Most of us feel bitterness, anger, and a deep desire for revenge at one point in our lives or another. These feelings usually occur when someone hurts or betrays us.
When People Hurt Us: A Cry for Justice
On the one hand, these feelings are legitimate. When people hurt or betray us, it causes us great suffering. Our bitterness is a demand that people see and honor our pain. Our difficult feelings are a cry for justice.
On the other hand, sometimes our bitterness drags us down. We continually ruminate on peoples’ cruel behavior. We want some kind of explanation or, what is more likely, we want them to acknowledge the terrible hurt they have done to us.
Our painful feelings can become even more painful when we feel like the person or people who hurt us will never acknowledge what they have done.
Getting Stuck in Bitterness and Anger
These difficult feelings develop into a toxic, bitter stew of grief and rage. This stews keep us from sleeping at night; it ruins our day; and it gets in the way of us developing happy and healthy relationships with other people.
Releasing Ourselves from Bitterness
What we need is some way both to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by others and also a way to release ourselves from bitterness so that we do not keep perpetuating our suffering.
It may not seem like it at first, but forgiveness is a power that both honors our pain and releases us from our suffering–but only if forgiveness is understood rightly.
Forgiveness often does not feel like the answer to our problems. Sometimes it seems that forgiveness is a matter of deciding that our pain is not a big deal anymore and that we are over it. That is not helpful at all because our pain does matter, and we can not just get over it.
So what is this mysterious kind of forgiveness I am speaking of?
What is True Forgiveness?
True forgiveness is the realization that when people hurt us, it is because of stupid and unskillful responses to their own suffering and it is a refusal to perpetuate the cycle of suffering.
It is important to understand that anyone who hurts us is actually trapped in a dark forest of self-torment, and they are acting out of their own pain.
Every single human being desires safety, peace, and love. We do almost everything we do to achieve these goals. Unfortunately, we often try to achieve these goals in a stupid and unskillful way. For instance, we mistakenly try to achieve these goals by controlling others through violence, aggression, deceit, neglect, and manipulation.
Unfortunately, behaviors like this only increase our suffering and the suffering of others. We only find true safety, peace, and love through practicing love and compassion and other qualities like these.
Therefore, all of the actions that people do which cause suffering to ourselves and others are literally stupid and unskillful attempts to get the things that are most important to us. (By stupid, I just mean wrong-headed, ill-advised, ineffective, ignorant.)
Every single person acts in a stupid and unskillful manner at some point in his or her life—it is just that some of us regularly act in a stupid and unskillful manner.
Stupidity, Compassion, and Forgiveness
How does understanding this help us forgive? Imagine someone who is lost in a dark forest. All that person wants to do is escape the forest and go home to his or her loved ones. For some reason, however, the person just keeps walking around in a very small circle. As they do so, they get increasingly angry, scared, confused, and terrified.
Imagine that the person works himself up into such a bad place that when people pass by and try to help, he lashes out at them, calls them liars, is even violent to them. This person is in a pitiable situation.
People who treat other people cruelly are actually in the very same place. They are wandering around stupidly in the dark forest of their own emotions. They want to escape, but they do not know how, and so they keep walking around in an endless, futile circle, lashing out at all passers-by.
Forgiving people does not mean that we ignore the pain they are causing us and others. It also does not mean that we want to hang around them and be their friend. Rather, we recognize that cruel, hurtful people are in a dark forest of their own making.
We hope they can escape someday and stop hurting themselves and others, and we decide to walk out of the forest.
We can walk out of the forest because we realize that people’s cruelty is always about their dark forest; it is not about us. We recognize that we are all called to walk out of the forest and into the light.
We realize we can always leave the forest and stop walking around in our own stupid circles.
When we forgive others in a way that frees us, we are saying, more or less, “I am sorry you are behaving in such a stupid and ineffective way. I wish you peace and freedom from suffering, and it is time for me to go.”
Forgiveness is a superpower. It releases us from darkness.
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