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Goodbyes and new beginnings (manifesto sold separately) — How To Matter
10/29/2009 at 12:39 pm

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bamboo Forest - PunIntended 06/05/2009 at 8:51 pm

I’m not sure what your uncle’s transgression is.

But I will say this about forgiveness. I am not convinced that forgiveness is always appropriate. Though you read that over and over again in the blogosphere: that doesn’t make it true.

I can imagine someone being so violated, having such a morally repugnant crime casted on them that they opted not to forgive. This is particularly the case when the violator shows not even a tinge of remorse.

But here’s the deal: I don’t believe forgiveness is necessary in order to have inner peace. That’s bunk to me. One can choose not to forgive the guilty party and still go on with their life in an enlightened way.

And… I don’t want anyone here to get me wrong. I think forgiveness is optimal the vast majority of the time… certainly with family members! Just let it go and have peace with each other!

But that’s not what I’m referring to here. I’m referring to repugnant crimes.

I’ve shared my opinion on this on quite a few blogs. And what I always find ironic is that people are quick to vehemently disagree with me. At least that is the impression I get. Maybe I’m not seeing things straight.

But here’s the thing… I don’t know how people can be so adamant that forgiveness is always the correct response when they haven’t gone through even a semblance of what I’m referring to. That strikes me as presumptuous and even self-righteous.

I just don’t know what it’s like to be truly violated in the most horrible of ways. And then to have the one responsible to be devoid of even a sliver of remorse.

So I opt not to see the forgiveness concept in black and white, but more in a shade of grey. It really depends on the circumstances.

I know some are likely to say that you can’t have peace unless you forgive. I just don’t agree with that. Says who? You may simply choose not to forgive because it goes against your sensibilities and values. You choose not to forgive because the perpetrator is not sorry for what he or she did.

It should be noted that I hold no grudge against anyone and forgive everyone who has acted unfairly upon me.

Just that… I choose not to have a sweeping and dogmatic position that forgiving the guilty party is always the right choice. I’m just not convinced of this. This is particularly the case when I haven’t gone through what others will claim should be forgiven. So, how could I possibly make such an assessment?

Lastly, and as mentioned before… I am not convinced it requires forgiveness to have inner peace. I think one can conclude the guilty party doesn’t deserve forgiveness and yet not live with bitterness. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive.

That’s just my 2 scents.

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2 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 3:52 am

Hey BF…
A really great comment, thank you. My uncle’s transgression was a multi-part betrayal of a pretty awful kind. It’s discussed in my ‘The Formative Years‘ post referenced here.

I think my challenge here is twofold. As you say, there is a universal response most people give when speaking of forgiveness. ‘You must forgive in order to heal, to have closure and to move on with your life’. I suppose it’s rooted in christianity. So my first problem is that I challenge that assumption, as do you. And I’ve found time and again that there’s a certain danger in accepting societal norms/assumptions without question. History is full of examples of successful people who were successful precisely because they questioned assumptions. Did things differently. Cast aside conformity.

But my bigger issue here is that even if forgiveness is the right road to travel, how do I know when I’ve done it? Is it, as Zoe says below, that forgiving means simply to stop being angry or resentful? Because if that’s so, then I’m sure I’ve forgiven my uncle. If there’s more to it, well…??? Does forgiveness require a return to ‘before’, as my wife considers it? That is, a return to the relationship as it was before the offense? If that’s the case, then forgiveness shall remain the shimmering heat waves on the road in the distance. Something I can kind of see, but will never reach.

Thanks for giving me plenty to think about BF, I like your perspective and appreciate you sharing it here. Good day…

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3 Zoe 06/05/2009 at 9:35 pm

I think it’s important to remember here that forgiving means simply to stop being angry or resentful about someone wronging you. It doesn’t mean forgetting what was done, nor does it mean believing that the hurtful act was, or ever will be, OK.

I think forgiveness often feels like a burden slowly dissolving. I find it difficult to harbor anger and resentment, for it can feel like they taint every vein under your flesh. What you’re experiencing does ring of forgiveness, but do you need to define it? You show such introspection and self-awareness, that perhaps exploring your feelings is enough. Just being OK with how you feel, because it’s not denial if it’s simply being honest with yourself.

