Post No.: 0335
Forgiveness is the ability to make peace without prejudice when things don’t go your way or when people don’t do what you want them to do. It’s a step towards the acceptance of past events that cannot be changed, and also a step towards resilience because things don’t always go our way. We may hope for things but give up expecting things from other people that they do not wish or choose to give to us. We’ll suffer if we cannot let a desire or demand go since we don’t always have the power to make them happen. It’s far better to direct our energies elsewhere to look for another way to get our positive goals met rather than through the experience that has hurt us.
Forgiveness is without prejudice because it’s about giving the next chapter of your life a fresh start rather than still thinking about revenge or taking your grievances out on somebody else. It’s indeed easier said than done at times but try not to blame others or hold onto the past. What’s ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ is frequently only a matter of perspective – one door shuts but another opens. Make the best of what you have right now, count your blessings, look forwards to the future.
Forgiveness is critical for the peace and harmony of any social relationship or community. The process might not be able to begin until the offending party stops causing their harms e.g. it wouldn’t be adaptive to forgive a person while in the middle of receiving a beating from them(!) It’d be more adaptive to retaliate in self-defence or otherwise seek justice in such circumstances. But once a specific person has stopped his/her harmful behaviours, and especially if legal forms of justice have been processed if a situation warrants the intervention of the law (whether you believe you received the judicial outcome you wanted or not), then it’s time to start the things that move us on, and that involves forgiveness.
Recognise that the hurt you’re feeling right now is not due to a year ago or whenever the hurtful incident happened but due to you holding your grudges right now. The bad person or bad time is not present anymore to continue hurting you thus the hurt you’re feeling right now is down to your own maladaptive thoughts. You’re hurting yourself right now. So put your time and energy into looking for another way to reach what you desire today, maybe with a better person and/or in a better place? Notice the beauty and kindness around you that you’ll likely be ignoring because you’re too focused on the pains of the past. Appreciate what you do have. Amend the way you look at the past via forgiveness, and concentrate on the present while aiming for the future, because the only moment you have any control of is the present – what’s happening right now – so don’t waste it by hanging onto the past.
Both forgiveness and vengeance are innate and adaptive in different contexts – revenge is more common if the initial transgression is made in public i.e. when the victim doesn’t want to look weak in front of others hence it’s a show of force to discourage the initial offender, and anyone else, from conducting the same transgression towards them again. After all, crime shouldn’t pay. And sometimes if we want peace, we must prepare for war (si vis pacem, para bellum) because we don’t want to be seen as easy targets for others to exploit. But even amongst the rest of the animal kingdom, reconciliation frequently occurs after conflicts both big and small. With humans, forgiveness is so common that it doesn’t even make the news headlines and people can therefore take it for granted – think of all of the arguments that occur between people’s partners, family members, friends, colleagues, etc. every single day, yet they are still living, working or communicating with each other on cordial terms. Woof!
It’s rational not to lose valuable allies – therefore it’s irrational to hold grudges and maintain enemies compared to the effort to be the bigger person and forgive. One can change certain environmental factors to promote peace or prevent cycles of vengeance – such as by having an effective and transparent policing and justice system so that people don’t feel the need to conduct their own form of justice themselves, having places where interdependence is key to everyone’s survival, having communities where people invest in each other rather than think individualistically, and having a culture and upbringing that promotes forgiveness rather than revenge, where forgiveness isn’t seen as weak but is seen as forward-thinking and long-term smart. In Post No.: 0191, Fluffystealthkitten looked at how global peace is better facilitated by having economies that are deeply entwined with each other.
When choosing to forgive a person – consider their possible unfortunate upbringing and/or life experiences that made them become the way they are/were, the contextual stresses and situation they were in when the hurtful incident(s) occurred, and their potential fears or misunderstandings. Remember that fear or insecurity, such as pertaining to one’s status if one perceives that it’s being questioned, is at the root of virtually all aggression. Those who intentionally hurt or bully others tend to have been hurt or bullied themselves. This doesn’t excuse or condone their behaviours but helps you to understand and forgive them. It helps you to take another perspective and to prevent or stop the contagion of pain and harm in society where people take their hurts out on subsequent innocent people (displacement behaviours).
