Two people told me recently how difficult it is for them to forgive friends with whom they used to get along. They want to forgive, but they don’t know how; both feel they will compromise their personal moral codes if they extend authentic forgiveness.
Differing political views with their former friends are the cause of the rifts in both cases. That says something about the political turmoil in which the U.S. is currently embroiled.
Both people gave me permission to write about the subject of forgiveness as long as I don’t reveal anything personal about them, including their political stances. In separate conversations I told both – who are unacquainted – that writing about forgiveness was easier for me than for them to carry out.
“We all have dark parts” of ourselves we would like to extract. These parts of our character are difficult to change, even though we don’t like to feel angry or harbor resentments. It’s part of our human nature. All of us can become confused at times and we can’t figure out what is the best course to take.
How do we preserve our personal integrity while allowing others to pursue courses of action that conflict with our own values?
Forgiveness isn’t about compromising our beliefs and values. It’s about accepting that others who offend us have the right to their opinions and to make what we might view as mistakes. We can’t judge their motives; managing motives is the responsibility of the person who commits the perceived offense.
Forgiveness is about managing our own thinking and making allowances for others. Facing the truth is never as hurtful as dishonesty in the process of forgiveness, especially for the giver.
When the recipient of forgiveness perceives that the giver is “letting go” of a perceived wrong and not demanding changes in his/her views, the burden of moving forward is thrust onto the recipient.
Not being able to forgive can build up distress and compromise our health. Severe long-term stress is known to suppress the competency of our immune systems and to alter the DNA in our genetic material.
Forgiveness reduces our distress level. A person with whom I have been friends for 50 years periodically offends me with his well-intended but klutzy attempts to help me. He visited us recently.
His latest gaffe, which I recognized too late as usual, was to promise me that he could install better protections on my computer from unwanted email messages like advertisements for products and services that I don’t need. Yup – you already figured out what happened.
I was so furious when I found that essential incoming messages were being deleted and could not be retrieved, while advertisements were continuing to enter my computer inbox, that I wanted him to leave our house forever. He recognized the fury in my demeanor.
After a half-hour during which we did not speak, I left the house to take a walk. When I returned, he opened the front door. He looked me in the eye and said, “For what you have forgiven, thank you.”
His statement changed my outlook entirely when I was still angry, even though I had quelled my initial bombast. I had meditated while on my brief private sojourn, but I wasn’t prepared for my friend’s understanding. All I could mumble clumsily was, “Sorry, thank you.” He was the teacher who initiated forgiveness.
Forgiving is not forgetting. All of us are reluctant to forgive when we are hurt badly by people who treat us unfairly, such as by bullying, discriminating against us, or starting false rumors. We also have to recognize that others can change too, but their changes aren’t under our control.
It’s natural to keep our guard up after getting hurt. We don’t want to undergo similar painful experiences in the future. We must learn from our experiences. If we don’t learn from our experiences, and repeat our mistakes, we are being dishonest with ourselves and setting ourselves up for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Forgiving is also about moving on with our lives, rather than holding grudges. It heals us when we forgive and pursue next steps, whether in an amended relationship with the person who offended us, or on our own even if the offender has moved on without changing.
Whether the other person has moved forward in a positive or negative direction is not our concern. Our obligation is to manage ourselves, even if that means we do not allow ourselves to be in a position to be hurt again, whether by the same person or in different circumstances.
Forgiveness promotes peace and heals. How the two people who contacted me move forward doesn’t concern me – their political issues are their personal matters to resolve. The political divisiveness in our country also requires forgiveness on all sides and not criticism of those with whom we differ.
Dr. Mike Rosmann is a psychologist and farmer in western Iowa. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of Farm World. Readers may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org