Phronesis of Forgiving

Forgiveness is easy when the stakes aren’t too high, when you haven’t been hurt too bad, when the offence is, for a lack of better words ‘easily forgivable’. The trouble is, offences which require an act of forgiveness usually aren’t.

It’s not too difficult to understand why we prefer when things are easy -after all, they’re easy, that’s the whole point. However, most of the time, things in life aren’t easy or simple. Emotions are messy, complex and they don’t answer to reason. You can sit with yourself and try to rationalize the way you feel, but by the end, we all come to realize just how pointless the exercise is.

The challenge with forgiving is to do it when you’ve been deeply wounded. Some believe it’s weakness to forgive certain actions, but that would be confusing forgiveness with yielding or conceding. To forgive really should be defined as follows: “to stop resenting or being angry”. Therefore forgiving doesn’t mean “to allow for things to go back to the way they were before”. That’s the second hardest part; changing your circumstances.

I’ve come to realize forgiveness is a struggle. Unlike how things used to be in our childhood, the act of forgiving often doesn’t come immediately after a person has caused us to feel distressed. You can’t just say “I forgive you” until you mean it, and before you can mean it, you have to let yourself feel hurt or angry- allow all of it to rise. It seems counterintuitive- feel angry so you can forgive… But upon being insulted or wronged, our reaction is one that is emotional and aimed at self-preservation, and denial won’t make it go away.  Some wounds are minor and cause us to be mildly offended, and we shake them off, keep going, no fuss. That’s the best case scenario. Other wounds run so deep that the feelings associated with them are layered and difficult to make up. It takes a while to understand them. It takes a while to know. There comes resentment, anger, bitterness and disgust, or perhaps betrayal is the burning ache. And then there’s the mourning; there’s always a part of something to grieve about, including a part of yourself. Some hurts just floor you. You have to let yourself feel inconsolable for a while; winded because of how unexpected they were. I know, because I use to repress it all… At least until it all bubbled up to the surface. You can’t run away. You have to face it. Until you can, you won’t really be able to forgive.

We all know the right thing, the healthy thing to do, is to forgive, to let go of our anger, that retaliation and hostility won’t solve anything… I can barely accept to feel angry; most often I try to reason with myself, to rationalize. I try to jog it out. I scream in a pillow if the need arises (don’t laugh, it actually works). Sometimes, I fall prey to passive-agressivity, snark and small vengeful acts. The thing I’ve learned over time however is as such: forgiveness requires time. Sometimes, it requires more time than we are willing to wait. Some people say that letting go is a decision, but I’ve learned I can’t quite agree. I don’t think that’s the whole story. You can will yourself to let go of something, but oftentimes, the heart has its own mind about the things you feel. If you’re like me, you like to think you can control things, most of all yourself, and trying to convince your heart to let go is a very frustrating effort. After enough time, you come to terms with this little reality: letting go of anger both depends on yourself… and not. The key is knowing the difference between what you can and can’t control. You’ll know when it happens, when the time is right.

Some wounds take time to heal, that’s an obvious truth, but things that are obvious aren’t always easy to accept. Most of us have not been taught to let time run its course. From early on, we’ve often been taught to take control. Forgiveness however requires both effort- to work on oneself- and to allow for the hurt to pass. Forgiveness is a mending of opposite states, passivity and action.

The day you comprehend the meaning of forgiveness seems like any other day, really… Except for this massive revelation, how it just dawns on you- homeostasis-, and suddenly it hits you that, over time, you let it all go- your anger, your hurt- and hadn’t even noticed.

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