In recent weeks, several people questioned my forgiveness of others. Without discussion, they delivered flat, critical verdicts on my positions, slighting my values, emotions, judgments, and relationships. I thought they were wrong to question my kindness. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I condone wrongs, want to resume relationships, or waive legal or ethical responsibilities.
After tripping through confusion and pushing aside the superior attitude I had adopted in response to disapproval, I settled down to question my motives. I forgive to relieve my anger and resentment. I dump negative emotions so I can reclaim the energy given to others.
I forgive for me. Maybe my criticizers had valid points. If I abandon rational outrage with the same impulsive nature that lets me procrastinate laundry and dishes, do I end up with a hamper or sink of disgusting relationships?
That seemed logical until I remembered the people I can’t forgive. They prove I don’t forgive with reckless abandon, so what makes me different? And, does being different make me careless or wrong? How and when do I drop resentments others hold, and why don’t I extend forgiveness to everyone?
I forgave the man who nearly choked me to death, but not the man who kicked my daughter. I hold no hard feelings toward the friend who forgot me when I got sick and no positive feelings for the one who insulted every welfare recipient in this country. I wish the best for the woman who devoted years of her life to complicating mine, the co-worker who claimed my work as his own, and the kid who took money from my purse, but I hope the attorney who stole money from my daughter buys himself a case of bleeding ulcers with that money.
I forgive Ted Kennedy’s forty-year-old scandal, Bill Clinton’s personal indiscretions, and Al Gore’s hidden personality. I refuse to excuse George Bush’s dishonesty, Dick Cheney’s corruption, Tom Delay’s fraud, Scott McClellan’s dodging, or Christianity’s duplicity.
Instead of writing myself off as hopelessly fickle, I searched for explanations. Some of the people I forgave never uttered a sorry, an oops, or a my bad. They did not pull me into mediation, send flowers, offer excuses, or try to prove anything to me. Some don’t know I exist or how they hurt me, and don’t need my forgiveness. The difference with them is that either they didn’t know what they were doing, what they did was a one-time infraction, or they later made impressive changes in their lives, demonstrating an appropriate sorrow for their actions – much better than an uttered sorry. Those I haven’t forgiven have dedicated their lives to hurting others and don’t deserve forgiveness.
In conclusion, I believe my forgiveness is rational. Those who criticized me without question made tepid judgments of me for not doing the same.