An alternative to Forgiveness – 5

So, in the last blog I went on about risk assessing people instead of judging and forgiving them, and compared Dillon to a crossbow (which, if you know Dillon, is actually not as weird as it sounds). The point I was trying to make was that I can make a reasonable, fact-based assessment of the way he’s likely to carry on based on the way in which he habitually carries on without needing to pass a moral judgement on the fellow.

That’s more easily said than done. If Dillon punched me in the mouth next week, I’d have a whole bunch of feelings about it. It would be very difficult for me not to think ill of him for doing it, of me for “allowing it to happen”, of humanity’s potential for evil, of the universe at large for being such a cold, uncaring place, and so on. But I don’t have to latch on to those feelings as if they were important; they’re not. Left to their own device, unacted upon, the only part of the world they affect is my own head. That doesn’t mean that I should ignore them or suppress them. I can take due note of them; they’re a data point, too. But I have no obligation to fight them,  punish myself for feeling them, or turn them into pets and feed them forever.

I don’t have to make myself forgive Dillon if I’m still angry at him. I also don’t have to feel guilty about that anger, or forgive myself for it, either. I don’t have to stack feeling upon feeling upon feeling in a desperate bid to make them somehow cancel each other out, until I’m drowning in an emotional soup and entirely incapable of thinking about anything else, or thinking at all. I don’t have to play that game. This is more easily said than done, too, but most things worth doing tend to be.

This is about the time where someone cleverer than me may go on about Socratic ideals, or the Buddhist concept of suffering, but I’m going to quote Einstein instead: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” My point is that I think a lot of the time we get stuck on “Forgiveness” because we’re stuck in a multi-level mental trainwreck that we make more and more complicated the more we interfere with it. We’re trying to think ourselves out of situations we’ve thought ourselves into, when actually the solution may be to think less all round; or, at the very least, to think along different tracks. Ridiculous comparison: if having two cars smack into each other is a problem, that problem will not be lessened by sending more cars hurtling down the same road. The same can be true of thoughts.

So you “can’t forgive somebody”? Don’t. Do something else instead. Paint your toenails, go for pizza, phone a friend, cry until you’re cried out then make yourself a cup of tea.

That doesn’t mean that you have to “unforgive” them, though; to sit there deliberately festering in your resentment and hurt and anger and whatever else is flowing, stirring the emotional pot to prevent yourself from letting go. Active unforgiveness is a sucker’s game. Clint Overland has written about it:

Unforgiveness is like a neurotoxin. It eats away from the inside of you. Steals your joy, hope, faith. Keeps you angry bitter and frustrated. Enhances depression and anxiety. Raises your worry and stress levels. What it doesn’t do is affect the person who you refuse to forgive. It doesn’t matter to them one little bit.

Even when it does matter to them, when living with your unforgiveness is a burden to them, it’s probably never as big a burden as it is to you. You have to feed it and keep it and live with it all the time. Chances are that they don’t.



3 thoughts on “An alternative to Forgiveness – 5

  1. Thank you, I find what you have to share so refreshing, practical, no-nonsense and insightful. I’m also enjoying (and learning from) your two books.


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