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How is forgiveness substantially different to an apology?
How is “sorry” a middle ground, but not quite as disarming as forgiveness?
What is forgiveness?
How is a healthy understanding of these methods of reconciliation life altering and deeply spiritual?
Any offense is an act of abused power. In some cases, the offense comes from an individual whose life, thoughts or actions, do not hold any influence over me. In other situations, it isn’t the individual whose actions have offended me as much as how a system has allowed the individual to offend. Therefore, the power of the institution was somehow ineffective in controlling what I would see as an otherwise insignificant action as offensive. We see it as a breach of power allowed by some other body entrusted to keep these types of individuals under control. An example would be a protest. We’re not necessarily offended by the individuals involved in the action, we’re offended by the notion that the ideas presented are allowed or not discredited. But when an individual who holds some measure of emotional power over me says or does something that hurts me, that is how I know they have power over me.
Here is where we need to understand how power is directly related to the nature of apologies, saying one is sorry and ultimately, the humbling act of forgiveness.
An apology is only legitimate when we possess the power to change the attitude we hold or to modify the behaviors which cause a trespass in the first place. Otherwise, it is patronizing. We condescend others when we apologize for something:
(A) We didn’t do. In other words, we’re not the cause of the offense; or
(B) we apologize on behalf of some entity we belong to, but again, we were not the originators of the offense.
Apologies are legitimate when we possess the ways and means to ensure the cause for the hurt is kept in check and we’re accountable. Therefore, if I apologize, I should be able to possess the power to ensure the offense doesn’t happen again. I recognize the upsetting circumstances as something I had control over, but out of oversight or some other shortcoming, I hurt the other party. I apologize and quickly seek to reconcile with the other.
Saying I am sorry is a subtle way of recognizing wrongdoing. In saying I’m sorry, I am willing to accept my error, but I am not willing to give over my power to the other, so that he or she can decide if the relationship is worthy reconciliation or termination. You see, true healing only comes when power is handed over. The power I had to offend, I must now surrender to the offended and afford the offended the full freedom of exercising power over me. This is the reason why so often, I chose to say, “I apologize” or “I’m sorry”, but not “forgive me”. In the first two cases, I am still in control, I still have power. But in the last scenario, I am authentically willing to exchange places with the offended to be humbled by what I did and by what I became to the individual I claim to care about – a transgressor.
But what if an individual who offends me doesn’t ever chose to ask for forgiveness? Is the situation set in stone and unchangeable? To answer this question requires acknowledging the hidden power I have, but I wasn’t aware of due to its being cloaked by the pain of an offense by someone I value and consequently, holds power over me.
Forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting. It requires remembering. Too often I hear, “I forgive and I forget.” Why? Why would anyone forget an offense unless: (A) It still causes some measure of discomfort or hurt to entertain the thought; or (B) the issues are better left alone somewhere in the past so that one can “forgive”. But what “forgive” means here is to leave the matter alone and to move on. Here is the where we tend to place the cliché, “Time heals all things”, or invoke some variation of time serving as the great physician to heal all pain and suffering.
I suggest that we have misunderstood the nature of forgiveness. For forgiveness to occur, I don’t have to wait for the offender to ask for forgiveness. If that was the case, then he or she would continue to have power over me. First, they had enough power over me to hurt me. Now, they have sufficient power to keep me waiting for the day they decided it’s time to recognize any wrongdoing from their end. My power to forgive an offender is the power I possess to be set free from the strong coil his or her transgression caused and continues to exert its painful presence over me.
Forgiveness isn’t rooted in time; it’s rooted in power. So, if we comprehend the relationship between forgiveness and power, we’ll unlock a cure to pain and suffering unlike anything else recommended or taught.
When someone offends us, the person has applied his or her influence/control over us to exert pain. If the same words, actions or some combination of the two came from someone else, we wouldn’t pay it any mine. Two things must be said presently. First, the cause of pain doesn’t need to be intentional for the offense to take place. We’ve all been on the receiving end of that situation. Second, if the pain was intentional, then the issues requires two further question. Did I do anything – wittingly or unwittingly – to cause this? Is there anything I know about the person I know charge as offender that I used to hurt or incite the response toward me?
