On Forgiveness

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

"Forgiving isn't something you do for someone else. It's something you do for yourself. It's saying, You're not important enough to have a stranglehold on me. It's saying, You don't get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future."
Jodi Picoult | "The Storyteller"

This quote comes from a much deeper place in Picoult's book, a place that makes any of our situations pale in comparison. Nonetheless, the principle still stands. I've been thinking a lot lately about forgiveness. Who we should or shouldn't forgive, why we do or don't do it, when enough is enough. It's important for me to say that this post is not going to be advice. It's not going to be me telling you that forgiving others is always best, because honestly, I'm not sure if I believe that. I don't know if it's always best.

When it comes to little mistakes, yes, forgive. We shouldn't be so defensive that we don't allow anyone around us to ever slip up. As for the bigger things... I don't know. Doesn't forgiving someone for doing something shitty send the message that it's okay? Couldn't it, in a way, provoke them to do whatever it is they did again, instead of prevent it? Is it a free pass? Does forgiving someone for doing something bad translate as you not standing up for yourself?

I don't have the answers to these questions. And I don't think there are any solid answers, because everyone feels differently. It's a battle between mindsets  – not forgiving somebody because they don't deserve it versus forgiving somebody because you deserve it. More often than not, we probably find ourselves stuck somewhere in the middle.

So this post isn't advice. It's me thinking out loud and considering the options, because frankly, forgiveness is hard. Forgiving people is hard. It's hard to forgive those who hurt you. It's hard to excuse someone for taking advantage of the trust you put in them. It's hard, and it's certainly not fair... but should we do it?

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I have always believed that a break-up with a friend is just as painful as a break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend. I also believe that it's not always perceived that way. "We used to date" holds much more weight than "we used to be friends." Endings to a romantic relationship are mourned, often publicly, with sad posts on social media that are subtle enough that you can pretend you were just quoting an Adele song, yet obvious enough that everyone will know you're hurting. Evenings are spent downing a pint of ice cream or a frozen pizza, or oppositely, glued to the couch being too upset to eat anything. People feel for you.

On the other hand, I've found that when you go through a friend break-up, the reaction is not always as sympathetic. "He/she isn't worth it" is thrown around a lot. "You don't need him/her anyway." Even if it's true, it feels weird. Like they're brushing it off. They don't get it. Losing a friend hurts just as much as losing a boyfriend or girlfriend, especially when it doesn't stem from the natural drifting-apart that comes with growing up. Sometimes it hurts even more, because if a romantic relationship ends, there's a possibility of catching your fall on that level of friendship. The ol' we can still be friends. It stings, but it's something. It's there if you want it. When you start at friendship and the floor falls out from under you, there's nowhere else to go. You're nothing.

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I know that I should forgive, because it's not for them, it's for ME, but how can I? Doesn't that have to involve both parties? In order to forgive, doesn't the other person have to be sorry? If they aren't sorry, then we're stuck in the same place, suffocating on all of the words that were never said. Waiting for an apology that's never going to come is its own personal form of decay. It doesn't do us any good, and it will eat away at us until all that's left is anger and resentment that, no matter how justifiable, won't translate the same to others.

If you ask me, forgiving someone is much easier said than done, and we don't have to do it. Maybe that makes me stubborn or bitter, but I think giving a person your forgiveness is an important gesture, and not every person or situation is deserving of that. Our feelings matter, damnit, so why should we write them off and serve up I forgive you on a platter unless it's been earned? To be the bigger person? Maybe being the bigger person means standing up for yourself and drawing the line. The passing of time does not equal forgiveness. It must be actively earned.

So I don't think we have to forgive. I don't think it's a necessary step on the path to happiness.

What we DO have to do is let things go. No anger, no grudges. Work out a solution, or accept that there is none. We can't let the resentment and bitterness build up so much that they weigh us down and keep us from moving forward.

Because letting go isn't something you do for someone else. It's something you do for yourself.

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