Forgiveness Is Selfish

by Scott Morrice on 08/22/2012

Forgiveness is a very popular topic in the field of mind, body, and spirit. And it is usually approached from one of two possible angles. Either from the perspective of forgiving yourself, or from the perspective of forgiving others.

And, in fairness, there is a fair bit of discussion around the fact that you can’t really expect to forgive others without first forgiving yourself. Just like loving others—it won’t happen, truly happen, unless you love yourself first.

I know that I often struggle with forgiving. Both with respect to forgiving myself, and with respect to forgiving others.

For the purposes of this post, I am going to focus on the issue of forgiving others. It is something that has been on my mind recently.

Forgiveness is a selfish act.

And that is a good thing! In fact I think the most important aspect of the act is its effect on yourself. Often, obviously not always, the person being forgiven isn’t even aware of being forgiven. And I don’t think that it is always necessary that they are.

Of course, sometimes others have asked for forgiveness, and I am sure that they will be happy with your response—assuming it is positive.

A short side note here is appropriate.

There seems to be a question on whether forgiving someone implies that person doing the forgiving is now okay with the act being forgiven.

Henry Ward Beecher seems to be of this mind, as he wrote:

“I can forgive, but I cannot forget” is only another way of saying,
“I will not forgive.” Forgiveness ought to be like a canceled note–
torn in two and burned up so that it never can be shown against one.

I am not of this view myself, if indeed that is Mr. Beecher’s view. I think we are forgiving the person, not the action, and I think the difference is important. My act of forgiving doesn’t take away your responsibility for your actions. It just means that I am not holding a grudge against you, and I may not even be judging you. Hopefully I am not, in fact. I think it is important to free myself of feelings of condemnation, and even a desire to see someone punished (which is really just retribution in hiding).

And that leads me back to my earlier point—the nature of forgiving being a selfish act. It is important to understand that the anger and frustration we feel when someone else “wrongs” us is probably not affecting that other person at all. It is only affecting us—and usually in a significant, meaningful way—and all of it negative. It is bad enough that the other person has caused us harm with their actions, but now we are letting that action cause us even more harm by carrying around and probably even nursing these very negative feelings. They are in all likelihood affecting every aspect of our day, our work, our sleep, and even our health.

Buddha wrote:

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.

I know that when I finally manage to let these feelings of anger and resentment go—not an easy task—the improvement in my outlook, my life, is immediate and noticeable. And the added benefit is that in so doing the offending person, and his actions, have lost their control over me.

This is all so easy to write—but it is quite another thing to live. But I definitely think these goals are worth spending a lot of energy reaching.

There is an unattributed quote that nicely wraps up this post I think:

Forgiveness is the perfume the trampled flower
casts back on the foot that crushed it.

I’ll keep you posted.

  • Sahil

    Well as u said…all so easy to write—but it is quite another thing to live… I tried to apply it to myself… Tough task I must say… Shouldn’t we first make the wrong doer realize his mistake and then go ahead in forgiving him 🙂 … I’m not talking of Revenge here mind you…

    • scottmorrice

      You know—I don’t really think so—but just my opinion! I really believe the act of forgiving is about you (the person doing the forgiving). In fact, it may well be that the other person is not looking for any kind of forgiveness—and might even be offended by it!!???

      Thanks for dropping by–good to hear from you.


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