My nephew-in-law’s Facebook page exploded into a debate Tuesday after he posted a comment, “4 out of 5 dogs agree, Michael Vick’s performance [on Monday Night Football] doesn’t make him any less of a horrid human being.”
A relatively respectful (by Internet standards) argument unfolded beneath his comment, between several people who said they could never forgive Michael Vick for what he did to his dogs, and a vegetarian who essentially said that anyone who eats mass-produced meat products is participating in a factory farming system that is far worse, in scope and in practice, than anything Michael Vick did.
Back and forth it went, and I read along without commenting until one too many people said something to the effect of, “I can forgive a factory farmer because he’s contributing to our food supply, but I can never forgive Michael Vick because he was torturing his dogs for sport.”
I think it was the friction of having the words “can” and “forgive” that sparked my rant and made it burst into a toy flame. Most everyone ignored me, probably because I never really indicated which side I was on.
I am on a side, though. I am on the side of understanding that forgiveness is complicated and difficult. More often than not, whenever I have forgiven people, it’s NOT because I got to some point where it was comfortable to do so, some point where I thought, “Okay, I can do this.”
What I know about forgiveness is that it occurs most often when people need a way out of no way. The conditions that bring about forgiveness, in my experience, are when you reach a point where a future without forgiveness is unimaginable, and the present without forgiveness is unbearable.
My comment in the Facebook thread was: “Forgiveness isn’t supposed to be easy, cheap, or something you do because you CAN. Forgiveness involves stretching yourself into incredibly uncomfortable – even unfathomable – positions, and then staying there. People don’t earn our forgiveness. Forgiveness is something we decide to Give FOR people, whether they deserve it or not.”
I bet each of us has at least one person that we just can’t seem to forgive. Maybe we’ve even tried, but we just couldn’t make it out of the pit of unforgiveness. I know I have at least one person I haven’t forgiven. I suspect there are more than just the one, but my particular unforgiven person looms so large and casts such a huge shadow that I can’t actually see any of the other people I haven’t forgiven. They are eclipsed by this one, singular, unforgiven person.
As I typed out my four sentence toy rant on forgiveness yesterday, to a bunch of people I don’t know (except for my nephew-in-law), my unforgiven person leaped to the front of my mind. The massive inland property that this person takes up in my life was suddenly beachfront real estate. In that moment, it became really clear to me what I have to do to forgive this person: I have to be willing to give up carrying around the loss of my relationship with this person, to stop wearing it like some sort of Supersized Emotional Purple Heart Medal of Valor Blindfold.
The refusal to forgive creates a kind of blindness, doesn’t it? By focusing so relentlessly and exclusively on the damage done to me, I’m blinded to the ongoing corrosion and erosion that characterize unforgiveness. I also rob myself of any vision of a future that only forgiveness can offer. Forgiveness doesn’t guarantee that I’ll have a better future with my currently unforgiven person. But at the very least, forgiveness will give me a future that’s roomier, with better views, more counter space, and maybe even a window seat.
I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I spent this past Saturday at a “Beijing Circles” workshop. At the workshop, we watched a video by a woman named Margaret Wheatley. She does a lot of leadership training around the world. In the video, she had this whole riff on “following the energy of Yes!”
She talked about how change happens when people start taking action instead of thinking about taking action and wondering how. We often get immobilized because an issue seems so big that we don’t know where to start. To that, Wheatley says, “Start anywhere, with a Yes!, and follow the energy of Yes! everywhere. We learn what works by doing the work.” Follow the energy of Yes! Start anywhere. Follow it everywhere. Learn what works by doing the work. When I went back and read my workshop notes yesterday, they seemed like instructions.
So. It is with no small amount of bewilderment that I am saying “Yes” to beginning the work of forgiving my unforgiven person. All right, it’s probably more of a “Sure. Okay, I’m in.” Maybe I’ll get to “Yes!” if I give an exotic and goofy Tai Chi posture name to whatever unfathomably uncomfortable position I’ll have to assume to pull this off. I know, how about Repulse Broken Heart Blindfold in Verdant Valley Of Laughing Monkey?!
If you hear sounds of discomfort, it’s just me working on my new posture.