Over the last few months, I’ve witnessed firsthand the power of forgiveness – the pleasure of giving it and the pain of not.
It started with an email I recently received from an old friend – someone for whom I had great admiration and respect but, for a variety of reasons, had to move on from several years ago. His email made me smile (and cry), as it clearly demonstrated that he had forgiven me for what happened. And, I’m now hopeful that we can re-kindle some kind of relationship in the future.
On the other end of the spectrum, I recently witnessed (and to be completely fair/honest was, at times, a part of) a series of hurtful screaming (and close to fisticuff) matches among people very close to me for incidents that happened as far back as 30 years ago. The resentment and anger that had built up over that time had exploded – and it was not pretty. But, I’m hopeful that it was also an awakening for everyone and a big step toward forgiveness.
The longer we go without forgiving, the more the negative feelings associated with those incidents grows. It is not only unhealthy (physically and mentally) to those who hold on to it, but can also can spread to those around them (i.e., children, relatives, friends, colleagues, etc). Eventually, we may even forget what happened and just hold on to the negative feelings. This is clearly evident from the proliferation of meanness we see around the world every day.
So, as we start this New Year, I encourage us all to forgive that which is causing resentment and anger, and start replenishing that energy with love and positivity. To help with that, I’ve included some lessons I’ve learned about forgiveness:
- Don’t let apologies get in the way of forgiveness. Each person has their own perspective(s) of “what happened” and reasons for doing what they did. If possible, listen to one another and try to understand each other’s perspective. You may not agree with it, but it helps to know where they are coming from and how they feel. (And, as my wife often reminds me, “how you feel is never wrong.”). While you may think an apology is appropriate, the other person may not. Don’t let that get in the way of forgiveness.
- If you continue to hold resentment and anger for what happened, you have not fully forgiven. I’ve seen people say that they have forgiven in one breathe, but then demonstrate anger about something that happened in the next. Perhaps they’ve forgiven for some things, but not for all. Look deep to identify what you have yet to forgive, and work to do so. Otherwise, the negative feelings will persist and fester forever.
- Don’t expect people to change. Forgiving someone is more for you than it is for the other person. Hopefully, the other person learns from what happened, adjusts, and reciprocates the forgiveness. However, don’t expect them to change the core of who they are. If you do, you will likely be disappointed again and again. Reset your standards/expectations accordingly.
- Forgiveness is just the first step of a process. Forgiveness rids yourself of the negativity – and time/energy associated with it – and creates a space for something more positive. You may choose to fill it with a re-kindled relationship with the person(s) you forgave. It may also (or instead) give you space for other more positive things to put in your life.
- Embrace the silver lining. I believe that something good always comes from something bad. There is always a lesson to be learned, a cause to rally around, a relationship to strengthen, a new opportunity to pursue or something else that is positive. It may take a while to find it. But, when you do, embrace it.
Forgiving is not easy. Sometimes, it seems impossible. However, after recently hearing a story where a woman not only forgave the man who killed her son, but took him in as her own child, I am convinced that it is not only possible, but one of the most admirable things we can do to make our lives (and the world around us) more positive.
Let’s make 2019 a year where forgiveness guides us. I look forward to the positivity it will bring.
As always, please share your thoughts with me here. And, if you know of anyone who may benefit from this post, please pass it along.
Happy New Year!