Steve McEllistrem

The Devereaux Dilemma

Should We Really Forgive Our Trespassers?

When I am wronged, I find it difficult to forgive. My sense of fairness activates, screaming for balance in the world, demanding justice, sometimes even for the smallest of slights. And the greater the harm, the more my heart hardens, marking down insults in its ledger, carefully toting up the damage as if life were some sort of card game or accounting device.

My heart, the abacus of dispensation, shifts beads from side to side, adjusting the ever-shifting negatives with the seemingly smaller influx of positives, trying to maintain the weight on the side of vengeance, not just for me but for the karmic health of the universe.

If I add these six instances of disrespect to those four elements of slander, and combine a dash of ingratitude with a pinch of insensitivity, I will achieve a result that cannot be overcome except by the most abject of apologies, accompanied by some valuable token.

For what is forgiveness undeserved?

Isn’t it just another word for sucker?

Of course I forgive those who deserve forgiveness, especially if they ask for it. I’m not a monster. I don’t walk around in a constant state of righteous indignation.

But what about people who have harmed you and who don’t ask for forgiveness? Indeed, they don’t even acknowledge that they’ve harmed you. How should we handle them? Some say we should forgive them, not for them, but for ourselves – so that we can move on and not be eaten up by anger and resentment. But what happens after you try to forgive them and find yourself consumed by resentment that you’ve been forced to forgive someone you don’t want to forgive?

What if the cost of forgiveness is to lose an essential part of yourself? Part of what makes me who I am is my refusal to forgive certain people who wronged me in the past. That doesn’t mean I can’t be polite to them if I happen to run into them on the street. It doesn’t mean I spend a lot of time plotting revenge or wishing for bad things to happen to them.

What it does mean is that I remember. I learned from that bad experience, and I’ve applied that knowledge to circumstances and people I’ve encountered since. I trust others a little less, perhaps, and myself a little more.

So I’m not convinced we should forgive all our trespassers. Sure, put them out of your mind. Ignore them for the most part. Live your life to the best of your ability, keeping your injuries separate from the present moment.

But total forgiveness might require forgetting the mistreatment, and I can’t condone that, because forgetting encourages bad actors to act badly again. After all, they suffered no consequences for their behavior.

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