This past winter, I read an article about forgiveness that has stuck with me for months, rippling through me like a stone dropped into a lake. A warning; the article begins with a description of a murder which may be a trigger for some people.
Image: Jayt74 via Flickr
The author gives the steps of forgiveness, a how-to guide for the act spelling out the acronym REACH:
First, you “recall” the incident, including all the hurt. “Empathize” with the person who wronged you. Then, you give them the “altruistic gift” of forgiveness, maybe by recalling how good it felt to be forgiven by someone you yourself have wronged. Next, “commit” yourself to forgive publicly by telling a friend or the person you’re forgiving. Finally, “hold” onto forgiveness. Even when feelings of anger surface, remind yourself that you’ve already forgiven.
In the case of the murder, the son needed to go through the act of forgiveness without knowing whom he was forgiving. The killer was never caught. The son forgave the killer not for the killer’s sake but his own, deciding that the anger he would carry over his mother’s death would hurt more than the act of forgiveness.
I don’t know if you can measure emotional pain like that. I think we can convince ourselves that the act we choose will be emotionally less painful, but I don’t know if it is in actuality.
Or maybe I’m just saying that because I would have chosen the other route of non-forgiveness.
Maybe the reason the article stuck with me is that it set up forgiveness as an either/or situation. Either you forgive, or you carry with you anger and a desire to seek revenge. And I don’t think that’s always the case.
There’s a third road, one where the person simply… stops. They refuse to participate in a situation that is damaging. Someone treats them poorly and they decide not to forgive them but they also don’t seek revenge. It’s the snipping of the cosmic scissor, cutting yourself off from the person who wronged you and not giving them mindspace or heartspace. You just don’t consider them anymore, and you certainly don’t spend mental energy plotting out revenge.
I don’t think it’s healthier or more dangerous, emotionally, I just think it’s another path the author didn’t consider.
Of course, my third path assumes that you don’t need to have daily contact with the person. I don’t think it would work in a marriage. Part of snipping the cosmic scissor is that if you need to have regular contact, you hold the personally at arm’s length, emotionally. I don’t think you can have a marriage work if the people have their arms up, pushing the other one away.
There was another line in the article that gave me pause:
“The power to grant forgiveness (and its benefits) rests with victims.”
And I guess the question I had was that victimhood is in the eye of the beholder. There are situations where the other person believes I’m the one at fault, and I believe they’re at fault, so who is the victim? In the murder case, the victim (the woman, and by extension, her son) is clear — at least, to me — but in most arguments, the fault is less clearly defined.
In that way, it seems a little self-centered that the person gets to determine their own victimhood rather than consider the pain they’ve given others. That this comes from an angle of granting forgiveness rather than asking for forgiveness.
I mean, can the murderer claim his own victimhood in that case and say, “you know what, I forgive that old woman for startling me during the robbery and turning me into a killer. It’s awful to live with the thought that I took someone’s life, and she put me in this terrible position. I am going to release my anger towards her.”
His anger towards her!
But technically, in this definition, we allow each person to determine their own victimhood when we allow each person to determine whether or not they wish to forgive.
Maybe it’s a matter of culture; I come from a religion that has more of an emphasis of asking for forgiveness (we have a whole holiday set up for that purpose!) rather than forgiving. Yes, you are also supposed to absolve people of their sins when they ask you for forgiveness, and you are even supposed to forgive people without them asking, but the emphasis is much more on asking forgiveness for our own wrongdoing and unfulfilled promises than it is on granting other people forgiveness for their trespasses.
It’s two sides of the same coin, but maybe recognizing the role I play in affecting others sits better with me than making the assumption that the other person understands their wrongdoing and wants to be released with forgiveness.
Though the article first pauses to point out all the negative effects non-forgiveness has on your health (as well as your ability to jump), the article touches on the fact that forgiveness is not always the best course of action. That sometimes it is healthier not to forgive another person. That we can equally do emotional damage to ourselves by always forgiving.
It makes it difficult to know how much and when.
The article ends with another sad scenario, one that loops the discussion to the only type of forgiveness I truly believe needs to happen, and that is the act of forgiving ourselves.
There is no cosmic scissor we can use on ourselves; no way to neatly divide ourselves from ourselves.
We will mess up — sometimes we will mess up hugely and sometimes we will simply hate ourselves because we couldn’t do anything to stop a situation — and we need to find a way to live with ourselves. And that I think is worth the hard work of forgiveness. That is a situation, because we can never have space from ourselves, where it would be worse to continue to let those feelings fester rather than atone and forgive ourselves.
