Forgiving / Forgiven?

A continuation of a theme.

I’ve talked before about the ‘problems’ inherent in practising being a forgiving and compassionate person: being compassionate does not mean that you allow yourself to be continually punched in the face. It is absolutely not about anger or vengeance, of course, but it’s not about being a pushover; a doormat, either. After all, being compassionate is worth little if it doesn’t extend to yourself, too. On this subject I have often said to frazzled friends that it is not only important, but vital, that they also look after themselves. Far from being selfish, as we have often been conditioned to perceive such things, what kind of mother are we capable of being, what kind of nurturing will we provide our children, if we have not ensured that the provider is rested and fed too? We all know how patience wears thinner with tiredness, or hunger. And I’m not just talking about the children!

What I want to address here is the polarity – being forgiving and being forgiven. One is under our control, the other most certainly isn’t. One is an internal responsibility, the other an external by-product.

Let’s take a theoretical example. You have argued with a friend. Each of you believes you are right and there is a stand-off; you have reached an impasse. I read once, in a little book entitled Communication Miracles for Couples, this question: “Would you rather be right, or loved?” The seemingly most innocuous and throwaway of little questions, it is actually really rather fundamental. It’s a matter of priorities, isn’t it? How important is it that you are right? Is it more important than, say, the friendship? At this point, ideally, the answer is no and the friends can ‘agree to disagree’ as a last resort. We are loving enough toward one another not to want to fight about it any more. But the important part of this scenario is that you let go of the resentment. It is one thing to say I don’t care if I’m right or not; and quite another to let it fester and moulder – that’s the fast track to another falling out.

The specific problem I am grappling with right now is: What if you have forgiven it, forgotten it, let it go, but the other party hasn’t? What if, quite the opposite of getting past it and moving on, the other party is intent on creating difficulty for you as a result of your past disagreement? Research on the subject will show you that information and advice is scarce out there. We are told to forgive, but what if you are faced with a relentless desire to hurt you? The first advice I would give is to look to your personal responsibility. Your initial move is to turn in on yourself with radical honesty and investigate your actions, reactions, motivations and intentions. And if you find that you have strayed from your code in any way, it is your responsibility to address it, and to put it right. But if you find that you have not; that you have honestly done all in your power to make it right (and it is important here, going back to the first paragraph, not to simply acquiesce to doormatting and scapegoating in order to create peace – being a sacrificial lamb is not the way forward to a respectful, lasting and meaningful relationship either), then the responsibility is no longer yours. You are responsible only for the effort, not the outcome. (And that sentence is, I believe, important enough to merit reading again and allowing to sink in). It is over to your friend to do the same thing.

But, in the meantime and as the punishment goes on, what can you do?

If you have mindfully – calmly, reasonably and respectfully – explained your position to the best of your ability, then the only course of action would appear to be to maintain your distance and repel the attacks in the hope that the cycle into which your friend is locked breaks and the ability to forgive and forget is one day granted to him, too.

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