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Strength in forgiveness

| Friday, January 23, 2015

Think back to the last time you were hurt by someone. I mean really hurt. Whether you were angry, sad, insulted, disappointed or some ugly combination of all of these, you felt wronged. Maybe it was your fault, maybe it wasn’t – what matters is that you were hurt.

In moments like these when we feel attacked or offended, it’s almost second nature to immediately put up a wall and shun the other person, while firing our own arrows over our defenses. You choose the direct route and fire thorned text messages like a Mongolian warrior or maybe you choose the indirect route and post an incredibly passive-aggressive Facebook status directed to no one in particular, yet very specifically targeting that certain someone. Like a savage instinct, we shut down the critical thinking centers of our brains and focus instead on distancing ourselves from the vulnerability we feel by thinking about how we can get even. We internalize what was said or what was done and how it made us feel. We resent whoever caused us this pain and sometimes we shut them out of our lives altogether.

As these bridges burn, we vow never to repair them. It seems inconceivable to forgive. In a world that has always valued strength, the idea of forgiving seldom comes to mind as an act of fortitude. Yet, forgiveness is one of the strongest actions a human can take because it’s tough. It goes against our instincts to forgive. Nobody jumps to forgive someone after a serious conflict, the same way you jump to block an incoming dodgeball in gym class. It’s just not our first reaction … or our second, and if we never make the deliberate effort, the bridges we burned will remain as they are, broken down remnants and relics to something that was once meaningful.

The toughest things in life often mean doing the opposite of what we would want to do. The oft-cited Gandhi is a great example; his non-violent resistance techniques were counter-intuitive, but were ultimately what was best. As Civil Rights fighters allowed themselves to be hurt and offended strategically, they knew that there was a greater purpose in the end. The importance of doing this kind of tough work can be seen in our own lives. When your joints hurt and you are out of breath, it’s hard to say that running is fun, yet we want to be in shape. When you study long hours and miss out on doing other things, it’s easy to pity yourself but it generally pays off. You do it because you know it’s what is best, even if it’s the opposite of what you want in the moment, because you know it will be worth it.

Such is forgiveness. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why this is true is because the thought of forgiving the person who has offended us seems like a sign of weakness. As a defense mechanism, we often want to prove our strength by showing just how well we can get on without them. Yet, forgiveness implies an even greater strength than grudge-holding. It’s hard to open our hearts to forgiveness because it makes us feel vulnerable. Nevertheless, forgiving someone is a beautiful display of love, kindness and peace.

Forgiveness looks different based on a variety of factors. For one, you can forgive someone even without letting them know. This can happen when the offender is deceased – even after their death, they can still be forgiven. Even if they are still with you, you do not necessarily need to let them know – you can always forgive them quietly in your own heart. The point is to replace enmity with love.

It’s easy to let those burnt bridges remain the way they are, derelict and crustier than the dining hall’s re-heated macaroni and cheese. On the other hand, it’s much tougher to revisit those bridges and try to build something new. If nothing else, you can simply wipe the ashes away, quietly forgive them and feel that weight leave your body. It’ll be worth it, I promise.

Eric Villalpando
Siegfried Hall

Jan. 22

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.


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