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Notes: When and How to Forgive

Kathryn Rombs 1/10

2 Preface

I have written these notes on how and when to forgive for this reason. When someone hurts us, we are rightly offended and rightly broken in our relationship and trust with that person. There is no virtue at all, in my opinion, in minimizing or deceiving ourselves regarding the offense and trying to get ourselves to believe that its not so bad after all. One of the real skills in life is being honest about our experience and confessing what has pained us the most. The ironic thing about human nature, however, is that as beneficial as it is to be honest about our breaches in relationships, it is correlatively harmful to remain in that awareness and pain for long. When our frustration at someone else remains within us with no plans to vacate, we become the worse for it. For example, anger, a passing feeling, becomes bitterness, a deeply embedded reality in our souls. Bitterness infects our other experiences, makes us cynical, overly independent, and unable to trust even the most trustworthy people. We become compromised in our relationships and our lives reduce in their capacity for authentic joy and the other gifts that mark becoming happy. In other cases, self-doubt or self-loathing gives rise to depression or a false sense of our inablilities. We hide these fears and weaknesses and develop a substantial hidden part of ourselves, working harder to project a falsely positive image of ourselves to others. Accordingly, we are weaker, harder to know, harder to trust, than we were before we got hurt. The sad truth is that we inadvertently hurt ourselves for having been wrongeda double wrong. We need to take responsibility, then, for our own responses to the pains that life

3 inevitably brings. The best way to move these hurts out of ourselves is to forgive those who have hurt us. Forgiveness is often misunderstood as diminishing the offense. But that is not so. Forgiveness is the one way available to the human person to truthfully acknowledge the offense (in fact, forgiveness depends upon it) and then to release it. Forgiveness does not fix the problem or undo it. But one of its functions is to move the anger and eventual bitterness or self-loathing that can harm us out of our minds and souls. Most people underestimate the power of forgiveness, usually for having misunderstood it or having found it too elusive to appropriate in their actual experience. Many non-religious people think that it belongs only within the sphere of religion (not at all true) and many religious people do not succeed at it because they do not realize that it is a process, not an event. When their anger resurfaces after forgiving, they think they have failed, and resort to some other way of coping with the pain. The most optimistic pattern, then, is to acknowledge honestly our hurts in their fullest, and then, as quickly as honesty allows, forgive those very hurts. Sometimes both steps can be taken in one day. In other cases, it will take us six months to become fully honest about our hurts, and another six months or even several years to fully forgive that hurt. Quickness is not of value here; authenticity and faithfulness to the process is.

I. When it Seems Impossible to Forgive

4 When someone has wronged you with a minor offense, and she approaches you and apologizes, we know how to forgive. We say, Its alright, and mean that we will not hold a grudge, that we will overlook the transaction and that the person is not in debt to us over that occurrence. When a friend takes a bus token or a beer that is yours and then apologizes (meaning, I am sorry and I will not do it again,) and replaces the item, we can forgive them. We are back on good terms. But most situations in which we are wrongedor in which we wrong others or ourselvesare not this tidy. Sometimes, the person wronging you does not apologize. Even worse, the person, whether she has apologized or not, shows no sign of changing her ways. We can even count on repeat occurrences as we can count on death and taxes. When she has not apologized, and you know she will persist in hurting you, it seems that there is no possibility or reason to forgive her. If she has apologized, and yet you are sure she will not change her ways, then there is equally no apparent grounds for genuine forgiveness, and forgiveness seems equally unwarranted. In such a case, it is actually more upsetting, because if you cannot forgive and yet she is apologizing, you appear small-hearted or begrudging, when in fact you are the one on the moral high ground. The pain of the persisting breach is compounded by falsely appearing to be the worse of the two parties involved. One complex situation regarding forgiveness pertains to people with whom you have a permanent relationship. If your spouse abuses alcohol, and after a drunken and embarrassing evening, apologizes the next day but you have no reason to believe that the problem is actually resolved for the future, can you really forgive? If your parent is chronically lying to you, and you catch him in a lie, and he apologizes, but you know he

