We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
– Albert Einstein
Never Forgive Him
She showed up at my front door before work at 7am this morning with the most troubled, despondent expression on her face (which is not typical of her disposition). “I’m sorry I didn’t call,” she said. “But I haven’t slept all night, and I really need to talk to someone. I just need some advice.”
I invited her in and poured her a cup of coffee. “So, what’s on your mind?” I asked.
“Last night my husband told me something about his college years that he never told me before,” she said in a shaky voice. “And I completely disagree with his actions. It’s horrible, really… and I just can’t stop thinking about it! I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive him.”
“Well, before you tell me anything else, let me ask you this: Why do you think your husband confided in you? I mean, why do you think he told you, now?”
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I guess he finally trusted me enough to tell me.”
“Did he commit a crime?” I asked.
“Was anyone physically or emotionally hurt by his actions?”
“No, not really.”
“So, how do you feel about him right now? Do you still love him?”
“Of course I do,” she replied.
“And whatever he did back in college, do you think he learned his lesson? Or do you think he would do it again?”
“Oh, I’m fairly certain he learned a big lesson,” she replied. “He actually teared up about it when he told me—he said he’s still ashamed of himself.”
“Okay, so let me get this straight then… Last night your husband finally felt that he trusted you enough to tell you about a dark secret from his college years. And although somewhat unsettling, he didn’t hurt anyone, and you think he learned his lesson, which means he grew emotionally from the experience. And to top it off, you’re still completely in love with him. So, what exactly can you never forgive him for?”
She sat in silence for a few seconds, made a crooked half smile, and then shook her head. I mimicked her facial expressions and shook my head back at her.
Then she started laughing. And so did I.
More About Us, Less About Them
Sometimes the problems we have with others—our spouse, parents, siblings, etc.—don’t really have much to do with them at all, because these problems are actually about us.
And that’s okay. It simply means these little predicaments will be easier to solve. We are, after all, in charge of our own decisions. We get to decide whether we want to keep our head cluttered with events from the past, or instead open our minds to the positive realities unfolding in front of us.
All we need is the willingness to look at things a little differently—letting go of “what happened” and “what should never have been,” and instead focusing our energy on “what is” and “what could be possible.”
Because, as my friend discovered this morning, sometimes the only problem standing in our way is the one we created in our head.
Does anything really need to be forgiven here?
That’s a question I challenge you to ask yourself first, whenever you feel like my friend felt when she arrived at my doorstep this morning. It’s a simple question that can provide a necessary dose of perspective when your emotions are surging. And, it’s a practice Marc and I often discuss with our course students and live event attendees when forgiveness is at stake in their personal relationships.
The bottom line is that letting go of the need to forgive every misstep and mistake a person makes can be mentally and emotionally freeing for everyone involved.
Truly, there is an obvious shift in our hearts and minds that happens when we go from feeling hurt and upset to peaceful and loving, but it’s not necessarily forgiveness that’s taking place, it’s just the realization that there was nothing to forgive in the first place. Because mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom, and sometimes they just need to be accepted with no strings attached.
To help you wrap your head around this concept, try to look at your situation from a distance. Imagine a more seasoned, wiser and more compassionate version of yourself sitting at the mountaintop of life, looking down and watching as the younger-minded, present version of you stumbles your way through life.
You see yourself holding on to false beliefs and making obvious errors of judgment as you maneuver through life’s many obstacles. You watch the children of the world growing up in challenging times that test their sense of self-confidence, yet they push forward bravely. You see the coming generation radiating with passion and love as they fail forward, learning through their mistakes.
And you have to wonder: Would this wiser version of yourself conclude that almost everyone in their own unique way was doing their very best? And if everyone is trying to do their best, what really needs to be forgiven? Not being perfect?
Obviously, there is NOT a one-size-fits-all answer to anything in life, and forgiveness is no exception. Some situations are far more complicated than others. But in any case, let’s do our best to challenge our minds with a necessary dose of perspective whenever our emotions are surging. Let’s learn from our mistakes, and let others learn from theirs. Let’s embrace our imperfections, and let others embrace theirs…
And, let’s begin again, together, with a little more acceptance, compassion, and peace of mind.
Afterthoughts & Questions…
As I’m wrapping up this short essay, I’m reminded of a quote Marc wrote in our New York Times bestselling book:
“Forgive yourself for the bad decisions you made, for the times you lacked understanding, for the choices that hurt others and yourself. Forgive yourself, for being young and reckless. These are all vital lessons. And what matters most right now is your willingness to grow from them.”
Don’t you just love that compassionate sentiment? I sincerely wish such compassion for myself and for everyone else.
. . .
And finally, I’d love to know what YOU think of this essay.
Did it resonate with you?
What’s on your mind right now?
Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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