Forget Forgiveness

       Forget Forgiveness

 

 

          Wait, wait, hear me out a bit. Believe me, I know the generally accepted narrative: you can’t hold anger in your heart, you have to let it go, all of that. I even accept that our worst tormentors probably never had a chance not to be the way they were, but still. Forgiveness is overrated.

 

          First of all, for it to be what it should be, for the thing to live up to the advertising, forgiveness would have to optional. As things stand today, in the view of this cultural Christian, that really isn’t the case. We all know that forgiveness is the endgame, and that it’s only a matter of time before we find ourselves somehow omniscient enough to forgive – almost without exception, even in some of the most horrible cases of abuse. The pressure to forgive starts the day our victimization comes to light.

 

          That pressure leads many folks to a premature declaration of forgiveness, at a time when probably neither the abuser nor the victim have really learned their lessons. That sort of forgiveness is easily rescinded as soon as the abuser does what they do, and for that, rightly so - but the pressure simply restarts and it can become another dysfunctional cycle in our lives. Worse to my mind, is simply that in this Original Sin based Christian society, victims may suffer endlessly but abusers can too often sit and wait to be forgiven, that it’s automatic, that they are entitled to forgiveness from any decent Christian victim. That’s the Christian ideal, right, ‘Father, forgive them?’ Well, you know what?

 

          The legend we have for the moral behaviour and teachings ascribed to that fellow, Jesus, are a rather impossible paradigm. We need to see that as a sort of bait and switch game, which is probably no more fair or positive for us than comparing our bodies to the impossible Hollywood beauties carved out of surgery and starvation. So with that in mind, and believing that there are more things to be in the world than saints or Hell-deserving sinners, I say f@#$ ‘em, our torturers. Let someone else forgive them, some moral savant or someone with less of a personal stake in it, someone who can afford to forgive them, because mostly, we can’t.

 

          In this Christian culture, we know about Original Sin, we know we are all sinners and subject to the Christian message, that we will all sin, and we need Jesus’ forgiveness to avoid eternal pain and suffering. The human being cannot help but to reason and analyse, and when something goes wrong the human being wants to know why. We may need this information again, and so we find the agency responsible, we assign blame. In this particular culture, where we are prone to blame ourselves already, sinners that we are –

 

 

          if we forgive the obvious culprit, who will be left, who takes responsibility? For us, the default is us.

 

          That is what I mean, that we can’t usually afford to forgive our attackers, because blame deflected from them too often comes back to us. That is some serious unfairness that the victimizer is freed from the accusation and victim suffers both, the abuse and the guilt. Forgiveness for the abuser is far too often a continuation of the violence against ourselves.

 

          Second, real forgiveness is a process of maturing, a process of acquiring a longer perspective, and in most cases it takes time, real time, like the time between generations, like the time between the spring and autumn phases of our lives. Of course there’s part of the social pressure to forgive in that: we want to look like we’ve matured, and in a healthy way. It would be more ironic if it weren’t the normal situation: we are expected to go far too swiftly from so hurt as to cause a rift to a state where we have healed, matured and are now in the power position, bestowing forgiveness. That is not the sort of thing that the majority of sightings of it are ever going to be the real deal. That transformation is never easy and not often quick. Truth to tell? Several decades and the demise of our abusers probably go a long way towards bringing that achievement – and it is one – into the realm of possibility. Some of us don’t even want to heal as long as our parents are alive to see it; we need to be the open wound, the accusation; we can’t imagine goals for ourselves until they’re gone.

 

          So my idea is this: we need to keep ourselves of two minds about it. Forgive in theory, know as you go about your life that ‘there, but for the grace of God, go I,’ and think that all of us could be that bad and hope that we can all be forgiven, sure – but let’s keep that in perspective, let’s keep that cerebral – cold, even. Let’s don’t invest our own feelings in it, give that idea our head maybe, but not our hearts. Our hearts need to be protected.

 

          What I’m saying is, let’s stop treating abuse and forgiveness as personal, one-off situations, matters of the heart – after all the Big Data is coming in: we are not alone in our troubles. Not with 7,000,000,000 plus people running around – and start using our heads. Let’s consider that the prevalence of abuse and all manner of unpleasantness short of it and the near universal need for forgiveness likely indicates a social problem, and put our collective heads to it instead.