5 will do it again, can you genuinely forgive? Ongoing behavior patterns in permanent relationships pose a threat to real forgiveness. Another seemingly impossible scenario for forgiveness is regarding a person with whom you have no contact: a dead person; a murderer or rapist who is on the loose and with whom you will probably never communicate; a group of people who have collectively hurt you (a company, a nation, etc.) but who have no representative for such communication. A third complexity has to do with people who have acted in a way that was morally permissible and good for their interests, but you are the one who paid the price. A husband who announces to his wife that he is gay and divorces her; a parent who has to take a job in a new town but the move is traumatic for the child; a parent who is depressed or has a severe personality disorder, and hurts her child simply by being in such pain. What kind of genuine apology is possible in these situations? What type of changed behavior, reconciliation or repair can you really expect? By extension, a fourth scenario is one in which you yourself have done what is right for you, but have made others pay a price. As you watch others suffer at your hand, but you must persist in seeking what is right for you, how do you forgive yourself for making them suffer? Even if they say they forgive you, you have to forgive yourself, and as they are still suffering, it seems immoral to extend forgiveness to yourself. You feel that you should suffer as long as they do. So you withhold forgiveness from yourself. Sometimes you cannot forgive yourself because you have done something genuinely wrong. Whether the other hurt person can forgive you or not, you have to forgive yourself. This is perhaps the hardest of all the scenarios. Most of us do not feel

6 that we can forgive ourselves when we have committed true crimes or inflicted great pain, because to forgive ourselves seems tantamount to lowering our own standards of right and wrong. But our standards do not actually change; we just offended our own sensibilities. We are often disgusted with ourselves, and cannot get away from this feeling. Forgiving ourselves seems like saying, It is really not so bad. But we know it is. Hence we do not forgive ourselves.

II. What Forgiveness is and is Not There are two common problems in all these cases that must be cleared up in order to learn to forgive in difficult circumstances. The first is that, when we seek forgiveness, we are usually seeking resolution and reconciliation. We expect a righting of the wrong, a changed mind and a restored desire. For most people, when they see that total repair or restoration is not possible, they come to believe that forgiveness is impossible: they need to endure in a broken state, accept the disillusionment, live with the breech. The person shuts down consideration of forgiveness and opens up the question about how to overlook, distract oneself or move on. If one distances oneself enough from the problem and if enough time passes, maybe the pain will dissolve even if repair never occurs. The only hope lies in thinking about something else, living a different life, having a different relationship. The second common problem is that most people fear that forgiving a wrong means condoning the action. We do not want to forgive an action if we fear that our forgiveness will be taken to mean that we think the action is permissible. If the offense is grave, if the offender is not apologetic, or if the offense is likely to recur, we withhold

7 forgiveness, as though to say, No, this really is wrong, and fear that befriending the person and being kind will be taken to mean that we do not find the behavior as reprehensible as we really do. To forgive often looks like acceptance, and acceptance is the opposite of what we want to do. So once again, we refuse to forgive. This applies to forgiving oneself: when we are disgusted with ourselves, and know how wrong we are, we fear that to forgive ourselves will ultimately mean that we condone our behavior, that which we dislike the most in ourselves. Somehow, not forgiving ourselves might help us stay clear of repeat occurrences and make us better people. It is my personal opinion that learning to forgive in these complex situations takes snapping out of our instincts, rising above our natural thought patterns, and becoming great people. These scenarios are the occasions for transitioning from animal to human, from baby to adult, from spoiled to mature, from chained to free, from common to rare. Getting these scenarios right is what separates the Buddha, Socrates and Christ apart and is in part why we admire them. These situations are the opportunity for interior growth and self-mastery, and are the chance for us to become the people that deep down, we all want to become. To be unapologetically practical: the first step in getting these situations right is to take a brief period of refreshing oneself, separating oneself from the pain, taking an extended vacation from the problem. Distracting oneself, getting a break or change of scenery is completely necessary in order to get up the reserves, accumulate ones best resources, to then do the hardest work life has to offer. Taking a month or two from all communication with a person, or leaving town for a good long vacation is nothing but honorable (even if unpopular) when it is in the service of genuine forgiveness.

8 Forgiveness can and should wait until one is refreshed and in a good place, so that the forgiveness can be of the very best quality. No one will support you and everyone will criticize your decision. But genuine forgiveness is worth that price. Then when it comes time to forgive, one must learn in both mind and heart, in the intellect and in the gut 1) how to forgive without the prospect of genuine reconciliation, and 2) how to forgive while not condoning. Once these two misconceptions are cleared away, one can commit to genuine forgiveness, the nature of which is worth articulating.

