I love the Becoming Minimalist blog. But I loathe the idea that some people aren’t toxic and that sometimes normal people don’t deserve to say “no more.” I do NOT say that forgiveness is not worth striving for. I also do NOT say that forgiveness requires reconciliation with the person who has wronged you.
For this post, I’m not focusing so much on the criminal justice aspect of forgiveness. This mostly refers to interpersonal forgiveness.
Why must “forgiveness” be collectively agreed upon to be a total acceptance of what someone has done to you AND that you allow the person full access to your life and emotions again? This goes against what I see day in and day out, regardless of religious viewpoint or temperament of those involved.
Let us all perhaps agree that if someone has wronged you and you’ve made peace with what happened, that you have arrived at a mental place where you are no longer wasting time or emotional injury on the wrong and don’t wish any ill will toward the person who wronged you, then this counts as “forgiveness.” Is that too much to ask? We shouldn’t treat all wrongs as equal in the eyes of a victim. Being gossiped about is not comparable to being abused, stolen from, or accused of something vile.
The essence of forgiveness is whether the wrong has not only left a scar, but changed the focus of the victim to anything except full pursuit of his or her own life and without further consideration for the wrong done to him or her. – x
“Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as revenge, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), pardoning (granted by a representative of society, such as a judge), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship)….”
Someone I know once said “I might forgive him, but I’m not going to go to lunch with him.” This attitude speaks of an intelligent decision, made with the intention of not spending any more life energy on the person being forgiven, nor judging or interfering in that person’s trajectory, now separate from your own. There’s no reconciliation with the person who wronged you, but neither is there a focus on the ‘wrong’ that happened, nor wasted time or emotions from the victim. I think this is a great baseline for forgiveness.
To forgive isn’t to forget, despite the cliché…
It is easy to preach and recommend that everyone practice forgiveness and acceptance. But what do you say about people affected by violence, abuse, anger, alcoholism, drug abuse and sheer evil?
For those of you who have lived bountiful lives and have never known just plain evil, toxic people, good for you. I’m no advocate for violence or reprisals – but I’m certainly not for putting yourself back into the reaches of people who violate the world and the people in it. There are enough great people in the world to justify not getting slapped in the face repeatedly by those you have around you due to “forgiveness.” Better to spend your valuable time focusing on the good people and as for the rest, I vote to make it a case-by-case basis.
When you are preaching about forgiveness and acceptance during the holidays, please take a long minute to mention that you understand that many people are suffering under situations that don’t deserve a second attempt. (Or twenty-third try, for that matter.) Knowing that someone is akin to a deadly viper and taking steps to avoid a venomous bite is not a mark against your well-being or mental health!
It is quite possible to write toxic people out of your life without needing to forgive them, if you are using any definition other than the one I proposed. It’s a strange attitude that excludes the ability to be at peace despite having given up on a few people. At times it isn’t rational to try to reach out to someone who has grossly demonstrated their horrible inner self. Decades of careful observation has proven to me that most people don’t truly forgive those who has truly done them evil. It might be an ideal, but one which finds little practice in the world.
I know countless people who say they have forgiven in-laws, ex-friends and co-workers, yet they freely admit that they will never be comfortable with them again. In many cases, they won’t be in the same place with them at the same time, or talk to them ever again. Despite avoiding any contact with those they have forgiven, they would still say that they have truly forgiven the people who grievously wronged them. Which I understand. (I’m not sure this falls under “forgiveness,” though)
Recently, it seems I’ve been inundated with variations on a theme due to people advocating blanket forgiveness and that not doing so equals some defect in those who don’t practice universal and unilateral forgiveness. I think these people need to try to understand what I think a healthy definition of forgiveness is.
Odds and ends…
Even the Christian god is believed to reserve the right of condemnation to hell for those who are deemed unworthy. And yet the New Testament preaches that god is about love. I know it’s an argument away from my thesis, but both god’s judgment and god’s love make for strange bedfellows when butted up against any argument in favor of forgiveness.
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi
“Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive.”
― Wm. Paul Young, The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity
“What was the point of being able to forgive, when deep down, you both had to admit you’d never forget?”
― Jodi Picoult, The Tenth Circle
“Forgiveness means it finally becomes unimportant that you hit back. You’re done. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to have lunch with the person. If you keep hitting back, you stay trapped in the nightmare…”
― Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith
“To err is human, to forgive, divine.”
― Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism
“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”
― John F. Kennedy
“To be wronged is nothing, unless you continue to remember it.”
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
― Nelson Mandela
“Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them so much.” – Oscar Wilde
“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” – William Blake