Forgive, but don’t forget (for different reasons than you might think)

Can you really forgive without forgetting? There are some who say that you must forget in order to properly forgive. Put that which you have forgiven out of your mind, and go forth with a pure heart. If you don’t forget, it is often thought, you haven’t truly forgiven – you’re forgiving “for the moment,” but when the time comes, you’ll conveniently tear away that healing forgiveness and use what was supposed to be forgiven as a weapon of conflict once again.

I disagree with this perspective. In fact, I think one of the most important parts of forgiveness is remembering – remembering everything, including the initial events that got forgiven, the process of arriving at forgiveness, and the way forward that was decided upon afterwards. I believe that the only way to ensure that forgiveness is complete is by not forgetting.

True forgiveness is not a weapon

But some people use it like one. It’s thought that if you don’t forget, you haven’t truly lain down your arms, in a sense. I understand this kind of thinking – a well-intentioned attempt at ridding oneself of being prisoner to a less-trusting past. However, let’s get real for a second here: who on earth truly forgives and forgets, particularly if the deed to be forgiven is a serious offense? Sure, there are times when we have arguments and somebody says something hurtful, gets forgiven, and a year later the forgiver cannot even recall what [s]he forgave. But when the thing to be forgiven is a really big deal, well… that’s not going to be forgotten next year, next decade, or ever. The best that can be done is to “mothball” such memories in a far corner of one’s mind, so that they can take a healthy, unobtrusive place there, and integrate harmoniously into all of the other billions of memories one keeps. In order to do that, you must not fight the memory of a deed you have forgiven; rather, you must embrace it.

You don’t have any hope to influence how your mind processes a thought unless you welcome such a thought in and engage it. If you want your forgiveness to be rock-solid, such forgiveness must not be a one-time deal; it must keep on giving, in a sense. You must develop a coping mechanism for the thoughts of those things you are forgiving, one that takes the unpleasantness of the event that was forgiven and wraps it in the calm, loving robe of positivity and moving on.

Forgiveness does not require anything else to be forgiveness

In a lot of people, a surreptitious expectation can develop around forgiving: since forgiveness is often associated with goodwill, other acts of goodwill are likely, and sometimes encouraged, to accompany it. And hey, who wouldn’t like to forgive somebody and then become friends with them? It’s a wonderful triumph of the human spirit when former enemies become friends.

The thing is, that’s not always the thing to do. Sometimes, you forgive somebody, but still have no intention of getting close to them. And if you don’t, that’s ok – you’re under no obligation to get close to anybody, be it somebody you have forgiven or your local bank teller or auto mechanic. Sometimes, there are active reasons why you must not get close to somebody you’ve forgiven: perhaps they are untrustworthy, or dangerous, or simply not healthy to be around. The fact that you forgive such a person for something harmful they did to you in the past does not entitle them to anything extra from you in the present. This is one of the reasons why it is important not to forget – because the past is intimately linked to the present. Don’t forget, in the fervor of forgiving and forgetting, it may not be you, the forgiver, that is most in danger of violating the forgiveness. By forgetting when we forgive, we want to believe that the forgiven act is over and done with and we won’t have to forgive again in the future for the same thing. Reality is not always so ideal.

The good news is, it’s not only on the dark side of things that not forgetting when you forgive is good. Let’s take a situation in which forgiveness is given and both sides do get friendly. They strengthen their friendship through remembering the past as a team, in a sense; they are able to help each other make lemonade out of the lemons of bad memories, which turn into better and better memories with passing time. There is living proof that the story continues well, and, generally speaking, a greater value and deeper commitment to ensuring that the story does not get off track, given what has happened in the past.

Afraid that the memory of something will only get in the way? Well… this is definitely possible, and nothing can guarantee that you’ll be free of reminders of how much pain something in the past caused and continues to cause you. In those situations, when possible, it’s probably for the best to forgive and split – as in, cease contact with the person you have forgiven. There’s no point in keeping somebody around you who re-ignites old wounds just by their presence, and you are not doing them any forgiving favors by sticking around and continuing to bear burdens that they probably hope / believe no longer exist for you. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes. You must do what it takes to take control of the memories as much as you can; after that, you will be better equipped to “mothball” them in a remote corner of your mind as you see fit. If you forget after a while, great! Just keep in mind, you have no power over whether or not you forget; only the way in which you remember.

But if you can stick around, if you can move forward with the other person, then very often you will want to remember, and actively so, as a testament to your collective ability to work tough stuff out. The strongest couples, the most devoted friendships, the most unbreakable of bonds have a very important thing in common: when things get rough, they dig in, work things out, and integrate the lessons learned into their relationship. Adversity strengthens such a relationship by testing it and keeping it updated and ready for challenges. That’s why I say, if you want good, strong relationships, you’d better be prepared to to a lot of remembering – in the end, this is what it takes!

So there’s my slogan: forgive… and please, remember. For both of our sakes. :-)

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5 Responses to Forgive, but don’t forget (for different reasons than you might think)

  1. Actually, I do believe we owe something to someone after we have forgiven them: they are entitled to our unconditional love, even if that love remains only abstract from afar.

    There is much truth in what you say about forgiveness being an ongoing process that never ends; because the memory of past hurts remains alive in our memory, we have to work towards forgiving our trespassors every day.

    What did Christ mean when he said me we must again become innocent like a child? To forget like a child? No, but to love as though we HAVE forgotten like a child, to hold in our minds the sobering knowledge of life’s pain while transcending that harsh reality with the same pure hope and love that lives in a child’s heart.

    • Well… I would hope that such unconditional love would be practiced with anyone – not just those that we forgive. I suppose I was more saying that in situations specific to forgiveness, nothing more is owed than you would normally do (in opposition to the idea that you must “try” to do something else that doesn’t come naturally). If you normally unconditionally love, with everybody, then yes, what you are saying is totally true.

      Unfortunately, I don’t think many people have even gotten there yet.

  2. renxkyoko says:

    This is always what I tell people who say forgive and forget. We just cannot delete, like we do with computers. We can only hope we do not to feel pain everytime we remember.

    Greetings from California.

  3. Pingback: Why do people believe anecdotes and stories more than real statistics? | Positive Juice

  4. Pingback: Some things I’ve learned about recognizing, coping with, and fighting oppression and bigotry | Positive Juice

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