Is it stupid to forgive?

By Matt Perryman

Once upon a time I was in the audience for a talk about the value of forgiving those that wronged you.

When the speaker opened the floor for Q&A, it was like letting off fireworks.

Academics may have a reputation for being soft and liberal, but I tell you that day they were out for blood.

At the time I agreed.

What’s the value in forgiving a terrible sumbytch that did me wrong?

Destroy him. No mercy.

After a decade to chew on this attitude, I’ve reconsidered.

Here’s a few reasons why:

1- Humans are complicated individuals with lots of boiling, roiling desires, emotions, and ideas. None of us is ever as rational, consistent, and pure of heart as we like to think.

2- That goes double, triple, and quadruple for our judgments of others. All we can see is the behavior. The “why” behind the behavior, the motives and intentions of the other person, are always a guess. Guesses are often wrong.

3- The desire to retaliate feels really good when you’re living it. When you’re the third party watching it in another person, it looks sad, petty, and at times insane. However good vengeance feels, however self-righteous your believe your anger, that’s the vibe you’re sending out.

If you understand that you’re a limited, fallible, kind of stupid creature, as we all are, the petty desire to retaliate starts to look pretty silly.

Those are all good reasons, but they didn’t do the trick by themselves.

There’s a better reason, which I discovered in the writings of an alchemist not too long ago, which really drove the point home to me.

People find forgiveness to be stupid or naive because they don’t understand what it means.

They think that forgiving means that you condone the other person’s bad behavior, that you forget about the wrong-doing as if it never happened, and learn nothing from the occasion (including changing your own behaviors).

None of that is true.

When you forgive a past offense, you’re letting go of your own anger and resentment.

That’s it.

You’re lifting the weight of negative emotions off of your shoulders.

Forgiveness is about your state of being, not the other person or what they did to you.

You can forgive someone and:

-Acknowledge that they did you wrong

-Refuse to allow them in your life

-Take steps to prevent the bad behavior from happening to you again

-Condemn their wrong-doing as a wrong, even wicked, action

-Ask for justice (however that may be served)

You can forgive while taking all the practical steps necessary to not be a chump.

For the skeptic, I tell you, try this for a week or two. Instead of getting angry, take a few deep breaths and relax. Tell yourself that you forgive, even your nastiest enemies.

Forgive yourself, too. You might be surprised at how much guilt and anger you hold against your own person.

It won’t be easy. Negative feelings are powerful and addictive. Do what you can, though, and you’ll notice the difference.

Matt Perryman 

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