What Is the Price of Forgiveness?


I have been thinking about this question for, well, my entire life.

But I just finished my last blog, and I was reminded of the Amnesty Trials in South Africa, presided over by Desmond Tutu (who is my hero, as in HERO).  Anyone who had committed crimes against humanity would be granted amnesty if they confessed publicly.  When the confessions of torture and murder got too much for the listeners to bear, Desmond Tutu stopped the proceedings and had them sing.  One of the songs they sang, loosely translated, is this:  Whatever God has made nothing can destroy.

I always thought that those trials stand out in human history as a miracle and the most brutal of healings.  I have also wondered about the lack of punishment.  They had no choice–if they had punished the white offenders, the whites in South Africa would never have let Mandela’s South Africa come into being.  But I have always wondered–the miracle or the compromise with justice?

Today I have been writing and thinking about Woody Allen and other child abusers, which leads me to the question of human evil.  So, I think about South Africa as I ask myself how do we approach evil in ourselves and each other?  How do we think about it?  Explain it?

  1. In Internal Family Systems, Dick Schwartz proposes that the part of any of us who acts in harmful ways against others, including children, believes it acts for our own protection.  This kind of self-protection is well-intentioned for this part (subself) who works only toward a single goal–keeping us alive and away from dangerous emotions.  We must appreciate the part’s intention, Schwartz says, in order to heal ourselves.
  2. In addiction theory, evil comes from disease.  The entire personality becomes warped in the service of getting the next drink, drug, sexual hit, whatever.  But addicts who get sober are redeemable.  They can heal.  Then they must take responsibility for their actions.
  3. With current theories of mental illness, you just better take your meds.
  4. In religion, you’re going to hell.  Unless you’re Catholic, and confess, and then you’re forgiven.
  5. Or, if Christ died for all our sins, we’re forgiven ahead of time.
  6. Or, in the Old Testament, you might get struck by lightening.  You’re definitely NOT forgiven, and punishment should be meted out equally (eye for an eye).
  7. Then there’s Buddhism.  The way I understand it, meditation leads to the kind of enlightenment in which you can pray as much for the criminal as for the victim, and share your compassion equally between them.  The ability to meet violence with equanimity equals a high level of enlightenment.

Everyone’s struggling to understand evil, and how to deal with it, how to heal it, how to forgive, when to condemn, when to punish…all the age old questions.

I really want to know the price of forgiveness.  Because I can tell you that meditating with difficult emotions as my meditation object is friggin’ brutal.  And trying to say metta for people who have hurt me is just as bad.  So is the price the suffering of letting go?  Of giving up your own righteousness?  Do I have to see myself in the people I don’t ever want to be?

But, on the other side, is the price of forgiveness the continued bad acts of people you’ve chosen to forgive?  I know people who forgive those who show no remorse.  Like the Buddhists who share compassion equally between the victim and the offender.  And man, I am just not that enlightened.  I’m with the victim.  I can understand the offender, but mostly I just want them stopped.  Period.  End of every sentence everywhere.

I want to know what forgiveness costs.  I mean, literally.  I guess that means I need to keep thinking about this one.

As if 50+ years isn’t enough.

But what I really want is to be free of the past–the pain of having been hurt, the pain of having hurt people.  Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.  Not an original statement, but a true one.  And it’s not like it’s a decision.  I once found a card about the astrological sign Pisces.  It said, “A pisces will walk a mile to get her feelings hurt and then remember it for the rest of her life.”

I was like, SOMEONE GETS ME!

Seriously, I think about forgiveness because I don’t really understand it.  I mean, I can forgive my partner, who loves me, and who hates hurting me, and who tries, really tries, to change the things about her that cause me pain.  Not who she is, but habits, faults, etc.  In the many years we’ve been together, I’ve come, slowly, to be capable of giving her get-out-of-jail free cards, sometimes even when I know she’ll do the same f-ing thing again.  I’ll even say, “I’m going to let you off the hook, and say it was just a mistake, even though you’ll probably do the same thing next week.”  She’s always like, “Thanks.”  (Give me a break, she knows me, and she’s just glad I won’t be trying every trick in the book to get her to say she’s sorry 50 million times.)  And then I’m like, “But you better watch it the next time.”  And she’s like, “Don’t ruin it.”  (We’re just like this.)  Or sometimes she’s like, “I know already.”

But how do I forgive people who hurt me on purpose, or who don’t care?

And how do I forgive myself?

I ask people about this, and they’re like, “You just decide to.”

Or they’re like, “You have to grieve it, and acknowledge the hopes betrayed.”

Or they’re like, “Too bad you don’t gamble, drink, smoke, eat sugar or whatever.  Because that would at least help you forget, you friggin’ health freak from hell.”

Or they’re like, “Maybe you need to meditate more.”

Or they’re like, “Just keep asking the questions, Lyralen.”

I worry that the price of forgiveness is justice.  Giving up the hope of it.  And my whole life has been the pursuit of justice and equality, so really, if that’s what forgiveness requires, I don’t think I can do it.

And that worries me.  Because I would like to be enlightened and free.  I would like to be light and at peace.

I guess I’ll meditate more.  And keep asking the question.

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