Thursday 31 March 2016

To Forgive Is Not To Reconcile

A few days ago I wrote on my Facebook wall, “Forgive others because you deserve to set yourself free.” I had already shared it before and kept it in my ‘Reflections’ Word file. Five months later, I thought of posting it again. Someone commented that they couldn’t understand the link, so I decided to dig deeper before replying to them. And what I found is worth reflecting upon.

Let us examine the difference between two often-confused terms: Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

In general, forgiveness is the act or process of pardoning to prevent harmful thoughts from causing damage to one’s mental well-being. It is an inner response. When anger, resentments, and grudges arise due to past abuse or of a certain crime or accident, by forgiving the wrongdoer we get a chance to let go of these negative emotions. But how can one forgive those who have hurt them? And more importantly, why do it?

In Buddhism, when we forgive someone who has harmed us, we decide not to retaliate, not to seek revenge. We simply unburden ourselves from the weight of grudges, resentment, and retribution. We get it out of the system by shifting how we think about it. We choose to do this for ourselves, for our own healing.

Though it may help the other person as well, but forgiveness primarily involves us and not them. Reconciliation may sometimes follow forgiveness, though it’s possible to forgive without re-establishing or continuing the relationship. We don’t have to like the wrongdoer or even see them again. In fact, we can forgive someone who is dead, because without forgiveness they aren’t really dead in our minds, they remain somewhat alive and real.

So the letting go is essentially for our own peace of mind.

 Whether it’s an abusive parent, an unfaithful partner, a close friend who has backstabbed us, or just a random stranger, we can forgive the person without excusing the act itself. Forgiveness does not mean we justify or condone or minimize their harmful behaviour; it means we choose not be angry or resentful towards them.

Gandhi said, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” He also said, “Forgiveness is the virtue of the brave.”

I believe it is also the gift of the wise. We can do it on our own, without having the other party to know or understand why we have done it. The bitter taste of the memory may stay with us forever, but the act of letting go that comes with forgiveness allows us to better ‘deal’ with the memory of the offence. For true healing does not mean erasing the memory or denying the harm done; it’s simply finding a way to overcome the negativity that is linked to it. It’s a heck of a powerful choice. By dropping the weight, one is capable of focusing on more positive aspects in their lives, get well, and move on.

There are some elements or steps which need to be achieved before letting go is possible. I have found that Buddhism and Psychotherapy offer more or less the same procedure to healing.

First, acknowledging to the self that wrong was done to it.

The emotion needs to be felt and expressed. Fully experiencing the related feelings and thoughts allows one to be able to expunge them, giving a chance for more positive ones to occupy the mind, body, and overall psyche.

The next is to understand the reason behind the wrongdoing by reflecting upon it.

The human brain is almost conditioned to constantly try to look for explanations. At this point, even randomness would suffice to convince it.

Then comes reestablishing safety.

This is achieved so that the act doesn’t reoccur. Because forgiveness doesn’t mean putting oneself in a position to be harmed again. It also doesn’t mean to literally “forget”, since there would be no lesson learned if that were the case. At this level, you may decide to no longer see the person, end a relationship, or establish new boundaries. To be able to proceed, safety needs to be re-acquired to a certain reasonable extent.

Note that the above three steps do not have to follow this specific order. They can overlap and the forgiver may keep returning to them interchangeably until they are ready to move on with their grieving process.

Then finally comes letting go.

This stage is seemingly the hardest because, in a way, it may appear like you’re surrendering power. Though you are not. Again, you are doing this solely for yourself. You choose to set it free. It may actually take months or years to get rid of all the anger, hurt, and resentment. But then when it happens, one becomes liberated from the burden because they had fully let go of the transgression — making peace with their past. That is essentially it.

The Significance of Letting Go is another article of mine covering this specific element, which you may want to check out later. 

Interestingly, in some earlier Buddhist teachings the emphasis was not on forgiving; but on the foolishness of taking offence in the first place. They spoke of transcending the whole experience.

He abused me, he struck me, he overcame me, he robbed me — in those who do not harbour such thoughts hatred will cease.
— Dhammapada 1.3–4; trans. Radhakrishnan

On the other hand, we have reconciliation. This means a return to amicability; it means restoring the harmony of a relationship you had with another person. It’s a more complex tête-à-tête process that surpasses forgiveness, which is a solo job. Reconciliation requires the reestablishing of trust between both parties by them agreeing to work together in a somewhat friendly manner.

If the responsibility for the wrongdoing is denied, or the offender maintains that they did no wrong, there’s no chance for reconciliation. 

Likewise, if the offender insists that the feelings of the other person are not of importance, or that they have no right to hold them to their standards of right and wrong, the person won’t trust the offender not to hurt them again.

For the trust to be regained and reconciliation achieved, there must be mutual respect and agreement on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. 

The offender has to admit they have hurt the other and that it was wrong to do so. They have to promise to exercise control in the future. Only then can their relationship be reestablished.

Like forgiveness, reconciliation offers liberation and healing. However, unlike forgiveness, because it involves two parties, it’s a sort of deal with seemingly harder steps. That is why it’s usually more complicated to materialise.

Just like there are steps to forgiveness, a healthy and lasting reconciliation requires the following:

First, the wrongdoing has to be acknowledged. Hence, its occurrence accepted.

Second, to understand why it had happened.

If the two parties try to patch things up without getting to the root of the issue, nothing can really heal. Only when the root intentions have been shown to both to be reconcilable and the differences resolved can the healing process begins to take place.

Finally, the offender needs to promise to restrain himself from repeating the wrongdoing in the future. This is when trust gets a chance to be restored, and the deal is closed to some degree.

As we have seen, forgiveness and reconciliation are not the same. Forgiveness is about letting go of the past, while reconciliation is about committing to a future. Reconciliation may or may not be possible due to many sorts of obstacles. And when it isn’t possible, forgiveness comes in handy, because you can do it on your own and for your own — to let go of YOUR burdens.

Both forgiveness and reconciliation could be long processes. They each offer healing and a chance to rebuild oneself or fix a relationship. Reconciliation is normally more complicated, it may sometimes never happen or, perhaps, it shouldn’t happen in some cases. Still, I hold that forgiveness is only one personal decision away, which is worth our emotional and mental health. For it is one key to freedom.

Forgive, no need to forget.

Forgive. Because you deserve to set yourself free
It is not always about forgiving or being forgiven by others, you see
Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves. Follow me?
With forgiveness comes loves. And love entails compassion, understanding, and empathy
Makes you feel one with the bumblebee, the tree, the sea — the universe in its entirety
This openness also brings upon some needed vulnerability
’Tis destiny, my friend, quel poetry
Do Re Me
Let it be, Love. Now set it free.
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