As I said in the last blog, way I see it, forgiveness between people is usually sold as a kind of trial process. I can see a number of problems with that; in fact, I can see nothing but problems, which makes me terribly biased and a poor resource to follow; be warned.
I have no intention whatsoever to give someone who’s hurt me once the opportunity to hurt me again until they’ve actually demonstrated that they won’t – actions, not words. In some situations, I may have no intention to allow them to continue being in my life, because I do not deem them to be safe to be around. I don’t take a great deal of enjoyment in having to watch my back from friends. In fact, for me a friend has to be someone from whom I don’t have to watch my back; that’s an entirely idiosyncratic requirement, but it works for me.
I’m aware that people can learn from their mistakes, but:
- The best indicator of future behaviour is past behaviour, at least in the short run. It can take some time and a lot of work for people to change their lives and themselves enough not to repeat a mistake. In the meanwhile, I may be disinclined to suffer through the consequences of their actions.
- People learn most often not so much from their mistakes, but from the consequences of their mistakes. They learn less from having done wrong, than from the fallout of their acts. By removing the consequences, you can remove the learning.
- The harder it is not to make a mistake again, the more entrenched a behaviour is in our lives or identity, the harder it is to change and grow enough to be able to avoid it again. Change and growth can hurt, and are hard work, but they’re an inevitable part of the process. Removing people from the consequences of their actions, helping them carry on as they are, is not helping them grow and change. If you really want to help someone, you can do so by being one of their consequences. That doesn’t mean being vindictive or malicious or even aggressive. You don’t have to go after them. As Dan Savage said, “The ultimate leverage as an adult is the ability to withhold your participation in someone’s life.” You’re not telling them how to live, either; you’re telling them what you are not willing to live with. And that doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. You can set boundaries on how close you’re allowing people to get to you until they have successfully proven themselves to be trustworthy.
- I don’t see how becoming an accomplice in allowing someone to hurt me could give me any kind of moral high ground. I wouldn’t consider myself a hero for letting someone go around hurting people. I wouldn’t give myself a gold star for convincing those people to continue getting hurt, either. And, guess what? I am “people” too. I am at least as responsible for looking after myself as I am for looking after anyone else.
So what of Goethe’s “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them to become what they are capable of being”? Well, that’s precisely what I’m doing. I’m treating people as if they were capable of behaving in ways that don’t harm me or others; as if they could take responsibilities for the consequences of their actions; as if they were honest and upright enough to expect and embrace those consequences, too. I’m treating them as adults, with all the benefits and responsibilities that come with that role. And if they’re not quite there, if they can’t quite fill those shoes, I will help them do so by being one of the consequences they have to encounter. Even when that’s hard.