If things weren’t personal or intentional then don’t take them personally or intentionally. The offender may be regretting his/her actions but afraid to tell you, so show mercy, compassion, goodwill, kindness and open a path to reconciliation for them (if it’s safe to), to show that you are indeed the bigger person. Find positive meaning and a greater purpose in your experience to forgive. Dwelling on the ways others have hurt you exacerbates negative emotions and lets them hurt you for far longer than even they likely intended or expected, thus would give them more power over you. Some offenders are precisely trying to provoke an emotional reaction from you. Wanting revenge, going out of your own way to avoid these people or wanting to see harm come their way, one way or another, makes it difficult for one to forgive them and to repair the social bonds if necessary or ideal. Wanting revenge lowers your own health and life satisfaction. In short – when we forgive another party, it’s more for our own well-being than for the benefit of the other party.
Whereas a victim must know that an apology has been given to them by an offender for an apology to be effective, forgiveness is not so much for the offender but for oneself as the victim hence you can forgive an offender yet they may never know about it. Forgiveness is therefore logically primarily for the sake of the forgiver rather than the forgiven.
Understand that forgiveness is not sentimental, nor does it condone or allow one to forget about an offence. It doesn’t suddenly mean being over-trusting or necessarily mean being fluffy friends with an offender. It is also usually not quick or easy to do either. But happiness is the best revenge! Ruminating on vengeance or grudges at a minimum wastes your own time or worse can lead to psychological and physiological harm to your own health. A grudge can keep one awake at night.
Revenge may also hold your own group or country back from progress as resources are spent on preparing for another round of battles rather than more positive and productive activities. Regarding inter-group conflicts, people who weren’t even there, or perhaps weren’t even yet born, during an original transgression can sometimes hold grudges greater and for longer than those who were actually present e.g. war veterans can forgive their old enemies once the war is over, but people who weren’t at the frontline or who merely indirectly learned about the battles their relatives were involved in decades later can find it harder to empathise with the context of the conflict or forgive a nation of people, even though we shouldn’t generalise entire nations of people and many generations have passed since those events. If the dust has settled then revenge hurts yourself and kicks up the dust again. Dig one grave for your enemy and one grave for yourself. Forgiveness is the only way to stop a grudge and the associated misery being passed onto any further future generations.
So forgiveness is about changing one’s attitude towards the original hurt. It reduces avoidance (whereas a grudge makes people want to avoid each other or stonewall) and can increase empathy for both the offender and the victim. It does not condone the wrong, absolve the responsibility of the offender, mean that we should forget what happened, or necessarily lead to reconciliation with the offender(s) though – it doesn’t give up on justice. But forgiveness reduces your own stress levels and hate and will mean that you’ll no longer be constantly in a fight-or-flight mode, as you would be if you keep thinking about plotting revenge. Reducing your stress is of course to the benefit of your own health again. Forgiveness is linked with decreased stress, anxiety and depression.
Certainly, once justice has been served e.g. an offender has served his/her time in jail or ban duration, we should forgive because time cannot be turned back. If not then a grudge just self-inflicts damage onto ourselves and no one else – the offender may have moved onto a new chapter in his/her own life yet you sadly haven’t. If you didn’t like the ‘referee’s decision’, as it were, then raise it with the referee, not the offending party. Well even if we don’t get the judicial ruling we want, we can still forgive while continuing to appeal the ruling – not for the sake of revenge since lives cannot be brought back but for the sake of the lessons that should be learnt for the future so that future lives can be potentially saved.
So compromise a little for the sake of peace, for your own mind, your family and/or for a valuable and productive relationship if it’s someone you must see again; rather than ‘keep score’ or try to get even. Due to our biases, ‘getting even’ seldom is truly even – it’s usually less ‘an eye for an eye’ and more ‘a face for an eye’ hence conflicting parties tend to endlessly escalate their vengeance, one-upmanship or ‘getting the last word in’ against each other. Let go of petty arguments (and most arguments have petty origins) and don’t re-raise past transgressions against people. Try to see from each other’s perspectives rather than dwell on ‘fairness’ or compensations. Our perceptions of ‘fairness’ are also very biased too!
Big transgressions must be forgiven rather than made even – two wrongs don’t make a right. The world is more densely populated and connected than ever, with risks of innocent people getting caught in the crossfire (who may then seek revenge against you and/or your family) so we must practise skills like forgiveness because it’s harder and harder to move away from other people.
Woof. Elderly people seem to naturally find it easier to forgive, possibly because they know that life’s too short not to. If so then they’re right – life is indeed too short to not forgive and move on…