from poisoning my own heart. Is that necessarily the same as forgiveness? I condone nothing. I will forget nothing. But I will not let the shadows across other hearts cast a darkness over mine.
The hardest actions to forgive are those committed against people I love, especially when the intent of such actions was blatantly to cause harm. I agree with the quote above that forgetting would be foolish, and that even as I curb my resentment and anger, staying on guard is an act of self-preservation, and protection of my loved ones.
The hardest part of forgiveness is that I want an answer to “Why?” Why was it so important to hurt me or someone else I care about? Why did ugliness supercede goodness or simple decency?
Years ago, I reached out to help a friend struggling with multiple issues, though in hindsight the fiercest fight was within himself, and he was woefully losing. I gave him a place to stay, helped him financially, helped him find a job, supported him emotionally when the road got tough. He responded with contempt, as if the love and the help were owed to him somehow, as if he was entitled to the contents of my soul. The verbal lashing he got for his efforts could have drawn blood if I hadn’t hung up on him first, and we have not spoken since. I have cooled down over the years, but to be honest, I believe any contact he attempted to make with me would stir up my resentment and release more anger. Does that mean I have not truly forgiven him?
One of the dictionary definitions of “forgive” is to cease to feel resentment against: to forgive one’s enemies (source: dictionary.com). In this regard, I am at least striving for the release of the anger in my heart, and to halt the infection of my own heart from the diseases of theirs. A work in progess, sometimes, is an accomplishment unto itself.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” –Mahatma Gandhi