I have never met a person who hasn’t hurt or disappointed me. In the same way, I have never met anyone I can’t love, if I really try. Granted, there are people I don’t like, but liking is different from loving. Loving is about respecting another’s right to live a full and rewarding life. There are those who are so embittered, broken, and angry they leave behind toxic fumes wherever they go, just as there are those who exude so much good will and gratitude they fill a room with sunshine. Yet even the worst of us sometimes perform acts of kindness, and the best of us do cruel and thoughtless things.
We hurt and disappoint each other far too often. That’s part of being human. That’s why we are urged to “let it go.” Unlike an Amish quilt in which a flaw is deliberately worked into the pattern because only God is perfect, we don’t need to deliberately make mistakes; we can hurt and disappoint others without even trying.
We’ve been told to forgive and forget. Instead of trying to forget , however, we need to learn from our pain as no pain should be wasted. Forgiveness involves disconnecting our emotions from the event so we can come to see what happened through a different set of eyes. Forgiving involves becoming sensitive to the wounds the other carries, as well as seeking to discover the part we may have played in what happened. Every act, every experience seeks to teach us something about what it means to be human, to become less judgmental by refusing to personalize what’s happened. After all, everyone is more than the worst or the best thing they have ever done.
Yes, we can do terrible things to each other. We misunderstand, criticize, judge, and condemn each other. We hold unrealistic expectations. We get caught up in our own fears and selfishness. We become blind to other’s pain or disappointment. In the end, it’s not what the other does that matters, however cruel and thoughtless; it’s the spin we give to their actions or words. We are the ones who wound ourselves by how we interpret and frame what happened. We are the ones who cling to our hurts, massage our pain, re-victimize ourselves by reliving and enlarging what happened. We are the ones who take on another’s criticisms as truth. In the end, the best revenge is simply refusing to give the other power to hurt us by brooding over the past. As one of my counselor’s once told me, “instead of hearing what’s said as criticism, try to hear what’s said as important information the other is giving you about how they feel or think is important. After all, when someone is critical, they are not really saying anything about you, but telling you something about themself.”
Step Nine is the making amends step. Before we can forgive another, we need to forgive ourselves for taking on unnecessary hurts. Step Nine reminds us, just as we hope others will cut us some slack, we need to do the same for them. That’s why all languages have words for saying, “I’m sorry.” The best way to make amends, my granddaughter once observed, is by changing our behavior. “I’m sorry” means little if one keeps doing the same thing over and over.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could; some blunders and absurdities have crept in. Tomorrow is a new day…begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with the old nonsense.”