Are You Willing to Forgive the Unforgiveable?
Recently I have been working long-distance with a woman who along with her husband is seeking to grow and develop along spiritual lines. They are very good students, avid seekers, and very good partners. Let’s call her Clarisse.
With our growing interaction, Clarisse decided to disclose that her home-based business is as a phone sex operator. When she told me, I was struck by the lack of self-condemnation. From a growth and development point of view, that is a good sign of inward alignment, i.e. to be at peace with oneself is quite a good indicator. Of course that is not what she expects to encounter from the world around her, so she does not often disclose her line of work.
Now the odds are very good that you, the reader, either find yourself titillated by what I’ve written, or condemnation is already rising within you, or perhaps both. It is possible to be simultaneously judgmental and vicariously engaged. Regardless, Clarisse’s line of work is outside socially acceptable norms, and therefore provides an opportunity to discuss our judgment of others.
And so it is over the past few weeks I have been experimenting with how people react to this scenario, or others such as gay marriage, or the emergence of an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle East, or the recent actions by the President and congressional leaders. While these seem like disparate subjects, they represent a fine playground for people to express their condemnation. Therefore it is also a perfect space for exploring forgiveness.
Here is the most significant finding.
Everyone agrees in principle with non-judgment, or with forgiveness, or even with allowing others to live their lives as they wish. And yet for almost everyone, the principle does not hold up where one is significantly invested in their point of view.
The second interesting finding is how closed-minded people become. If I prod a bit, people quickly become annoyed or outright hostile. It seems the greater our investment in the correctness of our perspective, the less and less likely it is that we can forgive.
So let me offer up the second social experiment I’ve been running.
I’ve been asking people whether they believe forgiveness to be useful or beneficial. Pretty much everyone does believe that to be true. Then I ask them to pick someone who has acted in a way that is unforgiveable in their minds. So far the list includes terrorists who are beheading Westerners in the Middle East, President Barack Obama, Senator Mitch McConnell, gunmen in recent shootings, and so forth.
Once the unforgiveable has been identified, I ask the person what they are doing to forgive. A few have a plan they are using, and a couple of folks have immediately seen the inconsistency in themselves, but many have reacted with justification or indignation. When I ask this latter group to explain this discrepancy, if they answer me at all, it is to explain the unforgiveability of the acts. It is rare for them to examine their unwillingness or inability to practice forgiveness.
Apparently no matter how valid or important the principle, when the stakes are high it is increasingly difficult to apply it.
There is a question often asked in the recovering communities. Are you willing to go to any lengths? That is the real question.
Oh, you probably wonder about my interaction with Clarisse. She’s doing well. Quite well, regardless of her occupation. What about you?
Forgiving is an action, not a feeling.
Seeing True™ in Action
To what lengths are you willing to go on behalf of the principle of forgiveness?
Here’s an experiment. Identify a variety of perpetrators. Test yourself to see the limits of your ability to conceive of releasing each of the perpetrators from condemnation. See where your limits extend.
Then, ask again. To what lengths am I willing to go to forgive?