Danny Writes: Is Forgiveness Overrated?

Introduction

Forgiveness is one of those concepts that we all battle with on a regular basis. It’s pretty much impossible to go a day without someone doing something that you disapprove of. Most of the time, we’re content with an apology or a show of sincere regret but this isn’t always enough. The problem with forgiveness is that it’s become so generalised that you can’t surf the internet without stumbling upon a motivational quote dictating that however bad the deed; forgiveness is the best answer. I don’t think it’s ever that simple. Is forgiveness overrated?

Friends and Family

‘Forgive thy neighbour’. I grew up with this teaching lambasted in my ear any time I fell out with any of my siblings and refused to shake their hands. Why should I forgive someone who’s willing to hurt me intentionally?Β Then a second teaching would throw me off course: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”. Well, I gotta say, this Jesus guy just got me real good. This was enough for me through my childhood years to forgive pretty much anything anyone did to me. I’ve been in fights, been stolen from, cussed out and more; yet these were the same people I’d be laughing and cracking jokes with a week later.

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I can honestly see why a lot of the Instagram gurus decide to preach this concept, I was probably more happier than I would have been had I not been more forgiving back then simply because; it’s less awkward. It’s easier to smile and greet people who offend you than it is to ignore and despise them when most of your day demands you to be in close proximity with them.Β The problem with this though is that the offender very rarely realises, or appreciates, the reasoning behind your smile. It’s sad but something as small as simply appearing happy can be a signifier that you’re happy to be mistreated and still hold the meaningless title of a ‘friend’ at the end of the day.

It’s not just friends either, even members of your own family can do things that make you question whether that title is also meaningless. If anything, you’re more at risk of having family betray you than anyone else because our guards are lowered by familial expectation.

Adapting

I guess it depends on what you find forgivable and worthy of risking it happening again. Personally, I don’t care what relationship we have but if you steal from me, air out my secrets or attempt to ruin something good in my life then whatever friendship we had is a thing of the past. On the other hand, things like lies and lack of empathy I can usually forgive because they come from ignorance rather than malice (most of the time). This doesn’t mean I’ll forget it, it just means I’ll have to change my perception of you accordingly until you prove otherwise. For example, I have one friend who will always turn up late in spite of any precautionary measures taken in advance. You can text him, call him, make him set a reminder. Regardless of all of the aforementioned the guy will always turn up late. So, I adapted. Whenever we plan to meet up nowadays I always give him an earlier time than necessary so he thinks he’s turning up late but really he isn’t (*insert any choice of evil genius laughter*).

My issue with people telling me to forgive unconditionally is that the generic sense of forgiveness is impossible to apply to every situation imaginable. There are people out there who relish the opportunity to strike a second time so if safeguards aren’t in place to prevent that, the consequences can be irreparable. My own definition of forgiveness would be the decision to not retaliate, so in that sense I try to ‘forgive’ everyone. I’ve been stolen from and there are some people who still owe me money years later but it’s never been enough to warrant me to go out of my way to full on battle someone and, in the process, invite constant retaliation. I’ve forgiven them because they’ve stooped so low to obtain something that I know will always come back to me; and in bigger volumes than before. I never forget though. They’ll never get the same ‘me’ that was cheerful and generous towards them, instead they get cold, distant and ‘no’ as a catchphrase. Yes it is awkward and difficult especially when it’s someone whose presence you’re forced to be in but guess what? They’ve never stolen from me again.

I stumbled upon an incredible thread on Reddit recently which asked the unthinkable question:

I’ll start off by giving my own two cents: I have no children but if I did and one of them killed the other… well my forgiveness would depend on a number of factors like the situation and whether it was intentional but my gut instinct is to say I couldn’t forgive it. That’s possibly because as soon as I see ‘killed’ I instantly apply malicious connotations and also the fact that, like I said, I don’t have children so could never really give an authentic answer. Even those with children would struggle to answer such a question if they had not experienced loss in this way; but if you’re a parent with a child I’m honestly interested in your answer to this question based on the love you have for them.

redd
Transcript: My daughter was killed by my son while he was drunk driving. She was the most forgiving person I’d ever known, and every day I struggle with whether to forgive hinnnm. She would have. I can’t.
Every parent has days where one kid pisses you off and you like the other one more. That’s pretty much been the emotion for the last few years.
I get a lot of invitations to be a speaker for MADD. I refuse because I instantly hate everyone who looks like my son. Therapist tells me it’s because I feel hatred and won’t let myself project it on him, I don’t really care to hear theories any more.
I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t angry and empty and dull and explosive. I look forward to him leaving for his dad’s every week. We talk and go through therapy but I couldn’t tell you what I’ve done for three years. It’s like sitting in a grey room eating oatmeal and your only company is your worst enemy, but it’s better than having no one.
Edited to answer questions. He was 17 at the time. Attending university and living at home currently. We all felt too fragile to let him go live on his own.
My daughter was 6. She was not drinking, this was not a party, it was my son getting drunk at home and then telling her he would take her for a ride. He got over his initial sadness extremely quickly. Seems he is the only person left unaffected by losing a family member. Hard to forgive someone who does not feel sorry.
Plenty of speculation as to how much I loved my son before the incident. I did love my son very much. I still do. Love and anger are not mutually exclusive, especially after trauma like the loss of a child. Plenty of keyboard psychologists here would love to dissect my words and assume things about my life. I can only speak to my own state of mind.
The idea to have him go live with his father full time has been visited. If there is anyone filled with more anger and hatred, it’s my ex husband. I know my son hates it there because his father won’t talk to him. We do both try. Nothing about this is easy.
Thank you for the gold and the kind comments. I truly do wish everyone on this thread peace.

