Most Americans subscribe to a religion—Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, etc. With those subscriptions come admonishments to forgive, but how many actually can do what is required to actually forgive?
And even amongst those who can forgive, how many can truly let go and keep on forgiving year after year after year?
Perhaps representing the universal sentiment of forgiveness, Mahatma Ghandi once said “You can ask me to forgive, but if you ask me to forget, you are asking me to give up my experiences.”
Ghandi, a man recognized as an agent of peace, was all about forgiving, but still held on to the experience and refused to intentionally forget.
But how many of us have actually internalized the true meaning of the word forgiveness?
What the words of Ghandi actually dictate is that we hold on to the experience that required forgiveness so that it may shield us from repeating it, but clearly, it is in the best interest of our emotional health to forgive.
Perhaps some dear friend has committed a crime of distrust.
Or, perhaps a family member has committed a crime of deceit, theft, or mistrust.
And, for those of us who love, a lover may have committed a crime of infidelity.
Let’s discuss the last one for a moment.
How many of us have relationships that were killed because we could not forgive?
Instead of forgiving the person and allowing them to have a second chance, many of us choose to move on and take a new chance with a stranger who may repeat the offense or commit a new one. An old saying goes: “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know.”
Think about it: A lover has a lapse of judgement that brings you pain. But perhaps the lapse really was a lapse and will never occur again. Is it really worth the time and effort required to leave and start anew, taking yet another chance on someone new who may hurt you in new and different, or even worse ways?
A friend has a moment of weakness and betrays your trust or cheats you. But the moment of weakness may dictate that the friend really needs you, and seeing him or her through that moment may make your friendship stronger and that person whole.
A close family member cheats you or steals money from you. In the end, you weren’t put out badly and the loved one absolutely needed the money. Perhaps it changed or even saved their life and they are now carrying the resulting guilt and would never repeat the transgression.
In all of these cases, forgiveness may be in order.
Sometimes, it appears that the bad things that other people do to us are so egregious that we are certain they mean no good for us and must be removed from our lives permanently. If such is the case, we can forgive them and keep them away from the closeness given before the transgression or never allow them near us again.
But what if the committed offense is not symptomatic of a dark heart with malevolent intent?
What if the offense is a purely honest mistake—a single failed moment in time never to be repeated?
If in fact the offense is an anomaly and we toss the offender out of our lives with no forgiveness, then we may be turning away a best friend, or a close sibling, a lover and/or confidant the likes of which are hard to find.
And, what if our failure or refusal to forgive in turn, damages the offender, causing them to actually become an intrinsic offender from bearing the burden of never being forgiven?
As humans, we need to be forgiven, so that we can make peace with a deed that we may not have really meant to commit—a deed that may not have had devious intent, even though the result was still damaging.
Sometimes, as humans, we need to be forgiven so that we can be given another chance to do the right thing. If we believe that what goes around comes around, doesn’t it make sense to send forgiveness around?
Let’s take a look at what is required for forgiveness.
First, the person must show contrition, which is a sincere remorse for the wrongdoing. If we know what is wrong, that knowledge should allow us to keep from re-offending.
Second, the person must be prepared for making amends by repaying the debt, making up for the offense and/or changing for the better.
Out of all God’s animals, humans have the capacity to change their own destiny and to alter their demeanor and offensive nature.
Sometimes, they just need to be forgiven.
So, today, right now, think of someone who has done wrong to you. Think of what that wrong thing was and whether it is worth losing someone close to you. If the wrong done to you far outweighs the love you have for the person who did you wrong, then let them leave your life. However, if the value of the person who committed the offense outweighs the actual trespass, and if the person really meant no harm, then perhaps forgiveness is in order.
Examine their behavior. Is the person showing genuine regret? Does the person have a plan to make things good (if possible)? And, finally, does the person have a plan to mend the hurt feelings between you and he or she? These are the things that will give us a good idea of whether or not we should forgive, which is not to say that we should forget.
“The weak can never forgive.” —Mahatma Ghandi
It’s difficult to forgive, but the emotional cleansing is well worth the effort. And the learning potential is also great.
We can learn from the transgressions people commit against us. We can use those experiences to protect ourselves from having the same situation repeat itself and we can use those experiences to determine if people are out to harm us or if they simply made a mistake without malice.
And, perhaps forgiving others can bring a peace in our lives, which carries a certain freedom. Forgiveness keeps us from having to carry hatred, resentment and regret through our lives.
I’ve been through a storm that has been showing me a silver lining. I’m discovering grace restored, because I’ve had grace before. That grace comes from letting go of resentment, hatred and regret.
I’ve forgiven family members who hurt me unknowingly, and friends who hurt me without intent to do real harm. I have forgiven lovers who have broken my heart or cheated. But most importantly, I’ve forgiven myself for many of the wrong things I’ve done in my own life that brought pain to others.
It’s hard, but typically, the first step towards forgiveness of others is forgiving ourselves.
“ Once that forgiving has taken place, you can then console yourself with the knowledge that a diamond is the result of extreme pressure. The pressure can make you something quite precious, quite wonderful, quite beautiful, and extremely hard. You are the only person who can forgive yourself.” —Maya Angelou
Darryl James n is an award-winning author who is now a filmmaker. He released his first mini-movie, “Crack,” and this year, will release his first full-length documentary. James appears in the film “What Black Men Think,” an in-depth view of misrepresentations, myths and stereotypes about Black men. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at