Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Forgiving, Forgetting, Consequences, and Learning from Pain

My Dear Reader,

When I was in high school physics (which, BTW, has saved the world)*, I learned something that I have, at last, found useful: that horizontal motion is separate from vertical motion.


Let me explain it to you this way: if you have two ping pong balls, and Ball 1 is dropped straight down while Ball 2 is hurled to to the side as it falls, the two balls will fall at the same rate, landing at the same time. If you don't believe/understand my very poor explanation, please enjoy this animated gif. That's because the forces pulling the balls down are independent of the forces that are pushing Ball 2 to the side--the two forces don't really affect the other, even though it might seem like they do. I would like to venture that this principle can be used as a metaphor for forgiveness and consequences, or in other words, I would like to propose that forgiveness and some consequences are just as independent as horizontal and vertical motion.

It's true that a lot of the time, forgiveness means forbearing certain consequences. For example, forgiving a debt means that you don't make the debtor suffer the consequences of his/her debt. Duh. Those aren't the kind of consequences I'm discussing here. What I mean is this: if on Monday you forgive Sally of a debt of $200, do you honor her request for a $300 loan on Wednesday? If you don't loan the money to her, does that mean that you haven't truly forgiven Sally?

Trust me when I tell you that I have heard about forgiving "seventy times seven" about 490 times. I promise that I understand the concept. But if a child is bullied, and the child forgives her bully, does complete forgiveness mean acting like the bullying never happened? I say no, because I know from personal (and recent) experience that ignoring bullying only leads to more bullying. And ignoring bullying for too long often has the strangest effect of making people side with the bully. Weird, right?


Anyway, I think that you don't have to give Sally the $300 in order to forgive her. The ball will still fall just as quickly, whether it's pushed to the side or not. I think that while you did forgive Sally of her/your $200, completely forgetting that Sally apparently has a loan repayment problem isn't going to help anybody. What if you end up having to forgive Sally of the $300, and then she comes and asks you for $400, and so on? Seventy times seven can get expensive, not to mention that this "forgiveness" can also be described as "enabling." I think it's true that destructive behavior should be forgiven. I also believe that destructive behavior should be stopped. And I think you can do both at the same time, because forgiving someone is independent from that kind of accountability. A woman can forgive the man that murdered her husband and still let the murderer go to prison. Not sending the murderer to prison is irresponsible and wrong.

I find it extremely annoying when someone is behaving inappropriately, and when I tell someone about it, I get a whole lecture on how I'm not being forgiving enough. People who know what's right have a responsibility to stop wrongdoing when they see it, and "forgiving and forgetting," in my experience, can do little to solve problems. It's true that Christ asked us to forgive. It's also true that evil triumphs when the good do nothing. These aren't mutually exclusive. I suppose what I'm getting at is that you can offer someone forgiveness without offering them trust. They are two completely separate animals.

Forgiveness is a gift that you can never earn. If you think you deserve forgiveness, then you don't understand what forgiveness is: a divine consequence of pure love. A purging of negative emotions. A shedding of pride and selfishness. Forgiveness is about feelings. Forgiveness is about staying free from revenge, grudges, and hard-heartedness, and not letting pain taint you.

Trust, on the other hand, must be earned. This is because trust gives special privileges that can easily be misused. Violated trust must be re-earned, often at a higher price. To a person who truly forgives, trust is freely and happily given when re-earned and can be re-earned an infinite amount of times. The lack of trust does not denote the presence of hate or an absence of love, but is a natural consequence of negative and destructive patterns of behavior. Trust is about prudence and good judgement. Trust has nothing to do with feelings, though it may be accompanied by them.

If a wolf comes and kills your sheep, do you forgive the wolf and forget that your sheep is dead? No! You forgive the wolf, AND you build a fence to protect your sheep. You take the situation and you learn from it. Forgetting puts other people in danger and perpetuates the problem.

Purging yourself of all ill-will towards that wolf is healthy. Forgetting means you end up with a flock of dead sheep.

We get hurt so we can learn to be strong, or in other words, strength requires sacrifice. A good ninety-five percent of the pain in our lives comes from other people, people who, according to the Redeemer of Israel, we must then forgive. I refuse to let my pain be pointless. I refuse to invite unnecessary pain into my life. I refuse to stand by and let people destroy me or others. And as I refuse to be bogged down by hatred and revenge, I pledge to learn from my pain and let it make me a smarter, better person. I pledge to let my pain teach me how to not treat others. I pledge to protect myself and others from evil as best as I can. I pledge to stand up for myself and never allow another to destroy my sense of worth. I pledge to give my trust wisely. And lastly, I pledge to continually work on stripping myself of pride, and offering forgiveness to the vilest of offenders.

After all, the only other alternative is destruction.

Regards, best wishes, and a healthy flock,

-Cecily Jane

* Yes, the English graduate did just reference an in-joke among physicists. I used to have a good friend who was a physics (i.e. not physical) education major, and now I can't ever say/type the words "high school physics" (which isn't exactly often, but whatever) without my brain's autocomplete adding "saved the world." It's based on a quote from Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. It is also thanks to her that I know several songs about Albert Einstein. People that amusing don't come by very often.

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