Thursday, May 22, 2014

Forgiveness

I've been thinking a bit about an odd phenomenon that I've experienced quite a few times lately.

I'm not really sure what to call it, but I've tentatively settled on the phrase, "forgiveness bullies," to describe the practitioners of this particular approach to life and human relationships.

Lately, I've repeatedly experienced the following situation: someone has insulted and/or humiliated me publicly.  And no, I'm not overstating or exaggerating--they literally rip me a new one right there in front of everyone or they've spent weeks (or sometimes months) doing things that end up causing me all kinds of problems that I'm then forced to address and solve, all by my lonesome, while they run off and, well, hide, basically.

And then, lo and behold, they just ... show up... one day.  They drift on in, as pleasant as pleasant could be, just wanting to say "hi" and see how I'm doing.

In one case, the person apologized for what had been said, but I have to say, I was a bit suspicious of this apology for two reasons: 1) after delivering it, the person paused significantly, as if waiting for me to apologize in turn--which would make sense, except that I hadn't actually said or done anything in the first place, and 2) they only offered the apology after asking me to do something for them-- when I said "No, I don't think so," they suddenly apologized (privately, not publicly).     

In the other cases, there was no apology, no conversation, no nothing, really.  Just an apparent assumption that what they did was over and done with, so... movin' on!

I'm not a vindictive person.  I'm not a grudge-holder.  But I'm also not a doormat, thank you very much. 

I can't help but find it a bit offensive when someone does something truly inconsiderate or unkind or rude and then acts like, "Oh well.  It's over.  Anyway, I was thinking you could..."

Because I kind of think that if I did something like that to them, they would still be screaming about it from every rooftop in the land.

In all of these cases, when approached in this way, I ended up responding quite coolly.  I basically said, "Go away.  Leave me alone."  Because that's how I feel, quite frankly.

In one case, the person got quite upset with my reaction and basically indicated that they had approached me in a spirit of kindness, so... and then they waited.

I told the person, "Yes, I know.  That's why I'm being polite to you right now."

Because that really wasn't my first impulse.  I mean, the nerve.  You did me wrong, and now you expect to just... "be friends again?"  (Whatever that means.)  And you don't even seem all that sorry about what you did, actually.

It all strikes me as incredibly arrogant and not at all "friendly."  Because the fact is, if you do something like that to a person in the first place, you aren't much of a friend.

Don't get me wrong: I grew up in a small-town, blue-collar environment, where mouthing off at someone and calling them every name in the book when angry is considered a very viable method of conflict resolution.

Anger doesn't faze me, and a tongue-lashing, while I don't like it, is to be expected if two people quarrel.  I hate to say it, but this Dr. Phil idea of keeping quarrels "clean" and "fighting fair," well... it's a good gig if you can get it, but I've never once seen a pissed off person pause and say, "Well, now, wait a minute... I want to make sure I'm being fair here...".

I think it's too much to expect of flawed human beings (which is what we all are, at the end of the day).  And I'm not sure that much emotional repression is all that healthy, really.

But what I really don't like in the aftermath of a conflict like that is what I would characterize as a kind of sneaky bullying (an oxymoron, I know).  A person insults or humiliates you publicly or causes all kinds of stress and sadness in your life, and then approaches you with the expectation of forgiveness--but no actual expression of genuine, voluntary contrition or a willingness to work to repair a damaged relationship.

They simply show up and wait for you to agree that what happened to you really wasn't all that big of a deal.

We aren't automatically entitled to forgiveness.  That's why, spiritually, it's usually linked to an expression of the divine--because it takes a lot to simply, spontaneously forgive someone.

That's what God does.  It's not what people typically do.  And I'm not sure they always should, actually.

While the "turn the other cheek" approach to life is a wonderful idea in theory, I'm an atheist, I'm not a Christian, and--I say this again--I'm not a doormat. 

I think forgiveness has to have something to at least give it a foothold, if it's going to work in an ongoing relationship between two people.  If someone harms you terribly, as a victim of a crime, for example, then I think that in that case, forgiveness is something you probably have to do for yourself: the other person can't control your life and the event shouldn't define you in ways that you aren't in charge of.

But when two people are going to be seeing each other and working together and (allegedly) functioning as "friends" or in some other kind of relationship, then forgiveness becomes something a bit different, in my opinion.

It's a gift that one person gives to another, not something you're entitled to, regardless.  Especially if you find yourself in this particular pickle because you couldn't be bothered to be kind and honest in the first place.

Actions have consequences; accepting responsibility for your words and your actions is just as much of a virtue as forgiveness is.  I think that, if you exhibit the former, you'll be granted the latter, sooner or later.

But breezing on up to someone and implicitly assuming--in my opinion, trying to bully the person into--an attitude of  forgiveness only fosters a certain emotional falsity.

The person being approached in this way is embarrassed, doesn't like being reminded of what happened, and doesn't know what to say, so... okay, fine, it's over.  Pretend it didn't happen.

But in my experience, it really isn't over for the person at all, and the situation has just become that much worse.  Because they're actually still angry about what happened before and now they're resentful because you've made them feel like they have no right to be angry.

Maybe it isn't up to you to decide that, and maybe it's better to approach a person in that spirit.  One of... humility, I guess.

In the end, my attitude is that, in life, all things change over time.  So, leave it alone, if you don't feel you can talk to a person, own up to what you did and openly ask for forgiveness right now.  And if you really don't think you did anything wrong, well, then, you're just going to have to live your life without that other person in it, because they clearly feel very differently and you need to at least respect that.

If you aren't comfortable admitting wrongdoing and enduring a bit of discomfort in an effort to make amends, you'll simply have to live out the consequences of the wrongs that you've done until you're ready to do so.  Or enjoy the company of your other friends, whoever they might be.

We don't "owe" each other forgiveness.  It's a rare gift, and one of great value.  You have to work at it a bit to earn it, I think.

Maybe the best way to receive the gift of forgiveness, in the end, is to approach another person with the awareness that you know you don't actually deserve it.

It would be a start, at least.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Life is short, but there is always time for courtesy."