“Is forgiveness simply the name we give to what happens when we decide to let our light shine despite the shadows it may cast?” I think that’s a beautiful question, and I would say yes.

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4 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 9:11 am

Hi Zoe,
You’ve identified something I’ve been thinking a lot about…that forgiveness isn’t an event that can be pinpointed on a timeline. Rather, it’s a process of letting go of the burden. It’s an internal process that needn’t meet any certain criteria, other than, perhaps, that it release you from the emotional/psychological grip of the guilt/bitterness/etc.

Thanks for your perspective on this my friend.

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5 Philip Hellyer 06/06/2009 at 3:35 am

Seems to me that you’ve found a 3rd way.

Looks like ‘ok’ has at least two levels, and I was considering only the ‘comfortable in one’s own skin’ variety, the unassailable calmness of inner peace. I suspect that that is both necessary and sufficient for an unencumbered life. (And a good death, I hear @ccseed adding.)

This other forgiveness of full-on re-engagement with the offending party and carrying on as before seems simplistic, though commonly taught. Building a better more complete life admits either embracing or excluding, but neither path restores what existed before. You are either in a better place because the relationships are stronger for the experience, or a better place because you’ve rebalanced your life. Both paths require inner peace to succeed. Two people affected by the same event may choose different paths, and that’s ok too. They’ll have to resolve their own relationship with each other, regardless.

“Relationships either deepen or die”
— John le Carré in ‘Absolute Friends’

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6 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 9:20 am

Hey Philip,
So, do I understand you properly? Are you saying that reconciliation is not a necessary ingredient to forgiveness? So long as you’ve made your peace with it, reached your balance, then the path forward is clear? I think reconciliation is something most people consider to be part of that process…but maybe not.

Thanks for your input Philip…

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7 Philip Hellyer 06/06/2009 at 11:20 am

I don’t think that reconciliation is a necessary ingredient to forgiveness, so much so that I’d forgotten that they’re often conflated. I’m aware here that I’m speaking naively from my limited experience with smaller forgivenesses. Sounds like others commenting here are closer to it, and are saying similar things.

In a forward-moving universe, things can never again be as they were. So there is no returning to ‘before’, though there might be a new and better ‘after’ involving the same individuals.

Sanity requires that you determine, knowing yourself, whether you want to build a new close relationship with your transgressor, or not. And not pain-fuelled avoidance, but a quiet choice that sits well with you. As you say, an internal process, one which should be free of societal expectation.

It’s the 2nd-order relationships that I find hardest, the expectation of other friends and family about how I ‘ought’ to be reacting or behaving. Each of them has a relationship with your uncle, with you, and with each other. I would want each of them to follow their own internal process and reach a sane conclusion, without regard to their assumptions about me & my own conclusion. Seems like its those echoing ‘oughts’ that are plaguing you now.

Apart from dealing with how your family deal with your dealing (and theirs), sounds like you’re done.

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8 Blisschick 06/06/2009 at 8:07 am

This is a topic I have spent a LOT of time considering…

It seems to me that you HAVE forgiven in that you have “let go” of the negative effects on YOU.

BUT…forgiveness DOES NOT equal reconciliation. Period.

I think too many people confuse these things.

And I think there are people with whom we should NEVER reconcile. For our own good.

And also because there are things done to children in this culture that are too easily swept under the rug. There must be consequences for these terrible things or they will continue to be a secret poison running through the veins of our communal life.

More honesty. That’s the only thing.

Get Blisschick’s content here..MysticBliss: Lao-Tzu

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9 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 11:26 am

Hey BC…
Thanks for making that distinction - the idea that forgiveness and reconciliation don’t go hand in hand. That helps me get my head around this a bit. That I’ve let go of the negative effects is true, and now considering the idea that to forgive doesn’t necessitate reconciliation, well, I think you may have just put the missing piece into the puzzle.

Thanks for taking the time to be here.

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10 Bamboo Forest - PunIntended 06/06/2009 at 9:33 am

@ Blisschick: I like the way you word this:

“It seems to me that you HAVE forgiven in that you have “let go” of the negative effects on YOU.”