 

          I just mentioned this rant to a wise woman I know and she told me a story about forgiveness. She was upset about a failed marriage, and she was always on a self-discovery journey anyways. She spent some serious time – three or four years - doing a lot of inner work, stuff involving her father, etc., and at a point, it became clear all the ways in which she had married her father – hardly all the fault of the man chosen for the part. She wasn’t looking for a way to forgive her husband, I think she was mostly still mad about it – but her own work towards self-knowledge took her to where she had to forgive herself, and forgiving him was just, uh, collateral repair.

 

          That, I think, is how it works, and I know that’s what we’re advocating when we recommend forgiveness, but a few things need to be said.

 

          One, that was a very intense, directed bunch of work that lady did, we don’t all do it, and even so, years.

 

          Two, that was an adult situation. I’ll check, but if my wise friend has forgiven everyone, her own parents, etc., I think I can safely say it took her a bigger chunk of her journey than that focused three or four years of father-work. This person is on the lifelong plan. And that’s the sort of approach that produces real forgiveness, always as a by-product. For our caregivers, our parents, our abusers, the situation is very different, most obviously because we don’t choose our parents (at least those of us who aren’t reincarnationists don’t think so).

 

          Whether we believe that all our damage from our earliest days can be healed or not, surely we can agree that the chance that it can’t be must be considered in any calculations we’re making. A full understanding of what even happens during our earliest days, while some people have remembered and dealt with some things, would remain impossible to guarantee considering that limited understanding we had during the experience. I think, given the inevitable unknowns, that true forgiveness could only result from our achieving a state where we could forgive literally anything.

 

          I’m not saying it’s impossible, it happens all the time. I’m just saying it takes time, and if its schedule is even in the same ballpark as the abuser’s idea of a proper schedule, then it’s probably not the real thing. (Forgiveness is something taught to us as children by the very people – parents, preachers, teachers, in short, adults – that we might end up having to forgive. That is a conflict of interest at the very least, and an outright, cynical scam in the worst cases.) There is tremendous social pressure to forgive, to look healed and mature, to show the forbearance and mercy of a good Christian martyr – and unfortunately, the form of forgiveness usually satisfies the social pressure even if the substance is lacking and the true healing delayed. I worry that if forgiveness can become an entitlement, then there is no mechanism to change our behaviour, that if we must forgive our cruelest caregivers then perhaps we can make lax choices and do our own kids wrong, knowing that we’ll be forgiven in the end.

 

          These are my concerns about forgiveness as a given. That if we forgive too soon that we’re blaming ourselves instead. That if we find a way to forgive our tormentors, that we may be less aversive to making the same sort of mistakes with our own kids. That forgiveness is only a treatment for a problem and not a solution, that we need to spend more energy on stopping the abuse and harm in the real world rather than accidentally trying to minimize or legitimize it by declaring all sins to be not only forgivable, but that they all must be.

 

          Finally, let’s compare our usual attitude about forgiveness for a moment with our attitude about punishment as a parenting tool: that a cultural Christian or possibly a person from any bible culture is expected to aspire to forgiveness as a moral obligation, and along with the same culture’s injunction to ‘honour thy parents’ means that erring parents are to be forgiven if at all possible and to be pretend-forgiven if not. Contrast that with the parenting situation where the dealing out of penalties for misbehaving children must never be shirked. Discipline must be consistent for it to work. That has the potential to give us a glimpse of the measure of the gulf between our experiences of child- and parenthood:

 

          Parents, abusers, even if they get no penalty other than their child or victim’s ill feelings, can wait for their socially entitled forgiveness while the child can be secure that his or her penalties will be swift, rarely waived, and even more rarely apologized for.

 

          The social pressure to forgive is always there, irrespective of detail. I’ll just let you imagine how society’s will gets expressed when someone stands with the children and tells parents that the apologies and forgiveness are all traveling in exactly the wrong direction.

 

Jeff

 

July 6, 2015

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Comments (30)

  1. Neighsayer

    for bd, AI, TTMO, pamela . . . i’m forgetting people, I know – oh, for thewalrusofsheol, wraith and noahbody . . . anyone who needs a break from platitudes . . .

    with love from the dark side of parenting

    July 07, 2015
    1. scarletts_letters

      I really do wish they’d listen.

      July 08, 2015
      1. Neighsayer

        for you too

        July 08, 2015
  2. monkeygirl21

    What about forgiving, but not forgetting? In other words, letting go, but still being cautious. Yes, sometimes people may say they forgive, but those are just words. Only you will know if you have truly forgiven. You have to be truly ready to forgive. Punishment and being cautious are two different things.