And that begins with apologizing, even if your apology cannot undo what you’ve done.
The article never touches on the saying that I’ve always struggled with the most: forgive and forget.
What does forgiveness even mean when it comes to the huge transgressions? How do you authentically carry on and build a relationship with another person after you’ve granted them forgiveness? The small stuff — of course, I don’t remember all the small fights or wrongdoings. But the big stuff? How do you ever forget it? And is it authentic if you only pretend to forget, if the act itself is always in the back of your brain, informing future decisions? Because how can it not?
Maybe I just struggle with the concept of forgiveness. It takes a lot to upset me; I mean, a lot a lot a lot. So if you’ve gotten me to the point where I am that upset that an apology is in order, and the person has done nothing to try to try to remedy the situation, it is a very difficult idea to leap off that platform into forgiveness since the platform is set pretty high in the air.
Do you know what I mean? There are just very few occasions in my life where I want an apology or I am carrying any lingering frustration with me, but once I have reached that place, it almost stands to reason that working my way back down the ladder towards forgiveness is going to take a very long time, indeed.
How do you do with forgiveness? Do you find it easy to grant it?
May 20, 2015 14 Comments
The book that made me want to be a writer — The Phantom Tollbooth — opens with the reader being told to pay close attention to Milo receiving a surprise gift because, one day, the reader may come home and find a mystery gift, and if the reader reads carefully, they will know exactly what to do.
When I was little, I always hoped that I would receive a mystery gift.
And now I’ve grown up and received two.
The first gift came a few years back. A book mysterious popped up in my mailbox after I received a mysterious, anonymous email. I was able to deduce the sender after a few days and thank her directly. I love that book and still keep it handy and use it.
The second gift came yesterday. I went to the mailbox and there was a package slip inside. The postmaster handed me a large envelope and inside, without a note or packing slip or any explanation, was a fantastic book:
I drove around, trying to figure out who would send this to me. Like Milo, I found myself thinking, “I don’t think it’s my birthday, and Christmas must be months away, and I haven’t been outstandingly good, or even good at all.”
And that is the deliciousness of the mystery gift: you not only get the present itself, but you get to unravel the mystery.
It took about an hour of thinking and staring at the illustrations in the book to come up with my first guess. A clue had been left on Facebook, weeks ago, that led me to the person. I felt like Sherlock Holmes when I sent her my note.
Thank you, Lori, my mysterious gifter, for the untranslatable words. You know how much they mean to me, especially when you find the perfect one that states exactly what you need to say.
I’m normally not a big fan of surprises, but I think I make the exception for mystery books. Surprise trips, surprise parties, surprise experiences… not really my thing. But surprise books? That makes my day.
How do you feel about surprises? And have you ever received a surprise gift?
May 19, 2015 13 Comments
Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.
I just finished We Are Pirates by Daniel Handler (totally enjoyable read!), and he had an interesting thought on page 268:
We steal the happiness of others in order to be happy ourselves, and when it is stolen from us we voyage desperately to steal it back. We are pirates.
So often, without meaning to, due to the way life is set up, we do steal happiness from others. For one person to win, a lot of other people need to lose. For every actress chosen for a part, she has inadvertently left a lot of unhappy people in her wake. And when we are coming from behind, the idea of grabbing happiness ourselves (not thinking about the people who will be made unhappy due to our happiness) causes us to strive ahead, reaching for the brass ring, so to speak.
There are obviously situations where more than one person can be happy at the same time. Where no one loses something due to someone else’s gain, but I think we also know that our own unhappiness feels so much heavier when we compare it to someone’s happiness. That we tell other people about our happiness without being conscious of the idea that we are making other people jealous. So there is that, too.
What do you think? Do you think someone needs to be made unhappy in order for other people to be happy?
Are you also doing #MicroblogMondays? Add your link below. The list will be open until Tuesday morning. Link to the post itself, not your blog URL. (Don’t know what that means? Please read the three rules on this post to understand the difference between a permalink to a post and a blog’s main URL.) Only personal blogs can be added to the list. I will remove any posts that are connected to businesses or are sponsored posts.
May 18, 2015 31 Comments
Catherine Newman was the first blogger I ever read. She wrote Ben and Birdy as a diary on Yahoo. (I think… forgive me… it was in 2003 or so, and my memory is fuzzy.) I couldn’t wait for each post, especially because we were ensconced in fertility treatments and she was parenting. I had no clue that there were other blogs out there. There was just Ben and Birdy, the only blog (to me) in the universe.
