The BOX of forgiveness is not easy to break open. This is a lesson I have had to learn throughout my life: the ability to forgive not only others, but myself. Forgiveness is quintessential to self harmony and building a greater society.
I’m currently in Portland as I continue my book writing road trip. A friend from California happened to be visiting at the same time I rolled into town so we met up for dinner. As usual I engaged in philosophical discussion and our conversation eventually turned to the concept of forgiveness. My personal road to understanding forgiveness has been difficult and at times laden with the darkness of self doubt. I’ll admit I haven’t always led a virtuous life. Reconciliation has been hard to find and for a long time I spiraled down a negative loop of self hatred which permeated my being. I had to not only teach myself how to forgive others, but above all else learn how to forgive myself. This lesson has been crucial to removing internal dissonance that may breed within.
I used to think forgiveness had to be qualified based on rules and criteria which would manifest in internal questions. The questions that I held had to be rethought and deconstructed:
How could I forgive someone who hadn’t changed or learned their lesson? Wouldn’t be forgiving this person just be enabling them to continue their bad behavior?
How could I forgive those who had committed seemingly unforgivable atrocities?
How could I forgive those who had caused me harm?
How could I forgive myself for the harm I had done others?
Instead of forgiving wouldn’t it just be easier to forget?
All of these questions and many others have troubled me at one time or another and I know they trouble you, also. I have come to the conclusion that forgiveness must be unilateral. Yes, this is a seemingly absolute statement that I’m making and I know that I often state that absolutes are dangerous and non-existent. Let me qualify myself by saying that forgiveness must be unilateral in our current state of humanity in order for us to move towards a more compassionate state of being. Until we evolve into a higher state of being, forgiveness needs to be viewed thusly.
I had a new friend recently propose that it may be bi-lateral. That it takes two for forgiveness to truly work: the harmer to ask for forgiveness and the harmed to forgive. I can see his point, but this line of thinking falls into some of the categories of questions I posed earlier. If this is the case, then forgiveness really should be omni-lateral and encompassing all of society. However, we are not currently acting as one forgiving, compassionate mass. As it stands, it is up to the individual to spread forgiveness unilaterally inwards and outwards. It has to start with the one when consensus is lacking.
There are many religious and philosophic thoughts on forgiveness. The constant that runs through all schools of thought is that forgiveness is always the better road and outlook.
– Jesus Christ preached unilateral forgivenes: “And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'” Luke 23: 34
– The Qur’an makes it clear that, whenever possible, it is better to forgive another than to attack another. The Qur’an describes the believers as those who, avoid gross sins and vice, and when angered they forgive. (Qur’an 42:37)
– In Buddhism: “He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’ — in those who harbor such thoughts hatred will never cease.” “He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me’ — in those who do not harbor such thoughts hatred will cease.”(Dhammapada 1.3-4)
– In Hinduism: “There is one only defect in forgiving persons, and not another; that defect is that people take a forgiving person to be weak. That defect, however, should not be taken into consideration, for forgiveness is a great power. Forgiveness is a virtue of the weak, and an ornament of the strong. Forgiveness subdues (all) in this world; what is there that forgiveness cannot achieve? What can a wicked person do unto him who carries the sabre of forgiveness in his hand? Fire falling on the grassless ground is extinguished of itself. And unforgiving individual defiles himself with many enormities. Righteousness is the one highest good; and forgiveness is the one supreme peace; knowledge is one supreme contentment; and benevolence, one sole happiness.” (From the Mahabharata, Udyoga Parva Section XXXIII)
When we do not forgive ourselves we ultimately harm ourselves. We create a dissonance within that cannot be reconciled and this permeates and perpetuates into society. When we do not forgive others we cut them off to the prospect of our love and create walls between ourselves. It is an endless negative feedback loop. Does this mean that we excuse those who cause great harm to others? No, but if we harbor hatred for them then we are no better off.
Forgiveness is one of the hardest acts to not only commit, but to commit consistently. It takes great personal strength and recognition of great strength in each other to be able to forgive. I believe we all hold this strength within. We must help to bring it out in each other. Without forgiveness all other acts of compassion are meaningless and superficial.
– Forgiving Rabbit