III. Forgiveness without Reconciling While common images of forgiveness include two parties embracing with tears in their eyes and confessing their mutual affection, that is not a good depiction of forgiveness. It is a depiction of reconciliation. While reconciliation can follow

forgiveness, it does not necessarily. One can extend genuine forgiveness to a person and yet remain thoroughly unreconciled with them. Genuine forgiveness is releasing a person from a debt. Originally, forgiveness was strictly a legal term: one party is in debt to another, for example, having borrowed $100 and owing it to the lender. The forgiveness of the other party meant releasing them from this monetary debt. The lender says that the borrower no longer needs to repay the $100. While justice dictates that the money should be returned, the lender can look at other circumstances, such as the other struggles of the borrower, the burden that the loan is placing on the friendship, etc., and decide that being generous or charitable or preserving the relationship is worth more than justice in this case. Hence the lender releases the borrower from the debt.

9 The term has taken on a personal meaning: if one person has not given another what she thinks she deserves (respect, honor, an apology, fulfillment of a promise made, loyalty, etc.), her sense of justice is offended and she thinks that what has been withheld is still owed. She is not at peace with the person until it is given. To forgive in this personal sense means no longer to need what has been withheld. It is to take a new approach in ones mind, no longer seeing the person as obliged to give you that apology or explanation or fidelity or respect. Since justice has not been honored, and you do deserve respect, and if you have been disrespected, then that person does owe you restored respect. To forgive the person who has disrespected you is not to say that justice does not require this payment of respect. Rather, it is to say that there is something that is more important than justice. It is to say: I will find other people to respect me, other relationships where justice is upheld. I will not want for respect, even if I do not get it from this person. But I choose to prioritize X over justice in this case. X can be 1) compassion on the weakness of the other person who could not be respectful; 2) doing to someone what we wish others would do to us, since we are sometimes the one at fault; 3) not liking the interior burden of carrying obligations on this other person (it takes internal resources to uphold justice and can be very draining); and so on. It is not that our sense of justice is erased or compromised; we can maintain the highest standards of justice and still be able to articulate clearly what we think is owed. But once articulated, we do not need to enforce the payment still to be perfectly just. We just choose to be perfectly charitable, compassionate, independent, or some other value, and let this choice come at the expense of the enforcement of our comprehension of what would be ideally just. This does not make us less just. This just makes us people who have other values in addition

10 to justice. If forgiveness is the release of a person from a tangible or interpersonal debt, then it is clear how this can happen without reconciliation. A farmer can lend a worker a shovel. The worker sells the shovel and uses the money instead of giving it back to the farmer. The farmer can either pursue justice and demand the return of the shovel, or the farmer can forgive the debt. The farmer might choose to have compassion on how poor the farmer is and how much in need of money he is; the farmer might decide that this worker is too hard to reason with, or that the shovel is not worth the battle. Whatever the reason, the farmer could decide to forgive the debt: not just move on but secretly thinking the worker owes the return of the shovel, but genuinely erase the debt from his mind. To forgive is an interior action that has to do with freedom. If the farmer chooses not to confront the worker, but secretly holds a grudge, he has not forgiven the worker. To forgive is an interior change that authentically releases the person from the debt. The worker is completely released from any further obligation with regard to the borrowing. But the worker might not be grateful. He might be hostile and mean to the farmer. He might take advantage of the farmer or accuse the farmer of not giving enough to the worker. They do not need to be personally reconciled or on good terms for the farmer to maintain his release of the debt. They can be on poor terms and the farmer, while not desiring the worker for a friend or companion, can still choose to let the worker keep the shovel rather than maintain a sense of him owing the return of the shovel. Genuine forgiveness is essentially independent of the two parties reconciling or having a restored relationship.

