According to just about every religion, the virtue of forgiveness is fundamental. Moreover, many of the greatest figures who I admire most in history (Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Malala Youzafsai included) were known most for their extraordinary ability to forgive. Though these aforementioned individuals are extreme cases of extreme cases, the powerful message of forgiveness holds true (or at least should) in everyday life, especially for me. That is to say, “Don’t allow bitterness or anger or hate to consume you. Life is too short to hold a grudge. Forgive and forget and start over.” But at what point does this idealistic mentality become hindering, rather than helpful?
My younger sister has dubbed me with the nickname, “Switzerland.” This is not because I embody any desireable Swiss quality, such as efficiency or ecofriendliness, but rather because of my tendency to remain neutral and diplomatic in times when lines are drawn and sides are being taken. Maybe it’s because I am the product of divorced parents and subsequent epitome of the kid who runs to take refuge in their room by locking the door and blasting music to drown out unpleasant sounds of fighting. Or maybe in a past lifetime, I was the middle child in a large family of 19 kids, who knows? The point is that I am the most non-confrontational person on the planet. Not only do I not like conflict at all, but I find it infinitely easier and healthier to forgive (if not forget).
Where am I going with all of this rambling and why? Here’s the deal: A close family member just got scammed big time by a catfish. Without going into too many details, he royally messed up. A lot of people are furious with him, and rightfully so. Now he’s down and out and finally called me yesterday after nearly three months of not speaking. But despite the long pent-up anger toward him and resentment that I had been experiencing, in spite of absolutely all the wrong this person had done and has done me, my first instinct was to hear his apology out and tell him, in all sincerity, that I still love him. And I do. But…
Not everyone else is going to be so forgiving. He’s burned some bridges beyond repair with a lot of people, not only within the soap opera/side show known as my family. He screwed up pretty damn badly, though I’d rather not give away too many details. I understand the extent of the damage that has been done as a result of his foolishness, including to me. I’ve been wronged more than once by this person, and his poor decisions have affected me throughout my entire life, but I still feel pity for him. Is my sense of forgiveness righteous or just another instance of foolishness?
I want to believe that choosing to turn the other cheek, rather than just cutting this person off for good, is an act of compassion and strength on my part, rather than naivety. So why do I feel so conflicted and even guilty about it? Shouldn’t it be an obvious choice?
The fact is, it’s not.
When someone who you love has betrayed you, it’s never clear cut. There are at least a thousand cliché analogies that I can think of – the house made of cards that is painstakingly constructed only to be knocked down with one careless motion, or the broken glass vase that can never be fully repaired. Betrayal knows no limits. But then again, neither does compassion and forgiveness. And then again, neither does stupidity.
I just wish I knew how I should feel.