I just went and read your story about your uncle. Indeed, what you went through prevented you from being on a level playing field. You have had to overcome tremendous emotional and psychological challenges.

I like this line, “How much higher, and further, might I soar?” Indeed…. The obstacles that have been thrown your way have deeply effected your life. And that’s a question I’m sure you will often ask, and I think, rightfully so.

I think the word ‘forgiveness’ is a problematic word to begin with. It means different things to different people, so it’s so hard to use this word in discussion.

And I’m glad you’re not walking around with anger because that wouldn’t be healthy for you and the ones you interact with. That’s a great accomplishment in its own right. Because as mentioned before, you were given obstacles in life that simply shouldn’t be given to anyone.

Further, I have not even a semblance of an understanding of what kind of challenges and hell your experiences put you through, and don’t want to suggest even remotely that I do.

Getting back to forgiveness… I think it’s important not to be angry. Not to be bitter. Because that hurts the quality of your life and can certainly hurt the quality of the lives you are connected with.

But, as far as forgiveness is concerned… Well… I guess it depends on how you define it.

Webster says this as one of the definitions:

“to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.”

Here’s my thought process. Is it really wisdom to pardon what someone did, particularly when they are not remorseful? I’m not talking about the small things… I’m talking about things that I and most people can’t comprehend.

So this brings me back to what Blisschick said. You protect yourself from being angry. But that doesn’t mean you have forgiven the guilty party. Because it simply may not be appropriate. And I come from the perspective that it isn’t always appropriate, as a rule.

And I’m not telling you, Jeb, to do one thing or the other. That’s not my business and I don’t feel qualified to give advice on the subject. I’m only analyzing forgiveness on its own and whether I believe it is, as a rule, always appropriate. Personally, I’m skeptical of that assessment. I find it faulty.

Anyways… That’s just my opinion and I’m just one man. I respect everyone else’s opinion here, by the way.

Get Bamboo Forest - PunIntended’s content here..Why You Should Anticipate Things Will Go Well

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11 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 12:02 pm

You’re all adding so much, thank you, truly. Couple things I want to add myself…

I feel some relief about the consensus that’s building here. Above and beyond everything else, it seems, forgiveness is about how I proceed within. I’m not angry or bitter, and I don’t live in a way that suggests I am. Am I completely clear of my past as it concerns this event? No. I feel sure there are unconscious associations at play that affect my success in many areas. But consciously, on balance, I’m in the right place…or at least, moving in the right direction.

For those interested to know, my uncle is very remorseful. I spoke with my mom the other day and she told me about their reunion. Both of them instantly broke into tears and embraced and he repeated, over and over, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry”. He and my mother were not only siblings, they were best friends, well into adulthood. I don’t know whether that makes the offense worse or not, but certainly it adds a dynamic that makes it that much more difficult for both of them.

In many ways, I feel he’s paid his price. I cannot imagine his isolation over the last 20 years, completely cut off from his family (never having married, his extended family is all he has). I also know that he, too, was a victim…his own past leading him down this road. I know all too well how such experiences can affect the path we travel. This is not an excuse, of course. But I place a priority on trying to understand people from different backgrounds, varied perspectives, and to respect each and every individual manifestation. How can I not extend to my uncle this same level of respect and understanding?

So yes, forgiveness. A tricky concept, and one size most definitely does not fit all. But I can’t thank you all enough for helping to tailor it for me.

Ryan, thanks for that link, I’m looking forward to reading that article. And of course, I’m hopeful that diminished peace doesn’t persist too long.

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12 Ryan 06/06/2009 at 11:28 am

Forgiveness is essential. I don’t believe there can be any true, lasting happiness in life (and after life, if you’re inclined to believe) without sincere forgiveness. Forgiveness is also one of the hardest principles to learn, requiring the most humility of almost any act.

Like Zoe said, it’s not about forgetting the offense, but letting go of the anger. And complete forgiveness, I believe, is about reconciliation. By reconcile, I don’t mean accept and embrace, nor, as Blisschick suggests, letting gross offenses poison future generations. Punishments should be exacted, consequences should be definite, and future precautions should be made; but even without these, letting hatred or resentment destroy our children’s peace would be a far greater crime. Look at the Middle East, look at WWII, look at your hometown-you don’t have to go far to see the effects of one wrong not being forgiven.

