“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” – Paul Boese (by way of Criminal Minds)
It’s so funny, the little things that can inspire not only some serious reflection, but also a complete 180 in approach. In this case, that little thing was a quote at the end of a Criminal Minds episode. (Yeah, yeah. I know.)
I’ve been working on a few blog entries lately. One of them is a reflection on friendship. The other was going to be a brief, highly-charged offshoot of that, essentially railing against all the bad behavior of people in the world when it comes to how they engage with and treat one another: in friendships (between women, specifically), but also in romantic relationships, and even with just acquaintances or strangers.
I’ve been wrestling with that a lot lately: bad behavior. I can honestly and gratefully say I am close to some spectacular women/people who engage with each other and the world with integrity, decency, introspection, and thoughtful consideration. And I’ve spent (most of) the last nine months dating/in a relationship with someone who falls into that category, as well.
But Ninja and I have had conversations about other people (mostly women, much as I’m loathe to call that out) – specifically and in general – and it troubles me that there are folks out there who do the things they do, basically being icky and/or terrible to one another. According to some, I’m an exception, not the rule, and so are my friends. I sure as hell hope that isn’t the case, but maybe it is? We don’t talk trash about others when they’re not around; we raise people up. We don’t talk about how we need to “train” our men (gross); we treat our partners as human beings worthy of respect. We don’t force our partners to leave their friends and former life behind; we figure out ways to incorporate it all into one bigger picture. We don’t engage in character assassination; we try to understand motives and ask for clarity, when needed. We don’t seek out partners for the sake of getting things from them (trips, presents, etc.); we’re all self-sufficient and have too much self-worth to grovel or finagle. We don’t homewreck or go after men who are dating/married to someone else; we have way too much dignity and respect for ourselves, others, and the concept of commitment. We don’t cheat, we don’t play games, and we don’t engage from a place of insecurity or self-serving behavior. We dig deep, we tell the truth, and we do our level best for ourselves and each other – whatever that looks like.
So that second post was basically going to be a big long rant about all the horrible things people do (from a personal opinion standpoint). All the ways people behave badly, all the ways my people and I are morally superior…
Talk about self-indulgent… not to mention negative (and self-righteous) in its intention, tone, and content. It suuuuuuuure is a burden to be so perfect and to hold such high (potentially impossible) standards. ;) But thankfully, while in the throes of thinking about bad behavior, thinking about struggles I’ve had with it as well as what other friends and family have gone through lately, in wanting SO BAD to punish and point fingers and judge… suddenly, that quote came up on a TV show and I was reminded of what really matters. At least, to me.
Forgiveness. Empathy and forgiveness.
And from that: Freedom.
Carrying hurt, anger, and resentment around only serves to weigh you down and cause further suffering. Pointing fingers, judging, perpetuating negativity, and assigning blame only serves to separate you from others. If you can get to a place where you can see that someone’s bad behavior is their stuff, not yours… that it’s not intended as a personal affront and not indicative of your own value or worth… if you can find it in yourself to forgive the person and understand that it may be coming from a place of unhappiness, insecurity, or something else… if you can trust that you’ll be okay no matter what someone does (or tries to do) to you and/or your loved ones (within reason, of course)… the future, the world, and your heart absolutely do get a whole lot bigger.
When you’re not being squeezed by the smallness of negativity and spite, you’re giving yourself room to breathe and bloom.
I have a really bad habit of falling into the misguided thought process of, “But why would they do this to ME? What did I do to deserve this? I mean, if they knew me, if they knew what a good-hearted, well-intentioned, loving and awesome person I am, they wouldn’t do this to me, would they?” It’s a trap, but I do it anyway. Victim, anyone? And that makes it hurt even worse, when it feels like a personal attack. Like there’s something wrong with me that warrants the shoddy treatment/behavior. Even in recent months, I’ve found myself wondering why on earth a person would do the thing(s) they’ve done, what I’d done to deserve it, where it was that I, personally, went wrong.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with checking your own stuff to make sure you didn’t somehow bring it on yourself (and this is in no way referring to traumatic events like abuse, assault, or the like, in case I need to clarify that). I do think, in that respect, I might be a little different than most, in that I will always instantly turn inward to see what my part in things may have been. But always thinking that someone’s bad behavior is at all a reflection on who I am as a human is not only self-centered, it’s also really incorrect and misguided. It makes me think of that phrase, an egomaniac with an inferiority complex. The world does not revolve around me – or anyone else for that matter. And ideally, if a person is hurting you or acting out towards you on purpose, they’d have the decency to let you know WHY.