These introspective questions need to be pursued to ensure the exchange was one requiring my own need to reconcile with the other. Too often we demand justice when offended, but we are great defense attorneys when the same or similar charge is held against us. We used the following argument: It’s different in my case…
Now, suppose we’ve gone through this whole process of introspection and we find ourselves in need to face up to the pain caused by the other. We were without cause to be hurt and we have made sincere efforts to amend and discover the source of the other’s reaction. We honestly have. Considering these circumstances, we much proceed to determine whether we want to live with the pain or whether we want to be free from the power the offense will have over us each time we think, talk or see something even remotely like the original situation. The power certain people have over us will transcend time, place and relationships. Therefore, it is imperative that we are honest about our pain, it’s source and to determine the root of the hurt to pull the pain from the root. Otherwise, it will fester within us and contaminate all our others thoughts, actions, opinions and worldview.
Forgiveness works in when one is authentically open to healing. Forgiveness only works if an individual humbly accepts their own capacity for wrongdoing and error. Forgiveness is possible only when the person can recognize the hurt is real and to name it coupled with claiming it’s cause and transgressor. Once this is done, we can proceed to the next step toward healing.
Identifying the source of pain brings the person full circle to the question we posed from the beginning. Am I willing to release the pain from within by acknowledging the power someone else has over me? And if so, what is the personal cost accompanying such emancipation? Recognizing I am hurt and accepting my vulnerability before someone else’s power over me requires humility. Pride will sabotage this process toward freedom from anger. As soon as I recognize who hurt me and how it is possible to be hurt by said individual puts me in a place of strength, ironically.
Forgiveness truly happens when I recognize the offender, accept the pain of the offense as real and release the person from continuing to offend me. How? To say to the transgressor either face to face, by letter, phone or email, “What you did to me hurt me. I accept that. I also recognize that I cannot allow your actions to continue to hurt me for days, weeks, perhaps months and years to come. I forgive you for having hurt me. I forgive myself for having allowed you to have the power you did have over me. I release you from any power over me and I take the responsibility of not allowing you or your actions to dictate how I feel and how I will feel tomorrow anymore.”
Forgiveness isn’t provided for the other’s sake. Forgiveness is for you. It isn’t for others to handle or appreciate. It is for you to acquire a new sense of being, meaning, strength and freedom from pain. To no longer have your present and future influenced by the power of past offenses will enable you to enjoy new relationships and life.
But what about memories? What should you do when you remember the event that caused the offense in the first place? What happens when the thought of the person invades your present? Therefore, it is so important to forgive. When you genuinely forgive; when you authentically release the individual from the power over you and the no longer accept their influence over you, the thought of the offense will no longer hurt you! You will not fear the thoughts because they will no longer have any power over you. This is the secret of true forgiveness. No power, no pain. The experience will only hold essential life lessons which will empower you over your life, thoughts and destiny.
And finally, let’s consider the spiritual aspects of forgiveness. Indeed, many global faith traditions do indeed promote forgiveness as the way to inner peace, enlightenment, communion with God and becoming ever more like God. Let us suppose we accept these principles in theory. The real question for spiritually minded folks is how is it translated from theory to practice. How do I live into the peaceful life I desire? How do I act with greater wisdom and gain an intimate sense of community with God, the cosmos and/or Nature? How can I be more like the divine spark I possess within among those I am called to love and live alongside with? It is ultimately a question of power.
Power is a spiritual force within all of us. A power to produce great art or to break apart a marriage. A spiritual force which calls from within us a source of love greater than anything we know when we finally learn to love ourselves. This is how we acquire the ability to forgive someone else.
When I learn to forgive myself for having taken so long to say I’m no longer under so-and-so’s power. It brings shame and guilt to know what took me so long? Why didn’t I get it before? I have always found in my life that the circumstances that took the longest to heal or resolve have become the greatest sources of inspiration for me. I have become a teacher and a spiritual leader because of the question of power which took me a very long time to comprehend. Those thoughts do not have power over me. I have power over them. And I now entrust you to do the same – be free, become a teacher and lead others into the path of healing.