    July 08, 2015
    1. Neighsayer

      hey R., how are ya?

      so if we still choose not to visit, not to subject our kids to their grandpa or something, what is the forgiveness? Just throwing bad ol’ grandpa a bone? If so, that’s exactly why I’m opposed. Sorry, I can’t give that the time you deserve, someone’s calling me. Back later

      July 08, 2015
      1. monkeygirl21

        Maybe I am a bit confused. I associate forgiveness with letting go of the bitterness, hatred, anger. It does not mean forgetting someone’s actions. If there is a problem with good old grandpa, I may forgive him, it does not mean by any circumstances that I need to have anything to do with him.
        I was abused by my brother in law as a child. I have forgiven him, truly. I have no anger or ill will towards him. As he meant a lot to me as a child, he was really the first father figure that I remember, I have very fond feelings towards him. I know that is common for people to feel that towards an abuser.
        While I have forgiven him, I by no means trust him. Forgive, don’t forget. I would never leave my son alone with him. I know my sister would never let him be alone with his granddaughters. I know he has no young girls in his life. I do not want to make his life miserable, just want to make sure he does not repeat, as that would be on my head.
        The families of the murder victims in SC have forgiven the shooter. I am sure they will never forget though.
        And maybe I am way off of topic here, so forgive me if I am. I hope you are well.

        July 09, 2015
        1. Neighsayer

          it’s all good when it’s real. I’m only offering warnings that there is tremendous pressure to forgive before we’re ready, huge pressure to forgive our elders and a rather unequal lack of pressure to forgive our youngers . . . again, all good when it’s real, and only we know when it is . . .

          .

          I sort of have no more to say, I kinda put it all in there . . . the bit from my first response to you about the grandpa situation, I guess it still bugs me that in order for me to let go of the anger, I would have to say something to the swine, something other than an accusation. I’m a forever victim, it pisses me off that what seems like again the adult has to be paid before I get to feel better. I’d rather a bunch of these adults never get let off the hook, at least not from their victims. I know it’s the normal way to look at it, but you know me: if we had it right, things would already be better.

          July 09, 2015
          1. monkeygirl21

            You don’t have to forgive. It is about what works for you. I guess I have never noticed the pressure you feel. I never even thought about forgiveness. It just happened.
            My father in law is a bit of an ass, but he knows he is not allowed to behave as such around my son.
            Only you can know about your pain of being a victim, and how you need to handle it. Everyone else can put a sock in it.

            July 09, 2015
            1. Neighsayer

              I’m not really speaking for any serious abuse of my own. I’ve recently heard the most horribly abused person spouting off about forgiveness for his psychopath mother. He’s one too, so it was kind of easy to see that either he really is reacting to pressure, because he’s just so messed up and lost, or that in his psycho scheming he has surmised that that is the sort of talk normal, healthy people expect. His mother needs to be forgiven, but let God do it, why that final burden on the victim? I mean, again, I get it, we need to free ourselves from it. It just pisses me off that my friend’s mother should ever hear it. She should die without ever hearing it. He’s almost 50 and still desperate for some sort of acknowledgement from her.

              July 09, 2015
            2. monkeygirl21

              Yes, that is kind of weird. I don’t speak of mine, nor have I said it to him. I do not feel the need to. Maybe it is not forgiveness, but I peace I have with myself, or maybe it is forgiveness. However, I have not forgotten or granted trust.

              July 09, 2015
  3. brn2bme

    Puff a Doobie an evrything is evrythang

    July 09, 2015
    1. Neighsayer

      well, yeah, but that’s true for everything.

      July 09, 2015
      1. brn2bme

        forgiveness is a state of emotional limbo. Either forget about it or keep on dragging the extra baggage around with the mind.

        July 09, 2015
        1. Neighsayer

          don’t expect too many folks to agree with this one . . .

          July 09, 2015
          1. brn2bme

            Anger may subside and that’s about it. Otherwise it seems that we are fooling ourselves into believing that forgiveness is the light at the end of the tunnel while the memory remains in tact.

            July 09, 2015
            1. Neighsayer

              nice to talk to another grumpy old dude. or, better yet, from “The Avengers” – finally, someone who speaks English.

              July 09, 2015
            2. monkeygirl21

              You are right Neighsayer. I was wrong. There are those who deserve no forgiveness.

              July 11, 2015
  4. Neighsayer

    BTW, this is what I call “support.”