11 IV. Forgiveness without Condoning If forgiveness is the release from a debt, it does not require condoning an action. While a person might say, Its alright or Its okay to indicate forgiveness, that does not mean that the forgiving person believes that the action is morally neutral to good. It means precisely the opposite. If the farmer has loaned the worker a shovel and the worker does not return it, the farmer knows that justice dictates the return of the shovel. Accordingly, the failure of the return is the failure of justice. To forgive is to say, Even though you owe me the shovel, I have decided to no longer hold you responsible to give it back. [its okay means that its ok not to return the shovel, not that not returning it was ok.] When the farmer forgives the debt, he does not like not getting his property returned. He does not assign this behavior a positive moral value. If he did condone the action, he would not be forgiving. He would be changing his moral code, his sense of justice. He might be taking on communistic values or some such change of perspective. In that case, not insisting that the shovel be returned is being creative with values. But it can no longer be forgiveness. Forgiveness actually depends on maintaining the sense of justice while choosing to override it with a higher priority. Hence condoning an action is to eliminate the possibility of genuine forgiveness. It is rather to change your moral code. The farmer might be concerned that, in not pursuing the return of the shovel, the message is being sent to the worker and others who know about the situation that the farmer does not mind being stolen from. Maybe he worries that others will steal from him. We often withhold forgiveness precisely because we do not want to send the message that we condone this type of behavior.

12 Based on the distinction between forgiving a monetary debt and an interior one, it is possible to forgive on an interior level, while maintaining equity and justice as much as possible. So, for example, the farmer might forgive the worker in his heart, not holding a grudge, but still insist that the worker repay the debt in some way. He might ask for a certain number of labor hours from the worker, the value of which would be equivalent to the value of the shovel. He might do this, not out of revenge or the satisfaction of being wronged, but out of a sense of healthy community life, thinking that the community as a whole benefits from the enforcement of what is fair. The farmer can enforce the

repayment out of a sense of hurt or anger, or alternatively from a sense of charity. It can be better for the worker to be held accountable than not. But the farmer can forgive the worker long before the repayment is made. Often, the choice as to whether to seek restitution for a wrong or loss has to do with pedagogy: whether the one forgiving has any teaching influence over the other person. A parent or any authority figure is almost always responsible to seek restitution, even if she has already forgiven the person in her heart. Conversely, when a peer or someone with higher authority than ourselves wrongs us, we often forgive without seeking restitution. We do not take on the responsibility of teaching a lesson to such people.

V. Why Forgive There are several main reasons to forgive. The main one is that the human person needs to be able to transcend justice if she wants to be happy. Justice is important. One

13 should not overlook justice; if one has a weak sense of justice, then she should cultivate it. Justice is critical for good character and happiness, because without it, all acceptance is compliance. It is letting other people dominate you and you just tolerating whatever behavior confronts you. To be universally compliant is never to make any real choices, and hence is to forgo the possibility of making any good choices that form good character and a happy life. But like rungs on a ladder, justice being an important one at the bottom, justice is meant to be transcended. Without a bottom rung, a middle rung is not secure. Without the bottom one, the vertical posts of the ladder might swing this way and that, and stretch in a way that breaks the middle rung. The bottom rung supports the higher ones. In the same way, justice supports forgiveness. Without justice, real forgiveness is not possible. But a bottom rung is not sufficient either. Justice has to do with being wronged and wanting to rectify the wrong. But we will always be wronged. For most people, the family, friends and colleagues that make up their lives are quirky, hurtful, stingy and selfabsorbed. No matter how much they love them and how much there is to like about them, there is on the whole just as much to criticize about them. This is inescapable. Being a great person, one of good character and one who experiences a flourishing in their life, means not being bound to righting every wrong. If we make our happiness contingent upon that, we will fail. Yet to be compliant, to dissociate, to look the other way, to avoid what is hurtful is equally as bad: we cannot help but avoid the whole person as we avoid what we do not like about them. We cannot be around them, because what we do not like will inevitably rear its head. But then we cannot be around them at all, thus losing what is good about them as well. Essentially, we abandon them in