One question I have is: Can you forgive someone who is less than remorseful? I want to say yes, but a better answer might be, “Yes, to a degree, but their refusal to repent of their crime can withhold the healing that should come with forgiveness.”

I’d ask, “What’s your objective?” If you hope for peace of mind, peace for your children, and a happy life free of the biting hurt or anger that not forgiving will produce, then forgive. Forget about if people will accept that forgiveness or even if they’ll be sorry. Break the chain, let it stop with you. It hurts, it requires control and the letting go of pride, but the alternative will hurt worse and for much longer. And if you’re successful, you’ll have mastered a part of yourself few have completely done.

With that said, I’ll add here that there are certain offenses against me, even very petty ones, for which I have not managed the humility to forgive. Most days I don’t think about them; I’ve protected myself by location and time, but the hurt is still there and I know it diminishes my peace.

For those interested in reading an account of forgiveness that teaches both an extreme example of forgiveness and how to forgive, check out Forgiveness Has Power To Change Future. I found it extremely helpful in seeing forgiveness in the right light.

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13 Dave Thurston 06/06/2009 at 11:51 am

Hmm. Crap. Man. Arghh.

I can’t stand reading this . . . and I can’t stop. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. All very, very tough without my Rule #2 - Good Faith Effort.

All in all, I don’t mind people making mistakes that cause me to feel wronged. The key for me is “are they making a Good Faith Effort to make it right?” If they aren’t, then it is quite acceptable to me for them to stay out of my life. There are lots of people - lots of family (nature and nurture) — that I can work with to become better family.

Oh, but it gets tough when family - when kids - are involved. The balance between letting them be minorly-wronged by a person and protecting them from mental and physical harm AND letting them interact with the people that they’ve learned “love” them. Heck, it is not like balancing on a teeter-totter — it is balancing on a dynamic disc on top of a needle while taking a pop quiz on thermodynamics. Its difficult.

I don’t mean to hijack your post, but isn’t it analogous to letting life happen versus choosing how life happens. Maybe that’s it: Letting forgiveness happen doesn’t work. Choosing how forgiveness happens - actually wanting to forgive — is the only way.

Me? I’m not there yet and I refuse to let Time heal the wounds on its own . . . and I’m OK with that.

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14 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 3:02 pm

Very interesting Dave. Choosing how forgiveness happens…I guess that’s what I’m doing here (with a little help from my friends). Thanks for chipping in…

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15 Blisschick 06/06/2009 at 1:28 pm

Your uncle being remorseful also does not necessitate reconciliation.

We have no problem understanding that an adult woman raped by a stranger is in no way obligated to then develop a relationship with said stranger — even if he is “sorry.”

We have no problem telling an abused woman that she SHOULD LEAVE her abuser…

But when it comes to children… the last slaves of this planet, I always say. They are possessions, obviously, or we wouldn’t denigrate their experiences by expecting them to “get over it” and “grow up.”

This idea that I present of forgiveness and reconciliation being two separate things is Catholic. FYI. I read in all theologies and they are all helpful, no? :)

Forgiveness in Judaism is a whole other ball game. You are not expected to give it unless it is ASKED for, and even then, again, we come back to the idea that you do not then OWE anything to the offender beyond (perhaps) forgiveness itself.

I do wonder, like your mother, how you feel about HER going to see him. I am not as enlightened in you in this aspect; I would have a very difficult time with this. It would be very hard for me not to see it as a disloyalty thing.

Get Blisschick’s content here..Reading Stephen Cope

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16 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 3:24 pm

BC…
I do understand your argument, but I think it’s predicated upon the assumption that we (collectively) do, in fact, expect kids to ‘get over it and grow up’, where ‘IT’ = some form of abuse. I certainly don’t have that expectation of anyone. It’s apparent you have some very strong feelings about this, which I respect immensely. Though I don’t think we see eye-to-eye.

