I was raised on the phrases "Forgive and forget" and "Turn the other cheek." As I lived with these words of so-called "wisdom," I began to see problems with them. My conclusion has been that while forgiving is good, FORGETTING causes problems. The way I see it, if I forget about what happened, I leave myself open to being hurt in the same way again.
Likewise, if I "turn the other cheek," I am opening myself to being hurt AGAIN. The phrase "turn the other cheek" gives me the message that being a punching bag is somehow virtuous. No thanks. Turning the other cheek is far too likely to give my assailant the erroneous impression that I enjoy the assault, or WANT to be assaulted. Much as I have always wanted to be a "good" person, to emulate kindness and virtue, I think leaving myself THAT open to being hurt is wrong, wasteful really, and silly.
Gradually, I have put together my own philosophy of forgiveness. Forgive and REMEMBER" is what I live by now. This has worked well for me. By remembering what happened AND forgiving, I empower everyone involved to go forward in an improved and improving relationship, enriched each step of the way with increasing mutual understanding and knowledge. By remembering what happened, I become better able to protect myself effectively, better able to identify nasty situations ahead of time and less likely to walk into them blindly or set myself up.
Similarly with "turning the other cheek." If someone strikes me, am I supposed to offer a fresh, unmarked surface of myself to be struck again? Why? Maybe as an act of hope and trust that they will see their cowardly aggressiveness underlined by my tolerant, forgiving courage? Well, either I lack sufficient courage for that job, or I see a shortcut! I think it makes more sense for me, if struck (in any way, physically or emotionally), to step back and say "That hurt! Stop that! Treat me with kindness and respect."
In my view, self-defense of this nature is an active form of forgiveness because I am giving assailants the chance to change their behavior with me. Also I am resisting the all-to-human tendency to strike back. I think this is an important distinction, to separate self-defense from counterattack. With self-defense only, I prevent an assailant from hurting me further, and I break the cycle of retaliations. When a person has hurt me, by remembering AND forgiving what happened, it is possible to learn how to make effective changes of behavior towards peaceful and harmonious co-existence. Forgiving also teaches me about the part I played in creating the problem.
For example, when I had my baby in 1983, I was extremely unhappy with the care I received. Fortunately, my daughter was born healthy, but I suffered medical mismanagement that resulted in complications for me. I felt so angry and betrayed, I took steps to retaliate on official channels, but when I met with resistance, I began to wonder if I was doing the best thing with my energy. Friends and relatives, even complete strangers began to talk about "forgiveness." The idea seemed overwhelmingly difficult to me at first. Time passed as I contemplated forgiving those responsible.
Then, one evening my husband and I attended a play. One of the medical personnel who had attended the birth came in with his wife and they sat in front of us. As they arranged their coats on their seats, he and I met eye to eye. In that moment, my situation flashed before me. I evaluated how angry and hurt I felt compared to the potential value of forgiving him. I saw that there was more value in forgiving him than harbouring the pain, so I took a breath and forgave him in my heart. It was difficult. It hurt, but not as much as harbouring the pain. It felt like I was pulling out a sliver.
Although no words passed between us, changes occurred. I felt like I had finally buried a long-dead loved one. I saw how I had built up dreams of having an easy, smooth delivery for so long, that it was as if that birth had become a living entity. I felt release and relief, followed by a deep sadness, an abyss into which I had been resisting falling. But it turned out the abyss wasn’t bottomless after all. I found a doorway into healing within that sadness, that had been previously hidden from me. I saw the doctor change, too. His face lit up, his eyes got wide, and I was surprised to see enormous gratitude and relief, like oxygen to a suffocating man. I had had no idea that he had been feeling the pressure of my pain. Suddenly I saw him for the first time as a person, a very fallible human being who had done his best for me.
After that moment, I also began to look at my own attitude about the birth, admitting for the first time that I had knowingly set myself up for what had happened. As I realized this, the forgiveness really started to blossom. As I forgave the medical personnel based on the understanding that they had done their best, I also forgave myself as having done my best, too.
While this opened me to feeling sadness, I found sadness brought healing whereas anger and blame had only kept me hurting. Unfortunately, it seems I least want to feel sadness! Looking at sadness from the outside, it looks like a dead-end out of which there is no exit, no hope. As long as I harboured anger and blame, I somehow maintained the illusion that I could yet have the birth go the way I wanted, somehow redo "right" what had been done "wrong". It was easy enough to see how crazy that was once I was in a position to look back at it.
Surprisingly, forgiveness also relieved me of yearning for another child. I had found the yearning troublesome because I felt overwhelmed by the demands of parenting the one I had. Forgiving left me at peace with having just the one, and enabled me to get on with being fully grateful for, and enjoying what I have.
British Columbia, Canada
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