14 the name of being hurt. We are ultimately weaker people for such an approach, because we are reactive to them, choosing not to go here if they are here, choosing to be in that room if they are in this one. Theyactually, their faultsare controlling us. That is to be a very weak person and not at all in charge of our own flourishing. To flourish as a person means being able to weather storms. It means being able to love people well, even in their weaknesses, faults and tragedies. It means being able to remain faithful to a friend or loved one, accepting them for who they are. The mechanics for this strength is forgiveness. It is the actual tool that a person needs in order to become this kind of person. To forgive is to choose not to control. It is to allow people their own choices. Certain relationships have authority in them: parents are authoritative over children before the children are on their own; spouses enjoy and mutual authority over one another, helping each other to become happy, healed and fully alive. But when your grown child, your friend, your sister or neighbor makes a choice that you strongly disagree with, and you have done all you can to explain your view (depending on what the nature of the given relationships allows, and some allow not much at all), you are a better person to allow them to make their own choices. It is a more true reflection of the reality: you should not exercise authority that you do not have. It is to see the world more truthfully to acknowledge their right to make choices, and to allow them theirs, even if they make choices you do not like. Some children have to forgive parents who have divorced. This is not to say that the child is happy about the decision. But it is to acknowledge that the parent is a human being with a right to make his own choices. When the child forgives, she is not being compliant or indiscriminately accepting. Rather, she is displaying (and creating for

15 herself) good character, because she is choosing to see the rights of others as important (even if she pays for the exercise of those rights) over and above her needs. When she can transcend her instinctive self-orientation, asking whether her personal needs are being met, and affirm and endorse another person being a person with needs as well (whether we condone their choices or not), she is being a better person. Furthermore, we will not have peace until we can do this. If we spend our lives waiting for and pressuring people to conform to our desires, then we will not be satisfied. We need to detach and let other people make their own choices, and focus on our own. Ironically, to transcend our own needs is ultimately to meet them. It is to meet the main need, which is to be hard to agitate, easy to find joy.

VI. How To Forgive If forgiveness is the tool for loving a broken person well, how exactly does it work? Here again, we must be unabashedly practical. It will appear anticlimactic and trite, but it is real. Great pyramids are built with simple stones; sophisticated physics can hinge on short formulae. The modesty of the inner workings of human transcendence is characteristic of how frail and simple human beings really are. Take an instance in which you are forgiving a one-time past occurrence. Your husband had an affair; your parents divorced. You are absorbed in the pain of what has been deprived of you (fidelity; your original home). First, you must separate the repair of the damage (whether you are able to reconcile or not) from forgiving. You must also separate your feelings from forgiving. You must aim to forgive, even if you still do not trust the person, still do not have your needs met, and still are hurt or angry about the

16 event. In spite of all of this, you desire to forgive. The simplest suggestion I have ever heard made is to take a few minutes and find a quiet place. First, think of the wrong. In the name of justice, articulate and feel why it was wrong. Then, in the name of forgiveness, repeat in your mind or out loud, Its okay. Again, what is meant is not that the action itself is okay, but that the person no longer needs to give what has been withheld to you. Then say it again, and name it. Repeat this over and over until your body (which is inevitable holding enormous tension) relaxes. You may need to adjust your claim, such as: I do not like his choice, but I accept his choice. Repeat this until you can say the second clause with as much enthusiasm as the first. Another image that I have heard is that of a hook. When someone has wronged you, they are hanging on a hook, your hook. They are in your debt. To forgive them is to let them off of your hook. Just release them in your mind, and again you will feel a relaxation and a freedom from a burden you had been carrying. A third and obvious way to forgive is to speak to the person and say, I forgive you. Your choice has hurt me, but its okay. I am letting it go. I forgive you. Forgiveness does not depend on the other person, but if the relationship allows, this choice could lead to reconciliation which would be an efficient way to work through the problem. A first note: forgiveness is often a process, not an event. This exercise is the first step of what can be a long process. If it is a process that is longer than you expected, that is not because you are poor at forgiving. It may be because your hurt is just that deep or your dwelling on it has become so habitual, that it takes a new habit formation to reverse

17 the damage, hurt or grudge. The deeper the hurt or grudge, the longer the process may take. Embrace the process, and be proud that even if you see that you have a long way to go, you are committed to authenticity rather than speed. A second note: feelings may not follow quickly or at all. But feelings are an indication of how much work you have to do to forgive. You can say, Its okay a hundred times, and not feel for one moment that it is really okay. Your mind still has work to do in remembering that Its okay does not mean that you like the action. It is not an okay action in your opinion, but it is okay that another person made a choice you do not like, and you still have the right to make choices that you do like. Your motive for the process does bring on good feelings, such as wanting to be free from the burden or wanting to be able to love someone deeply, rather than loving them because they make your life more pleasant. You may be excited to see yourself grow in maturation

