Forgiveness as an important virtue
by Ujjwal Dey
Sorry, Please and Thank You are common everyday terms we use casually and sometimes very earnestly. While we may apologize a dozen times while at home or while commuting to office or while getting things done in the office, we don’t really give much thought to the response to our terminology of “sorry” as daily communication. Communication is a two-way street. There has to be listening, acknowledgment and effective response to our words. However, we are mostly content with a simple innocent phrase of “sorry” and getting on with our tasks and responsibilities.
Forgiveness is the counterpart of this casually aired apology. Sincerity of your words, humility of your body language and an attempt to get a positive response is what prompts forgiveness. You may wish to get on with the priorities and not wait for any formal forgiveness. However, humans being social creatures, seek social acceptance and comradery. So, often we find in circumstances where the person we have offended or wronged keeps a grudge against us for being too lenient on our own mistakes. We feel guilty and feel emotionally attached to the event and this affects relationships at home and at the workplace. You start behaving differently around the person who has not forgiven you and you wish that all this never happened in the first place. These are symptoms of unhappiness and lack of effective communication among fellow humans.
More important however is the anger or frustration felt by the person who refuses to forgive. They are more aggravated than you are. Their body language may openly show hostility. While you try and wish the past would stay in the past, your antagonist is keen on reminding you of your faults, no matter how ancient or how trivial they may be. We have all met the boss who is never pleased with your efforts or the obsessive parent who will find criticism even in your successes. Yet we never consider their point of view. Why do they torture themselves by reliving past issues and carrying forward the huge burden of grudges that has no resolution in sight?
We forgive not for the benefit of our offenders who may feel guilty or at unease around us. Realizing the purpose of forgiveness is the key to effective healthy relationships throughout our life. The reason I forgive is because the first assumption of humanity is that humans are generally good and don’t deliberately wish harm upon you or anyone else. Lack of faith in basic concept of humanity leads us to become suspicious of other person’s actions and words. We look for bait and we fish for controversy. We have not just given up on our offender, we have given up on humanity.
I forgive small mistakes also because everything in this universe is so trivial and casual. Somebody spilled hot coffee on my lap. Someone ate my lunch kept in canteen refrigerator. Someone behind my car is honking without reason in bottleneck traffic while awaiting a red signal to turn green. Some fellow citizen spit bubblegum which is now stuck under my patent leather shoes. Most of us shrug off such cases because of helplessness of both parties in the situation. After all the polite thing to do when someone offers an apology is to be reasonable and accept it. But if you did not mean to forgive, such pseudo acceptance will continue to bite on your heart, chew on your mind, irritate you and make you generally unhappy and maybe even ruin your entire day. Forgiveness is not just about saying “OK, nevermind” it is the genuine acceptance of the situation and moving on beyond that hurdle to carry on your lifestyle. Imagine a particle of dust on your laptop screen. Imagine the laptop from afar. Visualize yourself working on the laptop from outside your building. Imagine you are observing a million people working on their computers from above the ground. Imagine the city from outer space. Imagine the planet Earth from a distance in space. Visualize the Milky Way galaxy and try to pinpoint planet Earth on it. At the end, our entire existence is as trivial and casual as the dust particle on your laptop screen. Don’t let that tiny particle of dust ruin your experience of working on the laptop. Forgiving therefore is also about realizing the lack of significance of small mistakes in the big scheme of our life’s journey from anonymous birth to all known certain death. The impermanence of everything in life is a good reason to forgive and not hold on to negative emotions and negative thoughts. If your forgiveness comforts the nature of a fellow person, why withhold it. Caring is a privilege. Forgiveness is a virtue of those who care.
We often get desensitized to topics or events in everyday life. Only when you are part of the accident do you feel the complete impact of the situation. However, to accept the situation and find a way forward, a solution to your troubles is the path of righteousness. Zen is acceptance. Know the situation and find a way to complete your life’s journey despite the misfortune. Your actions and reactions are the sole basis of your future condition. When you care not just for others but also for yourself, you find a way also to forgive yourself. Because the most hurtful offense is the lack of forgiveness to one’s own Self. Guilt may ruin relationships but self-apathy will ruin you and any possible relations you could aspire to. To be aware of a mistake is fine elementary work of one’s intellect. To be capable of forgiving the mistake of others or yourself takes courage, wisdom and a warm heart.
Virtue can be defined as any admirable quality or attribute in a person. As a social creature, we aspire to be better by seeking examples in fellow humans. Would you consider a vengeful mercenary as your hero? Isn’t it natural to pick a caring, forgiving king as your idol? It is our innate nature to know right from wrong. We don’t need to study a set of law books to understand our actions. We know inherently if we are doing the correct thing or doing something harmful. So why not realize the goodness and virtue in forgiveness? You not only salvage your relationship with your adversary but also prove that you are willing to go the extra mile for betterment of society as a whole. So the next time, for any reason, someone says they are sorry, don’t nod and ignore, don’t frown and curse. Acknowledge the person’s guilt and assure him or her that “it’s completely all right”. That you can take this in your stride. That you are not to be cowed down by mistakes and emotions. That your ego is magnanimous and caring. Be virtuous. Forgive because you know that is the right thing to do.