Sunday, January 20, 2008

On Forgiveness

We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

I use two or three quotation websites as sources for inspiration. In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Day, I copied this pearl of wisdom. Forgiveness. What a simple yet complicated concept. Many people see it as an offering. When we forgive someone, we think of this as a gift we give to the offender. From The Free Dictionary:

1. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
2. To renounce anger or resentment against.
3. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).

I will take this a step further. I believe that in order to love ourselves, we must practice forgiveness. Not so that we can say we're good people, but because forgiveness is good therapy. When someone hurts me, the pain (physical or mental) lasts as long as the offense. That is, it hurts in the present. However, if I don't forgive the transgression, the memory of it begins to fester within me. I replay the event in my mind and as a result, I keep hold of the anger and other negative emotions attached to the memory. Anger grows and effects everything I do--I eat poorly, I'm mean to my family, and finally, the anger effects my health. Because I refuse to let go of the past, I hurt myself. The irony here is that many times, the person who caused all this grief has no idea they are still hurting me. They've moved on, while I've allowed these painful memories to move into my head!

To love myself, I must forgive. Forgiveness defuses the memory. It allows me to take control of my life again and stand in the present. Do not misunderstand me, I am not saying that forgiveness is easy. Unfortunately, our memories are long. When Marina got bit by a dog up the street, I had to consciously forgive the family every time I passed their house. I haven't forgotten what happened after these many years, but it doesn't affect me the way it used to. I have let it be a memory instead of something to feel angry about. I cannot always control what happens to me, but I can control my reactions. Treating myself kindly is more important than punishing myself with hateful memories.

For me, Dr. King's statement speaks to the victim in all of us. As long as we refuse to forgive each other, we will have unrest. If we justify our poor behavior toward others because they treated us badly, we perpetuate the anger and hatred in society. And it happens in the simplest ways. How many times have you acted rudely to a store clerk because a clerk was mean to you? How many times did you ignore a car signaling to move into your lane because "no one ever lets me in." If we take the time to treat others the way we want to be treated, we can make a difference in our world. Practice those random acts of kindness, love your neighbor as yourself, but first make sure you are loving yourself. Forgive!


appleleaf said...

Very true reflections!
When you look at the subject this way, it would seem that so often we can choose to be unforgiving without even realising that we're doing it. And I wonder if we'll ever know how many physical ailments are based in unforgiveness.
Thanks for this post,

Inner Elder said...

Wise words indeed. You've given me a lot to think about. And it's true, sometimes you need to forgive the same offense over and over. But it does get better. And you are right - it always benefits the forgiver.

Love, Mom

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