regarding love, and that can motivate the process. A third note: it can help you move into the process by remembering that you are not without fault. Think of something you have done that really hurt someone. Think of the forgiveness you desired from them. Think of how incongruent it is to be so slow to forgive this person when you desired to be forgiven with no hesitation from the other person at all. Let your desire to be forgiven fuel your ability to grant forgiveness. Now take another example, an ongoing problem within a permanent relationship. Say your mother is always distracted and does not relate to you in a loving way. Despite your and your siblings efforts to get her to stop thinking about details and just enjoy the time together, she persists in being frantically distant. She has been doing this since you were a baby, and it touches on a deep hurt of feeling abandoned emotionally by your

18 mother. So even though you are forty years old, her piddling around while everyone else is being together drives you crazy. In all likelihood, she will be the same way next visit, too. After all suggestions to her have failed, you desire to forgive her. You feel unreconciled, and do not have the relationship you wish you had with her. You are hurt and frustrated. But you choose to forgive. In your mind, you say, Its okay that she is not part of our company tonight. She is making her choice, and I am not in charge of that choice. I will make the choice I desire, which is to participate. I will let her have her choice. It is okay that she is making her own choice. Again, I know it is anticlimactic, but it is the beginning of your transcendence. It is what will release you from being bound to other peoples choices for your happiness. You can then begin to love your mother for the broken person that she is, having compassion on her for not being able to find joy in the company of her family. It has been said that the highest value in life is love. The happiest, most fulfilled life is not the one in which we avoid the most pain or have the most of our needs met. Rather, the happiest life is the one in which our hearts are strong enough to love people well. But all people are broken people. We are all hungering for something, and if you get in the way of that hunger, you are likely to get hurt. A person can hide this hunger from you, but when you are facing it or exposed to it, they will not be in a place to love you well. The happiest life is the one in which you can love people who are unable to love you. It is the one in which you are able to give without condition. It is the one in which you are generous to those who are broken and you are creative with getting your needs met. The first main step to genuine happiness is not being dependent on other

peoples perfection for your happiness. Being able to give what you can give generously,

19 and have compassion on those whom you love but who cannot love you in the way you desire is a giant leap in the direction of happiness.

VII. Forgiving Oneself The hardest case is one in which you cannot forgive yourself. The first step is to do an honest examination of your actual feelings about yourself. Say you abandoned your children to go find a better life for yourself. Your children have been hurt, but have forgiven you. But all these years later you cannot forgive yourself for abandoning them. First you have to sort out what you are actually sorry for and what you are not sorry for. What was actually wrong? If you were unfit to parent, are you actually sorry that you did not raise them, influencing them each day of their upbringing? Probably not. Are you sorry about how you left, whether you did it abruptly, or with adequate communication? Adequate communication takes mental and emotional resources. If you did not have them at the time, you may understand why you were so hasty, but still be able to admit that this was inadequate in reflecting the respect and care you actually have for them. They deserved better, you might be able to say. So you could identify that as something you wish you had (or could have done) differently. Did you fail to uphold a vow? Perhaps you felt justified for any number of reasons. Perhaps your spouse also did not uphold his vows in another respect, or perhaps you did not realize whom you were making vows to, and you felt duped and lied to by your former spouse. In forgiving yourself, you must separate out the various crimes. If you were hurt, then you must forgive that person. Then you can come to forgive yourself for your part of the problem. You can first admit that you did fail in some way, take ownership for it, and seek the

20 other partys forgiveness (if and when possible). Then you are ready to forgive yourself. The first step to forgiving yourself is to make sure you have properly identified the specific way or ways in which you have actually done wrong. Then, to accomplish forgiving yourself, you do not make excuses for yourself. You do not say, But its what I had to do, or Its really not that bad. Rather, in genuine forgiveness, you say, What I did was really wrong. I do not like what I did in this particular respect and I failed. But it is okay. We all fail in some ways. I hope to give to others an abundance of compassion when they fail, now that I know what it is like to fail. I forgive myself, and I commit to a life of compassion for others in their failings. Again, this may be a daily mantra for a long time, if you have done severe damage in punishing yourself internally for your failures. But the process is one that will liberate your spirit from oppression and you will find joy on the other side. When you do, you will be all the more equipped to be a mother to your adult children, or whomever is now in your life. In forgiving yourself, you increase the chances of loving rather than hurting your loved ones next time. Let your guilt be replaced with 1) a commitment not to hurt others in this way again, and 2) a life choice for compassion. You let go of your guilt as a statement that you choose compassion rather than grudges, and that choice is a fundamental demarcation of your life and character. You are not condoning