    July 09, 2015
  5. brn2bme

    But wait! There’s more! Empathy from the start is the least energy intensive protocol. Foregive, forget is mental self fornication. And empathy is not an easy thing to adopt in the face of adverdity. Be well, shit head! Lol

    July 09, 2015
    1. Neighsayer

      yeah, the real version of forgiveness is more like a level of understanding where forgiveness doesn’t even apply, really. Like the story of my friend in the post, when she might have forgiven him or not immediately, she worked through some stuff and it turned out it wasn’t his fault to be forgiven for anyway, kinda thing . . .

      July 09, 2015
    2. monkeygirl21

      Forgetting is dangerous.

      July 10, 2015
      1. Neighsayer

        I know it’s mostly a weird sort of word game, forgive but don’t forget, trust but verify . . . I mostly just don’t want any true accusations even remotely retracted . . . I think we’re all on the same page. Mostly I’m just thinking about my convict friend and hoping to warn anyone who’s too young to really be expected to forgive anybody . . .

        July 11, 2015
  6. gingernice

    I was abused as a child, when I got older I decided that I would not let people have that kind of control over my life. The very hardest thing was to forgive and when I did my whole life changed. Kind of like the reply from the mg, was in my family, my mom knew of the abuse but she did not want to upset her sisters or family. MG who is he after now, you are just helping him to get to other children, by not telling, and your sister she keeps him from his granddaughters, well I can tell one thing if he is abuser he is he is doing to some one’s child. This is why this still happens in the world, know one has the balls to admit it.
    I remember telling my mom and she told me if I told my Dad he would kill him and go to jail and I would never see my dad again, so I never told but I never had any respect for her either.

    July 10, 2015
    1. Neighsayer

      Wow, gn. Thanks for sharing.

      July 10, 2015
  7. brn2bme

    OR! Yes there’s an “or.” What people are actually expecting to experience is the restoration of trust. Although one may lose trust in an individual, for what ever reason, may me able to maintain a certain amount of trust in other ways. But “foregiveness?!” Nah…. just an expectation by those of the ruling class to prevent the afflicted from hating their opressor, for which the bible is an instrument of control, should have taught us by now. "Foregive, foregive,foregive. Or “turn the other cheek!” Bullshit!!

    July 10, 2015
    1. Neighsayer

      Man, for talk, Thoughts is the best!

      July 10, 2015
      1. This comment has been deleted
      2. brn2bme

        I’m just jerkin you chain, mon. That’s what social sites have always been about

        July 10, 2015
      3. brn2bme

        Man. For sex, thoughts sux.

        July 11, 2015
  8. mixedman

    Man. That’s quite a few thoughts to ponder. I don’t know that I can agree completely because I think forgiveness is really important. But I don’t think your wrong. At least not at the point of needing to fix a problem, and to give some protection to a victim.

    Two thoughts I’ve heard and seen them in work. It’s always easier to forgive until you have something that needs forgiveness. Being on the outside of an issue and saying forgive them is easier then being the person hurt and asking to move on and say their forgiven. That truth woke me up a long time ago to be kinder to those hurting after having my own small issues to try and work out and forgive.

    Another one I heard, and I think it was said in jest more then not by the person,, but still seems to apply here. “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness later, then it is to ask for permission now.”

    Either way those two thoughts aren’t the topic of your post. real abuse, and their issues should have some consquences. At the very least to help correct the issues and give the modivation to do so, or if not that, to give some more peace of mind to those who have been harmed. I don’t think that those consquences are our responsibility though. A pain held onto can burn, and if there’s nothing you can do about it, all it can do is burn so you try not to think about it, least it pains you when you do. I think that might be part of the reason the bible says to forgive and also says let vengeance be God’s. How often can a person who’s been hurt also be the one who’s able to hand out the consquences. I mean outside of movie plots and well written books?

    On the flipside of the issue is, what if you can do something. A mother who stands up to an abusive husband and leaves with her children isn’t acting out punishment on the guy as much as keeping herself and kids safe. And that she should do in my opinion.

    Sorry, I guess I have more to say, but I always write too much in my replies. Sorry if this was already too long.

    July 10, 2015
    1. Neighsayer

      sorry, I must have missed this. Yes, forgiveness is often spoken of in the context of advice, which, like you say, usually offered by someone who doesn’t know all the ins and outs and binds of your situation . . .

      thanks

      September 06, 2015