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.

Friends for Enemies

Friends. I’ve always found this to be a quaint notion. Something that offers a sense of endearing companionship while providing a comforting distraction from our isolation in this world. I’m obviously cynical on the subject because I’ve experienced and witnessed true friendship quickly recede when reality became unpalatable. So I wonder if there is really something called true friendship?

I think it’s all about that beautiful old principle about what’s in it for me. More than this, it also relates to our inflated sense of self, and how well the friendship nurtures that self-image. There are memes in abundance regarding the nature of true friends that would point out your shortcomings and not only make you feel good. But there are unfortunately not nearly an abundance of friends who want their shortcomings pointed out.

One of my favourite sayings in this regard has been attributed to a number of different historical personalities, but its truth remains…well, true. It says that the friend of my enemy is my enemy, which in turn implies that the enemy of my friend is also my enemy. I guess that also means that the friend of my friend is my friend and the enemy of my enemy is also my friend. Anyway, point is, those that hate what we hate find a sense of association with what we value, and vice versa. Most would confine the understanding of this with just the relationship that they maintain with others, but I think it goes beyond that. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that it is more accurate to view this within the context of our characters, and which good or bad traits we recognise as friends or foe.

Within the above context, suddenly the person that hates my bad traits and looks to encourage me to abandon such traits becomes my friend. However, that assumes that I sincerely want to improve that aspect about myself. It assumes that the bad trait is not something I hold on to as a definition of my self relative to a defence I need to prevail in this world. It assumes that I live with conviction, and that I strive to improve with every day that is offered to me. That’s a grossly inaccurate assumption. I struggle to find people that actively and sincerely seek to better themselves. To recognise their shortcomings and to bravely embrace the changes that are needed to raise the standard of their contribution to this world.

Most are bent on embracing those struggles or shortcomings that resonate with others, and nothing more. When we show the world how brave we are to face off what everyone else is struggling with, it feeds our ego more than it develops our character. It proclaims that we are bold while others are meek, and in so doing gives us the courage to fight that good fight that defeats so many. And so we prop up our egos and assume that we’re sincere about improving who we are, while in the process convincing the shallow ones that we are indeed striving to improve. Yes, I speak with contempt of such endeavours because it only entrenches the insincerity that has eroded the wholesomeness of society and life in this self-indulgent world.

The one who reflects, recognises the ugly inside of them, and then simultaneously celebrates the beauty within, is more likely to demonstrate gratitude for their lot in life than the one who only sees the ugly and tries to disguise it as a noble struggle. Those that live their lives out in the social network limelight need the affirmation that is lacking when they look within. They need to see themselves through the lenses of others because their own lenses offer little or no comfort at all. Their enemies become their friends, and robs them of peace and energy as they go through life painstakingly maintaining the defenses that they need to make them feel whole.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The one who recognises the ugly in me and sincerely advises me about it is the one whom I should embrace. Not the one who convinces me that my darkness within is not a bad thing because everyone else has it. Not the one who tries to convince me that my darkness or my handicaps are not so bad because they want me to pull them closer for making me feel better about myself. They are self-serving at my expense, and I am left wanting because of it.

With friends like these, indeed, who needs enemies. Friends or enemies both offer the opportunity for growth, but only if we are honest in our reflections and introspections about who we really are, and what we stand for. If we’re comfortable glossing over our shortcomings because we’re more inclined to celebrate our few strengths or successes, it will be a short while before we lose our footing and feel the stench of complacency strangle the peace out of our lives because at some point, everyone gets that wake-up call. Everyone has an innate desire to shrug off the yoke that has held them back for so long and to move forward with or without the significant others that pacified them while they carried that yoke around. That’s when relationships are truly forged and defined, or discarded.

But it requires courage, and it requires conviction, and it requires brutal honesty, all of which are in short supply in a world of instant gratification where friends can be acquired and lifetime companions can be discarded in favour of a synthetic life. The more virtual our reality, the less real our lives will be. But death is not a virtual outcome. It’s not the end of a level or the expiration of a time limit on some game with in-app purchases. Perhaps that should read ‘inept purchases’. That is what we do. We sell our souls in favour of short term gains because we lack the courage to forge ahead into the unknown. We seek the comfort of certainty in the outcomes of our decisions, and therefore make decisions when we can rely on the predictable outcome, rather than making decisions because we uphold the principles that we profess to live by.

Still think you have friends? In fact, still think you’re capable of being your own best friend? Go on, be honest. I dare you!

Fake

The world is full of brave faces. People showing a strong front while internally their world is crumbling, or has already crumbled. Some let in a select few to witness the destruction first hand while they serve a dual purpose of being a shoulder to lean on. Others are too ashamed to admit to such weakness and block everyone out instead, often aggressively so. Despite these differences, both tend to be focused on how they’re perceived in those trying times rather than how they feel, or more importantly, why they feel the way they do.

The embrace that most offer in times of trouble often uplifts the spirit and not much more. That small blessing is great, but only if it’s accompanied by a jolt that prompts us into action. The jolt can be our own realization and courage to be decisive about changing our state, or it could be a needed kick up the butt from someone that we trust. Either way, that jolt is needed. In the absence of that jolt we are left with nothing more than a group pacification of our weakened state where we are often convinced by such gestures that just trudging along is worthy of celebration.

Perhaps, for a short while until the shock and awe subsides, just being able to maintain a semblance of composure is commendable. But it reminds me of something I read once about runners. The level of fitness of a runner is not determined by how far or fast they can run, but instead it is measured by how quickly they can restore their bodies to a state of rest at the end of their run. In other words, how quickly can I stop heaving to catch my breath after the intensity of the exertion has subsided. I think this has relevance in this case as well. The time it takes for us to recover from the shock and awe of life’s less pleasant moments is a reflection of our spiritual resilience in the face of reality.

I digress…again. The fakeness in us becomes most prominent when we become so focused on how we’re perceived, that we lose our way on that path of self actualization because we gauge the measure of our success on how others celebrate our progress. If we consider that the majority of those around us celebrate mediocrity and conformance without even realising that a world exists above such a dreary standard, that gauge of success effectively prompts us towards complacency the moment we believe that we’ve arrived, relative to those low standards.

The fake are the ones that draw you close in a moment of weakness, then push you away when they don’t want to be reminded of that same weakness. They’re the ones that embrace when times are tough, but are aloof when the figment of success enters their minds. They live outwardly what they desire inwardly, but they live inwardly what they hide outwardly.

As obvious as that may seem, most don’t get it. Especially not the fake. It’s easy to miss such important but simple details when the focus of your life is on the perceptions of others. We become prisoners of society despite actively subscribing to such incarceration, yet we complain bitterly when that same society is relentless in its demands for more from us. Conformity to societal whims is a never-ending cycle of trying to appease an insatiable appetite for affirmation. The irony is that those that are fake, desire what they would otherwise receive if only they chose to be authentic. Authenticity begets sincerity, and I’d rather have a single sincere friend than a stadium full of insincere fanatics.