I've been pondering (more than usual) lately, the importance of forgiveness. The American Psychological Association would have us believe that "forgiveness is the renunciation or cessation of resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, disagreement, or mistake, or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution".
That sounds fair enough I guess. And I would like to think that generally, I am usually a forgiving person. For instance this morning I was on a crowded train when a stocky man sporting a beer belly and tight fitting ambercrombie muscle top that made him look like the marshmallow man from the ghostbusters movies, squeezed in beside me
As my eyes began to water from his cheap aftershave and I pondered why he was wearing aviator sunglasses on the train ("maybe he's a spy") he stepped on my foot.
Me; "Excuse me you're standing on my foot".
Marshmallow man; *kisses teeth".
Me; *louder "Could you move your foot?"
Marshmallow man; *looks away.
Me; "Hey asshole move your foot".
Marshmallow man. *moves foot "I'm so sorry mate".
After he said sorry, any anger I felt towards this man dissipated faster than my manners at an open bar. But anywho, that wasn't a big deal. It was very easy to forgive. So what would constitute unforgivable?
When someone borrows and ruins your possessions?
When your girlfriend kicks you in the nuts? (never happened to me).
When you find out that your best friend likes one direction?
That all seems fairly forgivable. But I wonder...
I wonder because a few weeks ago I received a call regarding someone I haven't heard from in a very, very long time. A part of my past I had assumed would never resurface was suddenly back to bite me in the ass. Despite my best efforts to try and remain undisturbed, I was overcome by anger. When I say anger, I don't mean the anger you feel when some idiot cuts in front of you in a queue. Or the anger you feel at phone companies for financially raping you. I mean, the all-consuming, irrepressible stomach tightening anger that leaves a bitter poisonous taste in your mouth, that keeps you awake at night and burns in your chest like an unwavering fire that takes weeks to extinguish.
^ that kind of anger. An anger I seldom feel.
But it's been so long, surely I should be able to forgive...But it's been difficult for two reasons.
Firstly the person in question hasn't asked for forgiveness.
And secondly...I don't want to.
I also don't want to harbor these feelings of dread and resentment anymore. So I decided to let go and forgive. But I felt no different. So by the definition of the word "forgiveness", if I still feel distaste and resentment, I haven't really forgiven at all.
So I guess I'm not such a forgiving person after all. From childhood the importance of forgiveness has always been reiterated. But true to form, I never really listened. One thing I do remember is something I was told at church when I was a child. It was something along the lines of
"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice".
I can't remember the rest of the quote or where it is in the bible. But I'm sure you can google it (other search engines are available). I never really asked why forgiveness was so important in the bible. But as I grew older, I realised this emphasis on forgiveness is part of most religions. From the all forgiving Allah in Islam, the cultivation of pure and wholesome thoughts in Buddhism and atonement, or repentance in Hinduism.
I'm not a religious person but I get it. Holding grudges is unhealthy. Resentment is unhealthy
So what kind of person does that make me? A resentful one? A while ago I read some old sermons by Bishop Butler, I think they date back to the 1800’s. And since then a bunch of philosophers have tried to make some sense of them, mostly agreeing that forgiveness is a way of overcoming resentment.
Resentment? I find that word interesting. I think it’s a more insidious and personal type of anger. I could for example, see someone snatch an old lady’s purse and feel angry at the people who did it. But resentment to me is far more personal, as Paul Hughes once put it ‘’what is uniquely personal about resentment is that it seems to be an exclusively self-regarding form of anger’’. It’s like a disease that fades away only to resurface…It’s the herpes of the mind.
In 2006 the APA conducted some research on forgiveness. It’s a long report that hasn’t really told me anything new. But there was a part where inability to forgive was described as a public health problem. The researchers claim that those who don’t forgive usually find it difficult to maintain relationships. I guess that sounds like me, but is that because I’m less forgiving than I had thought? I wonder. I’ve always lived by ‘’fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice…I’m don’t like you anymore’’.
But looking back, apart from the person in question, there is no one else I feel real resentment for. I’ve found it very easy to let go of everything else, mostly because I am aloof about most things.
However, despite wanting to be the bigger man and wanting to let go of one of the last remaining remnants of bane that has scrupulously latched on to my soul…
Because, as I've come to learn, forgiveness is a process. A process I usually don’t have to give a second thought, but I guess there are instances in life where the process just doesn't work.
So for now I've given up on forgiveness and I’ll take a shot at the next best thing.