Our global social environment has grown toxic, partisan, combative, inhospitable to reconciliation and outright hostile towards forgiveness. Recently world leaders have encouraged a decrease in hostility, suggesting collaboration.
So Pollyanna says, “We all just need to get along.”
No way, Pollyanna. we’re angry!
Acclimatised to wild accusations and angry rhetoric, bingeing on opinions and starving for a small measure of truth and ethical judgment, it’s little wonder forgiveness has become rare as a unicorn.
Forgiveness is a generous act dependent on a sincere desire to remain in relationship.
What if I refuse relationships? When differences cause affection to grow into contempt, resentment often takes up residence potentially damaging any attempt at reconciliation. A relationship becomes unrealistic if I judge the actions of another to be unforgivable.
Hungarian-American academic, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Thomas Szasz writes, “The stupid neither forgive nor forget; the naive forgive and forget; the wise forgive but do not forget.”
Szasz’s words are a bit harsh but speak to the complex nature of forgiveness.
Medicine or poison, it’s your choice.
The forgiveness/resentment dilemma is a multi-purpose tool capable of evoking the best of humanity or summoning the worst. One of the more paradoxical human characteristics, the capacity to forgive is shadowed by the willingness to hold a grudge.
An argument can be made that resentment thrives in the past, and inhibits the individual from fully participating in the present. An equally strong argument can be made that the past informs the present. To forgive prematurely, simply to avoid conflict or soothe a guilty conscience, only kicks the can down the road.
I value the ability to self-examine and appreciate when others attempt to be accountable for the impact of their actions. I regain trust when I see a consistent shift in the behaviour that offends me. Forgiveness implies we have an agreement.
Some say forgiveness liberates the offended and the alternative – resentment – is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies. I admire people with a large capacity to forgive when they also show the discernment to offer forgiveness wisely.
Forgiveness is conditional and can be withdrawn if agreements are broken. I may choose to offer a second chance. But I also want assurance. Can I trust?
Chronic abuse, disrespect and irresponsible behaviour don’t deserve forgiveness. They demand accountability.
“We all just need to get along.”
Suggesting that forgive and forget might be reasonable solution to our social toxicity is foolish. Many of the issues separating us require self-examination, accountability and action. Forgiveness alone won’t remedy the issues dividing humanity nor should it.
We can’t change the past. And it’s often challenging to be in the present. But we can shape the future by applying forgiveness wisely.
Listen or Watch The Wisdom Track Podcast on Forgiveness featuring Snake and his colleagues from Folsom Prison’s therapy group at 4pm on Saturday 21 November here.