The example above seems like the most authentically real response to a situation that I can see myself being in, if something like that was to happen to me. By the conventional definition of ‘forgiveness’, the user hasn’t forgiven their son because the definition pretty much demands that you continue as usual. In reality, this is rarely the case which is why I don’t value the definition. Now to me this user has forgiven her son by the more realistic definition because she hasn’t actively sought revenge which, in my experience, is often the first thing that comes to mind. What she can’t do is forget, that’s why the user still loves their son but can’t stomach seeing him or being around him; because it reminds her of something that screams for revenge.

This is where I’ve come to my conclusion, take from it what you will.

The answer is yes.

Yes, forgiveness is overrated. The conventional definition that is. It’s dangerous to allow people who have a negative impact on your life the room to turn the tap of negativity off and on as they please knowing you will forgive them. Undoubtedly, the room will flood in the end and you’ll be the one that’s left to drown. That’s my own depressing way of looking at it but even without the exaggeration the truth remains.

Forgiving people by not wasting your time looking for ways of causing them equivocal, or worse, pain?

Underrated.

It’s not worth the stress and if I’ve learned anything in this life it’s that if I have it, odds are I can and will get it back in some form or another. Why trouble yourself on a fraction of what you will have in years to come? Distance yourself from those you made the mistake of trusting and you’ll never have problems from them again. Seek revenge and they’ll come back for you and the cycle just continues.


Is forgiveness something that’s hard for you or does it come easily? Let me know your thoughts.
-Danny

5 Comments on “Danny Writes: Is Forgiveness Overrated?”

  1. Danny, I hope this is the box for the comment on forgiveness. I can’t remember everything I was going to say from earlier today, but a couple of things. About the lady whose son killed her daughter. You have to admit that’s a pretty extreme “wrong” to ask anyone to forgive. The inability to forgive appears to be ripping the family apart, but it is perfectly understandable why it is impossible for the parents to forgive their still living child. Not forgiving him doesn’t help them but it doesn’t help him either. The parents are still in their grieving and until that grieving is done it will be impossible. There is no rushing grieving. When the grieving is over maybe they will be ready to at least consider forgiveness. As you so eloquently verbalized, forgiveness means many things to many people. One thing that needs to be clear about forgiveness from my perspective is that it isn’t an emotional thing as much as a conscious choice because in order to pass the burden of the wrong from your own shoulders and onto the shoulders of the wrongdoer you have to have processed that wrong to its furthest extent before you can pass it on. Forgiveness is something you make a conscious choice to do and IF one chooses to forgive it is without thought of the wrongdoer, but of one’s own benefit that a person does it. I really liked what you had to say about it. You capture ideas that are difficult to put into words.

    1. This an incredibly well thought out response ma’am so I’ll do my best to return the favour.

      Firstly, you’re right; having to forgive someone for a such thing as killing their child is a huge ask (understatement of the century) and that’s why I find it such an intriguing topic. Like you said, there’s no rushing grieving but is it just the grief or is it the constant reminder that someone has changed your life permanently and there’s nothing you can do about it?

      Secondly, you say forgiveness is a conscious choice rather than emotional response which I completely agree with. I believe anyone who forgives out of emotion rather than conscious thought is setting themselves up for a rehash of what they forgave to begin with. When forgiveness is done with perspective and subsequences in mind, it’s less likely that you will make the same mistake again. It’s nice to see we think in similar ways.

      Lastly, forgiveness focusing on your own wellbeing rather than the wrongdoing is of course very important but, personally, I often find myself in a loop where I have forgiven the person but the reminder of what they have done often makes me question why I’ve done so. In a way, forgiveness takes more strength than it does to seek revenge; it’s a tough topic and I’m glad we could discuss it!

      Thank you for such an insightful response 😁

  2. I love the weight of the concepts you’re addressing, even if I don’t agree with all of your conclusions. Inviting people to talk about these “weightier matters” is highly commendable.

    I would refer to forgiveness as a commitment to refuse to either contribute to their detriment or prohibit their progress, which I feel aligns with your concluding terminology. I don’t ever recall considering forgiveness to require us to proceed with life as if nothing happened.

    Cheers for the post.

    1. “A commitment to refuse to either contribute to their detriment or prohibit their progress” this is beautifully put.

      I’m always happy to debate/discuss sensitive topics, I’m glad we can value each other’s opinions,

      Thanks bud 😁

I read all replies :)