For me, forgiveness is a difficult idea. It so often means accepting what a person did and undertaking to move on from there without asking anything of them. It often comes entirely from the person who is forgiving. I have trouble with it because I see it as facilitating poor, and deliberately bad behaviour. Abusers depend a lot on eliciting the forgiveness of their victim. How many chances do you give to a person who says they won’t punch you again?
As a short term measure, and frequent solution to all things, I can do understanding. In situations of honest human cock-up, understanding is often all that’s needed. We all mess up. We all get tired and make mistakes. We all get overwhelmed and handle it badly. We all want, need and feel things that aren’t perfectly convenient to the people around us. A little time to listen to each other, and what could have been taken personally can be eased through understanding. I’m a firm believer in cutting other people slack. I have to ask for slack to be cut a lot when I’m ill, swimming in hormones, unable to concentrate and so forth.
Even when you’re trying to do empathy and be alert to other people, we all see life from inside our own bodies. We feel and experience from inside our own skin and that gives each of us a perspective. What happens to a person is always going to feel personal. It’s a natural default to understand everything on those terms. It takes effort to empathize, to imagine the same scenes from other angles. But, where we try and meet each other half way, we can do this. We can understand the regular human crapness that does not need taking personally, and through that, we can be kinder to ourselves and to each other.
When we understand each other, forgiveness isn’t required. We see how the other person got to where they were, we empathize, and we can let go. When we refuse to meet each other half way, when we can’t understand what life is like for the other person, it’s then that we might need to forgive them. The trouble with forgiveness is that it doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t require a person to change so they don’t need forgiving, and it doesn’t require the person forgiving to learn empathy, and this doesn’t create a good trajectory.
For me, the time to take forgiveness seriously, is when there is real change involved. If I can’t deal with something by understanding it, if I can’t accept the damage done, I won’t enable someone to keep behaving in a way I have a problem with. However, the person who comes back and owns the mistake is worth taking seriously. The person who is demonstrating that they can and will do differently deserves another go, if I can find the resources to support that. Forgiving someone who has put something behind them and is now doing differently can help reinforce the change. It’s a very different process to forgive the past, and let it go, than to forgive something you have every reason to suspect is just going to happen again sooner or later.