Forgiveness seems difficult because often it is confused with condoning the action that has harmed us. Or, we think that we are obliged to love the perpetrator as though “love” meant affectionate regard. These misunderstandings make forgiveness nearly impossible, if not downright repugnant. To forgive in these contexts would open us to charges of weakness and moral cowardice. So to appear strong, we cultivate hatred and thus lose our humanity.
The problem with condoning a harmful action or feeling affection for the perpetrator is that both of these postures are emotionally reactive. Siding with the wrongdoer is borne of fear – if I act like I’m one of them, maybe they will leave me alone. Or, if I pretend to like them, maybe they will like me and stop hurting me. Both of these strategies give power away to the aggressor and can only perpetuate the problem. Therefore, they have nothing whatsoever to do with forgiveness.
The concept of forgiveness can also be misconstrued to mean excusing the malicious acts of another person, to simply overlook them as though they did not matter, or to rise above them
Just as anger cannot be ignored or suppressed, neither can the negative traits of another be swept aside as though they did not exist. But they can be allowed to be what they are. Instead of resisting what you do not like in the other person, give it space – allow it to be what it is. Give, as in give way. Do not resist.
Indignation blinds us to what is and makes us ineffective. In the movie, The Godfather, Michael Corleone says, “Never hate your enemy; it affects your judgment.”
We are offended by those things that reveal our own weaknesses. Real strength is never—can never be—offended. So look for the lesson. Your adversary is your teacher.
This is the opposite of pressurizing or trying to contain what the other person is putting out. Energetically, this is the same as saying do not judge. Judgment is trying to force a preconceived idea onto another preconceived idea. Both stand in opposition to each other. The tendency is to resist ideas that do not fit in with our opinions.
Forgiveness acknowledges that there is more to the other person than you are seeing and is therefor an aspect of humility. Carelessness, malice, greed, ignorance – these are all symptoms of deeper problems. We cannot ignore them, but we can look past them to see what is really there. The ego is always in competition with other egos. When we look for the divinity in the other person, we are bypassing his ego and ours, and the symptoms begin to fall away.
What can you accurately say about a violent person? What is the what is of him? Violence is the outgrowth of anger. Anger is the outgrowth of the sense of having been wronged. The sense of having been wronged is the outgrowth of the violation of a preconceived idea of how things should be.
Never go into a fight blindfolded. The violent person believes that there is something wrong with the world and is attempting to fix it. If you know that, you are in a much better position to deal with him effectively.
The saying, “Turn the other cheek,” means do not start a fight, do not react. Reaction is powerless, because you are letting the other person state the terms of engagement. It is better to walk away and wait for the opportunity to begin a new round, one that will allow you to take the high ground.
Forgiveness is the abatement of anger. And while anger can induce us to act, to pry us out of a rut, it must be quickly sublimated into willpower, or it will work against us and lead us into bigger problems.
Action is powerful when it operates at the level of cause. But reaction only gives power away. Reaction makes us want to hurt the other person back, instead of focusing our attention on taking the appropriate defensive measures. Turning the other cheek does not mean letting the other person continue to hurt you. What would be the purpose of that?