As an adult, I’m making a conscious decision to evaluate the bits and pieces that fit together to make me who I am. I can’t deny the impact that abuse had on me…still has on me…and so I’m working through those feelings. Here. But this is a very personal choice I’ve made. Nobody, least of all my mother, has urged me to ‘get over’ anything, or asked me to forgive my uncle. I’m exploring forgiveness as it relates to me and my past at my own beckoning.

As for the different theological views on forgiveness, your examples are very interesting. I can’t claim to be well read in any religion, but I’ll reflect on what you’ve shared.

And I think my mother used the same term - disloyalty - when she asked me about it. She feels a great amount of guilt about this whole thing and didn’t want to see him if I would perceive it as such. But we’re not talking about a stranger here. This is her brother. I understand her desire to reconnect with him and if reconciliation is the path she chooses, I don’t see it as my place to discourage that. To do so would absolutely create greater guilt for her, and I don’t think that would help anyone. I know it wouldn’t help me. Her path is hers just as mine is mine. And I feel a great responsibility in life to do everything in my power to encourage, rather than judge, the progression along that path for every single person I have the good fortune to affect.

You’ve added a lot to this discussion BC, and I’m very thankful to you.

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17 Blisschick 06/06/2009 at 7:50 pm

oh, yes, certainly your mother’s path is her own, but she IS your mother and so feelings of anger would not at all be a surprise here. i think it would be a very natural response — that was my point.

i’m not sure we disagree — perhaps i was not clear. my point is that the larger culture pushes people to “forgive” a) too quickly, b) when it is not even really the right thing for the person, and/or c) especially when it’s a child/adult situation because we tend to treat children as a bit less than human. or we think what happens to people when they are children should just be forgotten.

I DO NOT agree with the larger culture on this. I think part of awakening is being honest about our stories — what has happened to us, what has been done to us, how it affected us, etc.

we don’t then just LIVE in this, of course — the point of looking back is understanding how then to move forward.

Get Blisschick’s content here..Reading Stephen Cope

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18 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 9:49 pm

I see. And yes, I think that’s true in many cases. “Move On”, right? “Get Over It”. Easy to say. Not so easy to do. And by pushing it too quickly, well, I don’t think that particular bandaide is going to hold.

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19 Dave Thurston 06/06/2009 at 6:13 pm

Jeb, I admire your writing and your thoughts. At times while reading your blog and the comments I forget how this is *your* personal issue — I am thinking about this while looking through my tinted glasses. Although you may well be working some things out on your own (sounds like you are), you are also allowing us some of that great parasite-learning for the rest of us. You’re a good host.

I appreciate you putting this in my mind’s forefront so that it can be pondered.

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20 Jeb 06/06/2009 at 9:50 pm

Thank you Dave, very kind of you sir. I’d love to think that this discussion is helping others. It’s certainly helping me.

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21 Philip Hellyer 06/07/2009 at 1:19 am

Early morning thoughts, discovering my philosophy. Thanks.

It occurs to me that I’m often fooled (by my own self) into thinking that I’m alright with something, that I’ve regained inner balance, when it ain’t so. The slightest nudge sends me spinning off balance again, back to not-quite-square-one. Guess I’ve built myself a gyroscope that only works inside the cocoon. :)

Even among these posts that advocate separating the inner process from reconciliation, there seems to be an expectation that your friends and family will play along. That’s only a temporary balance, a false inner peace that relies upon carefully arranged (but uncontrollable) external factors.

If you’re sent whirling when your Uncle’s name is mentioned, or when your Mom is ‘disloyal’, or at the prospect of a family gathering where he may or may not be present, then you’ve not reached the end of your internal processes.

It seems to me that you’ll know that you’ve arrived at balance on the day that you come across him unexpectedly, acknowledge him civilly, and not feel the worse for it, either then or afterwards; a neutral event. Until then, he’s got undue power in your psyche.

Not something to rush; you don’t want to create neutrality through numbness either.

Be aware of the desired end state, & be suspicious of any cocoon. It may be a good life in there, but it’s likely fragile in the face of an Uncle-like figure.