I suppose I just don’t understand why a person would hurt another person on purpose, or would knowingly engage in a behavior that would hurt someone, whether they know and care about them or not. But then, I have to admit I’m well aware I’ve done my fair share of that, too, despite feeling as though I have done my best, most of the time. And my bad behavior was usually either due to being unaware of consequences and effects, or being too caught up in getting what I want that it never crossed my mind to consider repercussions.
Sometimes, the possible ramifications are so vague, so distant, and have no way of being predicted that you just have to do your best. I get that. And obviously, we all have to fend for ourselves. Ultimately, we are the ones who make sure we get what we want and need. But my hippie ass is convinced that we can take care of ourselves, look out for ourselves, even thrive, without using and abusing other people to get there.
I’ve got a few people toward whom I feel anger, resentment, sadness, and/or other negative feelings. And there are, of course, a lot of large-scale situations (war, poverty, body shaming, racism/bigotry, etc.) that wind up being the focus of a more generalized anger from me. I mean, most of the time I’m pretty good with the buddha-buddha-buddha business of letting it go and focusing on other things, but there are times when it all gets to be incredibly overwhelming again, and it becomes difficult to focus on much of anything else. The desire for retribution of some kind shows back up. The anger is reignited. The hurt is fresh again.
And yet, nothing is solved, nothing gets changed, and nothing is accomplished by it. Instead, it just makes me sad and feel heavy inside. And I recognize now that a lot of times, it’s because I’ve allowed someone else’s behavior to make me feel powerless and insecure, like I have no control over things and am at the mercy of someone else. But that’s the rub, right? I actually DON’T have control over anything or anyone but myself and my own actions. And there’s a whole lot of power to be found in that.
It doesn’t feel good to harbor negativity towards others. Even if they “deserve” it. You don’t have to tolerate bad behavior (lying, cheating, manipulating, etc.) from people, nor should you; but sometimes forgiveness is the best kind of response – whether you then choose to continue spending time with the offending party or not (or, in the case of strangers, whether you give them a second thought). You’re then both free to go about your business.
This also calls to mind the other side of the coin: acknowledging my own imperfections, and being grateful for the understanding and forgiveness of my friends and loved ones. I swear. It’s pretty damn humbling to get upset or take issue with something someone does, only to later realize you’ve done that very same thing. But once you recognize that, it not only makes forgiveness and understanding on your part a hell of a lot easier, it also causes you to keep your own behaviors in check, and maybe reconsider what you’ve taken such a strong stance on in the past.
No one likes a hypocrite. :)
For some reason, I am reminded of that horrible Marilyn Monroe quote:
“I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.”
I call it “horrible” because to me it stinks of a lack of accountability. Someone who wants to be a jerk and be accepted for it, rather than, you know, trying to better themselves as human beings. We all have a choice in whether or not we engage with people and their stuff; ideally, though, we wouldn’t hold our good stuff hostage until we felt the person had earned the right to see it.
I am fortunate in that I’m with someone who has seen me get insecure and upset a few times, and he has handled it pretty well, all things considered. But that behavior from me is in no way the norm, nor would it be fair to expect him to tolerate it just so he can have a chance at seeing the good parts. He’s had his moments, too; we’ve both had opportunities to practice patience, empathy, understanding, and certainly forgiveness towards each other. And it has resulted in what I think is a deeper connection and appreciation. The same goes for my close friendships; there has been a lot of understanding, forgiveness, and empathy going on with those folks over the years, both giving and receiving, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the grace they’ve imparted on my life. Thank goodness for generous spirits (and the room to screw up once in a while).
That’s the gift of it all. If you make room for it in your relationships, if you operate under the assumption that we’re all going to mess up sometimes and that it’s okay (as long as you try to make it right), if you manage to follow the Four Agreements more often than not (be impeccable with your word, don’t take anything personally, don’t make assumptions, and always do your best)… every little thing is gonna be alright.
I like to think so, anyway.
So… there you go. What started off as a hateful diatribe turned itself around and into something much better.
I love it when that happens.