abandonment, but you are affirming the life-giving love of compassion. The case of not forgiving oneself is one in which it is especially true that, as said in the preface, not to move these thoughts out of yourself is to damage yourself immeasurably. If you do not forgive yourself, the upset with yourself digs in deeply and an intense self-loathing permeates your soul. This state leads to self-defeat: a person

21 hides himself from others, eventually even those whom he loves the most, and only shows a public face. The most honest of people become chronically dishonest and it becomes impossible to be close to him. Such people sabatoge the relationships they hold most dear, despite their best intentions, because they cannot yet love, accept or trust themselves. This is in turn inflicts great pain and suffering for the spouses and children of those who have such a crippled family member. The person who has let himself down is the person who most needs to forgive, because only this person has a guaranteed 100% failure rate of close relationships. Others who cannot forgive may be able to bracket their dislike or grudge against someone from their close relationships. But the person who loathes himself is the only person who is certain ultimately to fail in loving others well. He may think he can bracket a few people, but if he is self-loathing, then eventually he will want to become good for the person; as he tries harder to become good, his fears of being as awful as his selfjudgment dictates will cause him to hide his weakness and project a strong self that he does not believe in. Over the long term, he is bound to become slowly less honest with his loved ones, and then when he fails (which we all do from time to time), be too hard on himself. Many, many relationships are destroyed from either deception or

abandonment at the end of this pattern. For this reason, even if it is only for the sake of his loved ones, he should take seriously what it means to choose the way of compassion: have empathetic love for others who err, as well as the ones whom he loves, and let the self-condemnation be transformed into humble acceptance. Then and only then will the worst person (the self-loathing person always thinks he is the worst of all people) become truly great, and be on a path to excellent character that most people (especially those who

22 have never really suffered) never find.

VIII. Discerning When and What to Forgive Life brings us chances to become great people. The harder the circumstance, the deeper the pain, the more of an opportunity it is to become excellent. In such deep and complex cases, there is often a dense forest of transgressions. To spend time reflecting on and naming the faults and successes and separating them out like spaghetti strands is a crucial first step. You may be hurt that your husband left you, but what did you fail to do in making a safe and joyful marriage? What did he do to foster your failure in that way? What could you have done better when he left? What did he do well as he left that you can appreciate? What has he apologized for? What has he not apologized for that you need to forgive without the hopes of reconciliation? This process takes time. But every time you identify a new nuance, treat is separately. Forgive all that you can forgive. Seek amends where possible. Forgive when reconciliation is not possible. Appreciate and honor and thank when possible as well. One of the lighthouses that brings guidance in forgiveness to even the most unreligious of people is the serenity prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change what I can, and the courage to know the difference. My entire life and practice of forgiveness is centered on this prayer. If my sister speaks in a way that hurts me, I first try to correct the problem. It takes courage to confront wrongs and help bring about improved choices. But there are other times that at my very best, I will recognize that this behavior cannot be erased or is an ongoing one that will not change. If I have been raped, then there is nothing I can do to reverse that.

23 If my mother is manipulative and fails to give me what I need, until she finds healing (which I cannot control and which may never happen) I will not receive what I desire from her. In these cases, I need to have the serenity to accept these facts. That is where forgiveness is the highest choice, better than the alternatives. Rather than abandoning my mother and avoiding her company, I can seek love and generosity elsewhere (in a relationship with a friend, a spouse or God) and still choose to pour love out on her. Rather than try to change the fact that I need to be loved and cared for, which puts one at risk of closing ones heart and not being able to love well at all, I can be committed to finding maternal love, just not from her hands. I am then free to forgive her, to erase the debt she owes me. I can treat her as someone who is not constantly depriving me, but as someone with whom I have a great chance to learn to love well. If I can be generous with her, then my heart will have become the kind of heart that is good at compassion and puts compassion over personal needs. This is to become great, to become the kind of person that deep down, we all wish we were.