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22 Alden Smith 06/07/2009 at 6:34 am

Hi, Jeb~
As always, a thought-provoking post. I read your commentary on your uncle through your provided link. It takes very large stones indeed to post such a confession. I have always believed that writing down your thoughts and feelings is a cure of sorts. It is like the Brazilian worry dolls that hang on my bed post - you take them out at night, tell them your troubles, and then put them away. They carry your pain and worry for you.

I have not read the other comments. I do not like to do so because I feel it will influence my response. I have to say that through the telling, much is released. I am not big on forgiveness, and it is one of my faults. My mother has told me many times, rest her soul, that I carry the biggest grudge of anyone in the world. I do not see it this way.

More so is it that when people hurt me terribly, or do me wrong, I cut them from my realm of existence. I have control over the choice of who I wish to acknowledge and respect. My wife tells me that I have the unique ability to divorce myself from anyone. It is not so true, I think. It is just my desire to not feel pain. If a person is associated with that pain, then the person no longer exists to me. This may be dysfunctional - I am sure my shrink would have fun with this one! To me, however, it is more of a defense mechanism, which keeps my life intact and my mind whole.

I look forward to more of your posts. I find they help me to understand myself even more. For that, i honor you…

Peace,

Charlie~

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23 Jeb 06/08/2009 at 9:28 am

Hey Charlie…
I think that approach to dealing with people who’ve hurt us is human nature. Sure, some of us are naturally more forgiving than others, but that’s not everyone. Not even close. And I’m the last guy on the globe to suggest it’s good, bad or otherwise.

I’m very glad to know that the written form of my thoughts (read: HTM) is helpful to you. If there is a goal associated with what I’m doing here, that’s gotta be it. Thank you my friend.

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24 Courtney Pill(a.k.a the tramadol hermit) 06/10/2009 at 12:52 pm

I remember my brother telling me that forgiveness is an overrated, romanticized way of turning a blind eye while someone is cutting your heart out before your very eyes. I know that it is not easy to forgive, and ironically, despite being one of the most common words all of us may be familiar with, it is definitely one of the most difficult, or should I say the most difficult, to put into action.

However, even if I myself find it hard to forgive people, especially when I still cannot understand why someone who only wants the best for everyone has to be taken advantage of for the most senseless of reasons, I know deep inside that it is a must. Moving on without forgiving those who hurt us is like escaping into a dream world, meaning a substantial part of us gets left behind while our subconscious seeks solace in other realities. So forgiveness for me means: giving ourselves for the sake of oneness.

By saying oneness, I am referring to reconciling our shattered selves, which is a result of having been offended. Only in forgiving are we able to become whole again. And whether or not we forge a serious friendship with those who have wronged us, mustering the courage to forgive them wholeheartedly is enough to open the doors of healing that would put the shattered pieces of ourselves back together again.

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25 Jeb 06/11/2009 at 10:04 am

Hi Courtney,
I agree, it’s a tricky term this forgiveness, and I think it’s also a term that’s often misused. But I like the way you put that…”enough to open the doors of healing that would put the shattered pieces of ourselves back together again.” Yes, I think that’s the finest description of, and justification for forgiveness. Thank you.

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26 BIO 06/10/2009 at 2:51 pm

I’ve read somewhere a circumstance where I figured in that validated my notion about forgiveness. That forgiveness is first a self-process left me humbled when I was conflicted to face the reality of being offended for so long by an offender. I had to realize first that I owed myself forgiveness for dwelling on the hurt and the one who made me feel it for so long. Then I had to realize how I also needed to forgive in my heart and mind the offender even if it was not being solicited. The goal was not for closure, but rather for opening myself to the vulnerability of being humbled by the transformation that I went through.

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27 Jeb 06/11/2009 at 10:14 am

Hi BIO…
The common thread here is that Forgiveness is much more for the forgiver and the forgivee. And this makes me think about wether forgiveness is really what we’re talking about here. I’m beginning to think of it as something different. This personal search to get passed our past and proceed in a way that serves us better…I don’t think that’s forgiveness. I think it’s just a decision to stop blaming other people and circumstances for our outcome. Stop using it/them to justify our failures and, instead, take responsibility for ourselves, our lives, and get on with it.

That’s where I’m at. :)

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