James Anthony Ellis
Legacy Magazine Editor
All right, let’s bust this myth wide open.
I am so tired of reading the same old shit about this newfangled forgiveness.
Somehow the collective unconscious among the earthlings believe they have tuned into some cutting edge concept around the ancient art of forgiveness. Perhaps weary of old-fashioned notions that had us believing we were giving a gift to others by “forgiving” or “pardoning” them, or perhaps angered at being forced to apologize to those sensitive people who felt harmed, humans all over cyber-land have pendulum swung their brains to the far corners of its “intelligence” to proclaim proudly:
Oh jeez. Please. Spare me.
The other forms this concept takes – on memes, social media posts, commentary of new agey thought leaders – include but are not limited to:
- Forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself.
- Resentment is like poison you take, hoping your enemies will die. (I know, I know, some wise dude said that.)
- Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person; it’s all about you.
Are you freaking kidding me?
Now, in my mind’s eye, I can see a mass of nodding heads reading those “truisms” and feeling pretty OK with them. And on a certain level, yes, I can see what they see. It makes sense to the logical mind.
However, I’d like to challenge everyone on this point. I’d like you all to expand to consider the other person involved in this process. I know there will be push back, but dig a little bit deeper into your psyche, and tell me honestly if a few other little sayings and belief systems don’t also reside beneath the idea that you forgive only for yourself. Do these voices linger under the surface when “forgiving” from a distance:
- “Oh good – I don’t have to deal with that other asshole.”
- “I don’t have to confront anyone now.”
- “I don’t have to hold anyone accountable.”
- “I don’t have to care about that person anymore; it was too hard anyway.”
- “I don’t have to deal with any messy or painful emotions I have about MY OWN past.”
- “I don’t have to look at myself or my part in the process.”
- “I’m a weakling who can only hide behind an ethereal ‘forgiveness’ … pretending I’ve actually done some good in the world.”
- “That person will get theirs someday; they’ll learn the lesson in their own time.”
- “God will take care of it.”
- “Someone else can tell my pal about that spinach in his teeth.”
If I were to offer my my own little saying I would add: “Stop it and stop it now.”
Last I remember, we are put onto this planet to grow and expand, to be in relationship and community, to meet and overcome obstacles, to pursue happiness and enjoy life. And to – like it or not – be our brother’s keeper. As part of that process, we’re going to inevitably bump into and up against a few other humans. During these nasty things we call “relationships,” there will be moments of great opportunity. We can see where we stand on many issues; we can discover our terms; we can take a stand for unity, we can find our limitations of love, and we can grow beyond any barriers.
Every once in awhile – as we are all human – we will make mistakes. And so will our loved ones.
And it will trigger our upset, our anger, our frustration, our guilt, our shame.
And it will hurt.
As it should.
This is all a part of life.
As we mosey along, perhaps harming others, perhaps getting harmed ourselves, we are given two awesome choices:
- Forgive and forget – allowing the other person to have his or her experience, letting go of him or her to go on his or her way … free and easy.
- Do the work – remain in relationship through the upset in order to teach and grow with each other, offering our experience and feedback to the other person.
The second option sounds hard and at times impossible. The first option sounds pretty good. It actually sounds pretty. Too bad it’s actually bullshit.
That is the newest form of “forgiveness” out there, showing up in those truisms that are more about self-absorption than healed relationships. It’s more about bailing on a brother rather than loving him. How easy it is to have a harsh experience and then proclaim forgiveness will be helpful to you only, while you either avoid dealing with the other people or worse yet kill them off in your mind!
No folks – we are in relationship with each other, bouncing clumsily against each other now and then so we can yes go beyond mistakes and errs with “forgiveness” – but not in the form of cutting those people out of our lives, letting them “be” as they are without any interaction, or ignoring them and proclaiming some exulted status having “gotten over them” and gotten over the experience WE ALL CO-CREATED.
That was not the plan.
And it’s not how I experience it on a men’s team within the organization Mentor Discover Inspire. Yes, it’s a different beast dealing with men on men’s teams and within men’s circles, but at core it’s the same form that forgiveness can take. When a man disrespects another or breaks a standard or commitment that impacts a teammate or the team, he doesn’t just say, “Will you forgive me?”
How lame would that be? Uhhh no. There is more to it than that.
A man, if honorable, will get humble, admit to falling short, and then approach a teammate with “What do you need?” aka “What can I DO to make it up to you?” The man hearing this can be supportive in bringing a man back into honor and then helping him perhaps learn a valuable life lesson. How rich is that? It’s a bit more enlivening than spouting off a knee-jerk “I am beyond this.”
This form of relationship can lift up both sides simultaneously.
It’s a sacred and amazing experience – one often tossed out by mainstream folks too afraid and too faithless to approach a brother or sister in this way.
Compare this sacred action to the isolated and individual version of “forgiveness,” sold to our lower nature that just wants to hide away, not confront and just “be done with it.”
Don’t buy it. It’s a temptation into separation and loneliness and self-righteousness.
Rather – the next time someone screws up and negatively impacts you or your life, have enough love and care in your heart to keep them nearby, and at least let them know how the experience impacted you. At the same time, you can give them a potential pathway back into mutual respect and integrity, along with the an opportunity to grow through the experience. Together.
Even if you have resolved the raw emotions on your own – apart from some conversation or act of atonement – you can still communicate with that person so he or she can LEARN from your experience and how he or she impacted you … positive or negative.
This is not to say we stay close by those who would actively harm or physically abuse us. These we can clearly move away from in a protective maneuver. But let’s get real – how many of those types of relationships can you count on your one hand? This is about the relations that trigger your own desire to avoid, because of your own barrier and fears.
Let’s care enough about our brothers and sisters and not just “let them off the hook” as if it’s some kind and righteous action dictated by some angelic nature. The truth is we don’t even have to put them ON A HOOK! We just treat them as adults, carry a context of care, perhaps reveal one of their “blind spots,” and then express to them what didn’t work for us and why. If they are game and open to learning and growing as well, you have given them an incredible gift with your feedback … much more powerful and impactful than the silent, avoiding, magic wand, wave-of-your-hand form of forgiveness.
In this way, you will be truly caring for them by staying close to them and their life process..
You will be “forgiving” them … but not for you.
You will be forgiving them for them.
James Anthony Ellis is an award-winning playwright, journalist and filmmaker, who is the author of eight books, including the men-focused “The Honor Book” available HERE.