It took a few years for the Internet to roll out its petals, opening up like a yawning flower (oooh, the vagina imagery!) as I found and then started my own infertility blog. In the early days, it felt very bare bones, like we were visiting each other’s porches and listening to stories while we stood on the steps. There were no pretty designs, few pictures, and hyperlinks felt high-tech.
I am nearing my 9th blogoversary.
10 years before I started my blog, there was a woman named Jennifer Ringley who lifecasted from her dorm room. She broadcasted a snapshot of her room every 15 minutes, and you could see whatever she was doing at the time. She stopped the experiment around the time that I started reading Ben and Birdy, so I only learned about her in retrospect.
Gizmodo writes of her lifecasting:
When Jennicam went mainstream, it was an almost radically new idea, an experiment in living life out in the open. There were a few different webcams that preceded her, including the Coffee Pot Cam, but Jennicam was the first to feature a real person, and so she was the first to experience the highs and lows of living in a camera-rigged fishbowl.
It’s interesting to think how recently we started sharing all these bits of our lives online. That even just 9 years ago, it was unusual to post about yourself online. Most people didn’t personally know someone who had a blog, nor did they own a blog themselves. Back then, a lifecaster could be newsworthy enough to end up on Letterman, whereas broadcasting your life today — either by posting video or images or stories — is more likely to be overlooked than draw attention, a single drop in the rolling, wide online sea.
I often wonder if we’re heading towards a no-barriers, transparency in everything, and everyone online version of the world a la The Circle by Dave Eggers, or if we’ll soon turn and start sharing less and less of ourselves online. That it will no longer be de rigueur to post pictures or podcast your thoughts. That, like Jennifer, we’ll pull back and not want to live out our lives online.
Everything is always in flux. We won’t remain posting in the same fashion forever, just as Ben and Birdy eventually spread wings and flew from Yahoo into its own site, and Jennicam went dark.
Where do you think we’re heading with the online world: more or less?
Side note: Tomorrow is #MicroblogMonday. Get working on your post.
May 17, 2015 10 Comments
My brain has been on the Amtrak train crash. That’s my train — the one I take when I go to New York. It is hard to read about the passengers who died; to think about what their families are going through right now.
It is scary because thousands of times a day, we put our trust in other people. The other people on the road. The people in the driver’s seat. We put our trust in machines and buildings and roads and bridges. There is so much trust we extend to others, and then something like this happens and it makes me want to curl my trust up inside my hand like an empty paper straw wrapper. I want to fold my trust against my palm or tuck it away in my pocket. It is really hard to go out there when you get these moments that remind you how interconnected we are, how dependent. We each affect everyone else’s life.
Sometimes I don’t know what to do with that idea.
Stop procrastinating. Go make your backups. Don’t have regrets.
Seriously. Stop what you’re doing for a moment. It will take you fifteen minutes, tops. But you will have peace of mind for days and days. It’s the gift to yourself that keeps on giving.
As always, add any new thoughts to the Friday Backup post and peruse new comments in order to find out about methods, plug-ins, and devices that help you quickly back up your data and accounts.
And now the blogs…
But first, second helpings of the posts that appeared in the open comment thread last week. In order to read the description before clicking over, please return to the open thread:
Okay, now my choices this week.
Invincible Spring has a post about alternate worlds. It’s a theory I’ve always loved. She draws comfort from it, writing: “It also means someplace my 4.5 year old son is playing amiably with my one year old daughter. Someplace S is alive and growing and laughing in something other than the breeze that sways the trees.” It’s a gorgeous post about a thought-provoking idea.
I really liked Bent Not Broken’s post about Mother’s Day. There were a lot of post-Mother’s Day posts this week, and this one summed up what I think a lot of us felt. We got through it. And it’s rarely as bad as we fear. An ordinary day (well, except for the mimosa), with reading and shampoo shopping and a little bit of sadness. But ultimately okay. And over.
Lastly, River Run Dry has a must-read post about the vitriol we bring online as we discuss events, fomented by the presentation of subject in the media. She explains: “It’s just been recently that I’ve been feeling like one big nerve ending whenever I go online.” How do we find solutions when we’re all yelling to be heard? You’ll chew on this post for a while.
The roundup to the Roundup: It’s hard when you realize how much we need to trust one another. Your weekly backup nudge. And lots of great posts to read. So what did you find this week? Please use a permalink to the blog post (written between May 8th and 15th) and not the blog’s main url. Not understanding why I’m asking you what you found this week? Read the original open thread post here.
May 15, 2015 7 Comments