What is Forgiveness Really?
“An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
I have lived a long and winding road with forgiveness. For years, I could not find nor could I articulate a form of forgiveness that worked for me. As a human development professional, I’m supposed to know that. Right? Instead, I told the truth, “I don’t have a clue what forgiveness is.”
My candor often triggered others to view my outlook as a spiritual crisis. Our entire brand is based on the truth. To become disloyal to the truth would destroy our brand. Over the years, therapy, spiritual development, and common-sense led to one simple turning point last year. One of our participants was dealing with hair-raising behavior at his company. He asked if he could bring something up. There was a look in his eye that precedes those moments where I am put on the spot. He said, “You seem to be a happy and well-balanced guy. What would you do to forgive these people? What is forgiveness?”
For the very first time, I had my answer:
“Forgiveness is getting a wound and not giving it to someone else.”
- Forgiveness is having a relationship end that unexpectedly shatters your heart. But, you do not foist that wound onto the loving spouse that comes into your life.
- Forgiveness is getting directly stung by America’s current culture of outrage. Instead of hurling insults back, we move on. Sometimes, in the best of circumstances, we do not take the words personally.
- Forgiveness is the recognition that the more attention we give to poison, the more poisonous we become.
The emotional and physical violence flowing through our country is heartbreaking. Throwing poison back and forth weakens all of us. When I was a little boy, I went to an evangelical church school. Our teacher Mrs. Brown’s every word had to be screeched in an attempt to make a point. She started screening about our First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson. Mrs. Johnson had launched an initiative to clean up America by ending littering. At one point, she yelled out, “When you see trash by the side of the road, what does it remind you of?”
A kid in the back of the room called out, “Home.”
Of course, he got spanked for the comment but I found it Einstein brilliant. Most of us have all types of aspirations to be wealthy, perfect physical shape, debt-free, and happy. But as we give more and more energy to the outrage, we lose the capacity to solve the problem.
I was adopted by crazy people. Two years ago, I met my birth father for the first time. His wife was there as well. We spent the day getting to know each other. I took a flight back to Los Angeles and my partner was there to pick me up. As we drove home to the beach, I shared a great deal about what had been a surreal and lovely experience. But, then he asked about their political affiliation and I didn’t know what it was. In fact, it didn’t matter.
This was a turning point in how I relate to what is happening around us. The three of us spent the day learning as much as possible about each other. Throughout the day, we were using the characteristics that used to live above our politics, including respect, kindness, transparency, gratitude, awareness, and peace.
Real forgiveness is for adults. Thank God we have so many children that are doing a better job than the adults. They get it. When we continue to insult and throw terrible words back and forth; when we always need to have the last word, when we want to have others feel our pain by imposing it on others, we lose the country that I believe almost all of us want to have.
There are wounds inside all of us that may never go away. But, when we want a world that is better than what happened before, we keep it and what I am discovering is such behavior does heal. More importantly, the behavior changes the world around us as well.
We will not be going back to normal. In fact, I don’t want normal!
Everywhere that we look, we find evidence of how mediocre normal really is.
We need an awakening. We have an enormous about of people who need to work but are continuing to search for obsolete rather than progressive jobs. We have a school system that continues to prepare our children for the Industrial Revolution. Rapidly expanding technology is introducing billions of new problems that only humans can fix.
When we recognize just how precious time really is, we become far more responsible in how we invest our time. Technology can either be a horrific problem or it can be giving us the freedom to do the work we want, to work where we want, to launch new careers on a dime, and to build better lives.
Or, we can do nothing. We can put progress on-hold until we feel better.
This time, we cannot delay change. How we change will determine the quality of our lives. We need to have people who not only want to change but are willing to do whatever it takes. For those of us who have settled for rote and monotonous work, the world needs you.
I cannot count the number of people who say they are on board with change and optimism, only to see their names on Facebook preaching and insulting and casting aspersions to anyone who isn’t agreeable.
Real forgiveness? Don’t jump in. Don’t take that bait. Recognize that time is precious.
Loving others is better.
Real forgiveness requires courage.