The Mechanics Of Forgiveness
No one has a license to rage. Forgiveness is the path of least resistance.
From time to time, I re-examine the concept of forgiveness. When I was younger, I wasn’t very forgiving. There were some things that I could not let go of. I wanted other people to change more to my liking, and they wouldn’t change. I once believed that if I withheld forgiveness, that they would notice. I found that if I did not forgive them, that I was only inviting suffering for myself. They were happy. I was not. So I learned to forgive.
I used to think that forgiveness was only for big things like betrayal, infidelity, and theft of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But as a father, I learned to be forgiving as a matter of course and habit. I began to notice that as my kids grew older, their mistakes got bigger. I noticed that rage did not work on my kids.
Rage doesn’t make anyone else do what you want them to do. I found that even if I had expressed rage at someone, they still didn't do what I wanted them to do. Rage inspires fear, and when people are in fear, it’s really hard for them to think and respond. Oh, they’ll react, but they won’t think. And that is why I don’t think anyone has a license to rage. I’ve never actually seen rage work to anyone’s benefit.
Yesterday, while I was eating lunch with my family, my younger daughter took to eating with her hands that day. I’m not sure why. Maybe she was seeking the sensual experience of feeling the noodles in the water. My wife asked her to stop eating, wash her hands, and then come back to eat with utensils. My daughter refused. She would eat, look at my wife, and eat some more, refusing to budge as my wife became more and more insistent.
This dynamic made me really uncomfortable so I asked my younger daughter to come to the bathroom with me so that we could wash our hands together. My older daughter joined us on her own initiative. While we were there, I made it fun for us to wash our hands together. I explained how to wash our hands by lathering our hands in the soap for 20 seconds and then rinsing them off.
I understood the power of suggestion and modeling. I understood that no one likes being told what to do. I understood that if I washed my hands, my kids would do what I did. Kids have a natural tendency to copy the behavior of their parents or caregivers. I figured that they would follow me. While we were in the bathroom, I was totally non-threatening. I made no suggestion of punishment for non-compliance. And when we returned to the dining table, my younger daughter used utensils as my wife had wanted in the first place.
Rather than take an unforgiving stance like my wife, I accepted my kids as they were. I understood their desire to use their hands to eat. I think we have a natural urge to want to touch the food we eat with our hands before we put it in our mouths. Finger food is like that, noodles not so much. But throughout the entire interaction at the dining table, I was mindful of these things.
I forgive people every day. Forgiveness is like doing the laundry or paying the bills. Forgiveness is a habit that I have long since learned to practice. I have tried the other way many times and have found that wanting. I have found forgiveness to be the path of least resistance to peace.
Rage, anger, and resentment only lead to more rage, anger, and resentment. Think of human beings as processing systems. We process air, water, and food. We process inputs and outputs. Every second we perform logical and mathematical calculations to get our needs met. We think that emotions are automatic. Most of the time they’re not. Before we can have an emotion, we must make a value judgment, and once we arrive at the value judgment we make, we may notice that we have a feeling about it. We can choose how we think and how we feel about what we think.
Now I’ve been practicing forgiveness for many years before I met my wife. I have learned to practice forgiveness because I knew I would need to know forgiveness if I was going to live with someone else for the rest of my life. I needed to be able to forgive myself in order to live with myself.
My wife is from Vietnam. I also knew, in bringing a woman from a foreign country into my home, that we would have a power imbalance between us. I was mindful that she could always decide to go home if she wanted to. I was mindful to do everything I could to make my home feel like it was hers too, so practicing forgiveness with her was critical for us to live together.
When I used to drive to work before the pandemic, I learned to be forgiving on the road. I may not approve of the way other people drive, but I know that if I don’t forgive them, I can’t enjoy the music playing in my car. I also have found that if I forgive the other drivers, I often find that they’ve diverged from my path before I even know it. I leave early to decrease the stress of the commute so that I get to work early. And knowing that I will get to work early makes me more forgiving.
I work in customer service, so I must be forgiving as a part of my job. When I’m forgiving at work, my customers feel it. They know that I’m there to solve their problem with the software that they paid money for the right to use. They’re also paying for the support I’m here to provide. Even if the customer appears to be incompetent to use the software, that’s not my problem, that’s my job security. My job then is to work with the customer, no matter the level of skill that they have, and walk them through the problem at hand and solve it for them. I don’t talk badly of my customers because they sign the checks that pay for my check. I forgive them so that I can work with them.
Forgiveness is a can opener to me. Forgiveness allows me to relax my hand from a clenched fist to an open hand ready to receive opportunities. I have learned to see that opportunity is always on the other side of forgiveness. I have yet to see any point in my life where forgiveness did not serve me.
This is why I say forgiveness is like doing housework. Forgiveness is what we do to keep our brains clean. Forgiveness is what we do for mental health. When we forgive, we clear the way for us to see the opportunities that await us. And opportunities are like buses. There may not be a schedule, but there’s always another one coming. Forgiveness allows us to let go of our expectations. Forgiveness allows us to see the world as it is, not as we expect it to be. Forgiveness allows us to err on the side of peace. Forgiveness allows me to sleep at night, knowing I did the right thing.