On... forgiveness (and other things)
The human condition is a strange one. From birth, we are tossed about like cargo in a ship, physically and otherwise. Yet, for all the jostling we endure throughout our lives, we pick ourselves back up and carry on. Oftentimes, this isn’t because we necessarily want to, but because have to. Life, and the relationships we cultivate along the way, give us little choice.
As we wade through the muck of childhood into adulthood, most of us are presented with lessons to help us navigate the rough seas. Lessons in how to be a good human, a good partner, a good friend. But like everything we learn in our lives, some people are better at applying that knowledge to the real world. This is because as we get older, it becomes apparent that talking about something is far easier than doing something. For example, if you say, "I took out the trash," it takes very little effort vs. actually getting the back from the bin, tying it up, and walking it out to another bin.
Our life lessons over the years are similar. Take support, for example, a tenet of every good friendship. Saying you will be there for someone requires far less energy than actually being there. To be there for someone, to be supportive, is ripe with complications that most people aren’t willing to deal with. Whether it be a shoulder to cry on or lending out a few bucks, support requires energy, commitment, and time. Much like taking out the trash, it requires an investment of sorts, action. For some, just saying they will be supportive is enough. It makes them feel good, accomplished, and they can rest easy knowing that they at least put the offer out there. Unfortunately, as is often the case, when it comes time to cash the check that they wrote with that offer, it bounces. What’s most unfortunate, however, is many people will not lose a wink of sleep over that bounced check. After all, they have their own problems to deal with and while they did offer themselves as a friend, they can’t reasonably be expected to follow through with the offer because it would upset their own cart.
Empathy is another life lesson that good in theory but harder in practice (on this, I will be brief as I have much more to say about empathy, or lack thereof, in the 21st century). To say, “I feel you,” is easy. The question then becomes, do you really? Do you say you empathize with a person’s plight because you do, or because it somehow makes you feel better, thus absolving you from any real responsibility? I would charge, in many situations, it is the latter. But unlike sympathy, empathy can be provided without ever having walked in that person’s shoes. Rather, being empathetic is a matter of casting your mind and heart out to that person and at least trying to understand. In turn, empathy requires that you back this up with some sort of action, even something as small as conversation. Because, in the end, humans only want to feel connected to other humans. Empathy, in times of trouble, allows for that connection.
This all leads me to the last lesson and what this is all about: forgiveness. Like support and empathy, we are taught at an early age how to forgive. As the years tick by, forgiveness becomes more challenging because the situations become tougher. You aren’t having to forgive a sibling for taking drinking your juice, or forgiving a friend for saying something mean to you. Adulthood forgiveness can be complex, tedious, and brutally difficult.
I was recently presented with a situation where I found myself at a decision point while being thrust out into the cold. On one path, I could wrap myself in the warm blanket of anger, spite, malcontent. On the other, I could endure the cold and hope that forgiveness would eventually take away the chill. In the moment--or rather, moments as most adulthood situations are fluid--the former felt right. It’s cathartic and self-serving. And, since I was wronged, why not allow myself a little selfishness? But then I got to thinking: what purpose does it serve? For me, it didn’t take much reflection to understand anger and everything with it serves zero purpose. In the moment, it may feel good, but later, when the dust settles, I knew it would be a detriment to me and those around me. So, I chose forgiveness. It is, as one can imagine, much more difficult to put this life lesson into practice. It is even more difficult when I find myself not only having to provide forgiveness, but to attempt to get it from others for the people who put me in this situation.
There are two questions that likely come to mind. The first is, why? The answer, though in two parts, is simple. 1) I may need forgiveness in the future as no human is infallible. How could I ever ask for it if I am not willing to provide it? 2) People make mistakes. While it is acceptable to feel disappointment and other negative emotions toward that mistake, in the long run, holding on to those feelings will only compound your misery.
The second question is: is it worth it? Yes. Life is hard enough as it is. Between work, kids, friends, spouses, it’s a lot to juggle. Constantly juggling negativity for a situation you cannot change makes all the rest much more complicated. Adulthood comes with a load of expectations that requires a clear and open mind. Moreover, being a human being requires having a heart that is willing to take it all in and expunge what doesn’t help you grow. Anger, hostility, grudges, and the like all seek to sabotage your growth as a person. The sooner you can rid yourself of those clouds, the sooner you’ll see the sun. In other words, forgiveness forges the path to moving forward.
I will leave you with this: to be a good human, you must act like a good human. This means you must walk the walk of your talk. It means you must be supportive when it’s hard. It means you must provide empathy to those in need. And it means finding forgiveness. It will be challenging, frustrating, and sometimes maddening. But I promise, it is worth it. All these childhood lessons, when put in practice, not only help you grow, but they also help those around you grow as well. Perhaps that is why we are taught them from the beginning. The key is to remember them as we get older.