The Arrogance of Forgiveness

My naivety has often led to prickly situations that didn’t end well. Sometimes the prickiness of the situation resulted in the loss of what I assumed to be a heartwarming friendship. But the thing about conviction is that it makes it impossible to withdraw an unpopular sentiment in order to preserve the illusion of friendship, or any relationship for that matter. I refer to it as an illusion because once its true nature is revealed, we discover that what we held dear was simply a perception that we courted, and not a substance shared by another.

Naivety in this case is the belief that if we saw value in our relationship with someone, then they surely must appreciate the same value in return. This is seldom true because it dictates that the experience and the benefit derived from that relationship is equal for both parties. The reality is closer to the fact that one party is more invested in the relationship than the other. While one is anticipating an endearing endurement, the other may be considering a quick exit. One is naively trusting while the other is naively suspicious. And that’s how relationships break down.

The trusting think nothing of testing sincerity because they do not want to be treated with such suspicion in return, and the suspicious look for evidence of sincerity because their trusting nature was once the cause of their fall from grace. Unfortunately, we are more likely to project on future relationships the lessons learnt from failures than we are to anticipate the beauty that we may have once experienced.

The frailty of human nature is such that we see fit to defend ourselves from potential harm before we are inclined to embrace potential benefit. Some assume this to be our instinct for self preservation, but I disagree. I think it’s simply the result of insecurity grounded in the belief that we are only capable of being broken so many times before it will be impossible to put us back together again. Resilience is a choice, not a limited resource, and therefore we choose to protect ourselves from a self imposed limitation rather than a real threat.

We reduce our capacity to deal with adversity when we live in fear of the future. When we eventually realise that we are gripped by fear more than we are optimistic about the future, it inevitably leads us down a path of introspection in our efforts to determine where we gave up the desire to live joyfully.

Such introspection inevitably leads to recollections of failed relationships and our expectations that were betrayed in the process. The bitterness or disappointment that ensued became the burden that we nurtured to dress our wounds as we focused on our failed expectations rather than the personal demons that led others to betray the trust that we so willingly gave them.

When we reach that point, there is no shortage of people that will advise us to forgive the betrayer, or to forgive ourselves so that we can move on. And that sounds like great advice, so we take it. Along with taking the advice, we also take the assumption of innocence and benevolence that we are gracious enough to forgive which implicitly implies that we are better than them. We are the aggrieved and they were the aggressors. While that may hold true in a court of law, it is far from true in the reality that presented itself.

The arrogance of forgiveness lies in the assumption that we are morally superior and therefore bestow our forgiveness on those that have wronged us. Were we as repentant to those that we may have wronged in the past, or were we also then focused on justifying our suspicion or anger to explain why we behaved in ways that warranted the forgiveness of others?

While the act of forgiveness itself has merit in our efforts to redress the past, we cannot afford to lose sight of the entitlement to moral superiority that it endows on those that are more inclined to justify their own behaviour in the face of someone else’s failure. Acceptance and a desire to understand is infinitely more grounding than forgiveness ever will be. Acceptance and understanding does not imply condoning the offensive or hurtful behaviour, but it allows us to see the human behind the weakness, or the pain behind the anger.

Forgiveness shifts our focus to our sense of benevolence and risks replacing the humility we experienced in betrayal with the arrogance of assuming that we are better than those that betrayed us. As the old adage goes, to err is human, to forgive, divine. When you assume the station of divinity, you automatically assume that you are above being human. If you must forgive, then be sure to recount all the times that you did not go in search of the forgiveness of those that you have wronged through the years.

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