What can be forgiven

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Photo by Javardh on Unsplash

Perhaps you too are at least partially surrounded by drama these days: breakups, comings and goings, arguments and endless laments. In other words, people in pain trying to understand the how and the why, looking to find a solution or at least some peace.

Perhaps you too are lending a shoulder to cry on and a patient ear to family, friends or acquaintances going through these episodes in life that would ideally be avoided, yet sadly, remain unavoidable too often.

And, perhaps, with all the stories of wrongdoings that you hear (or may have experienced yourself), you too have pondered human nature, the thresholds of innocence, guilt, unintentional hurtful behaviors and outright malevolence – for lack of a better word perhaps.

In the end, it seems to me all this boils down to one question: what is forgivable?

We are not gods, but we do need to forgive, even if it doesn’t lead to anything warm and fuzzy, but instead, to a distance and indifference that offers a sense of peace, and doesn’t add any more baggage to our future travels. (Most of the time, we want the warm and fuzzy, of course.)

Yet to forgive, we need to be clear of guilt and innocence, and accept that understanding.

So which is it?

Did that person do x, y, z because they didn’t know any better? Did they do it because they thought they were doing the right thing? Is this simply how they are?

Or, is that person just a terrible person? As in, they know what they’re doing, they’ve done it countless times before, and they won’t do anything about it, regardless of consequences to others (and frankly, to themselves).

Two situations and conversations came up for me this week, and I kept repeating the same observation: that pretty much everyone (even a psychopath in many cases!) understands the difference between a mistake/unfortunate choice and despicable behaviors involving a choice to consistently ignore all morality, positive cultural norms, past experiences, the wellness of others, and anything else you can think of in the category of healthy guidance.

What I mean is this: let’s say you’re doing something that’s totally wrong and pretty awful, but to you it’s just the way you are and what you do. Maybe it’s culturally somewhat acceptable. Maybe you carry a bundle of traumas so strong that they shaped your awareness away from empathy, a sense of responsibility and even maturity. Maybe in your family or social circle you’ve learned that whatever you’re doing is nothing all that bad. Maybe you are surrounded by toxic influences. Maybe your brain chemistry is totally messed up. Maybe whatever you do ends up working for you in some advantageous way.

Obviously we can go on forever with scenarios that can explain at least in part why you and I do what we do…the awful and the wonderful.

After a while though, no matter what, you will notice a pattern and consequences, whether on your own or because someone pointed it out. Consequences are just that – results. And results are, especially after a time, very visible.

So then, this is the threshold. (with very very few exceptions of severe mental illness)

What you do once there’s even the slightest awareness changes everything.

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