For as far back as I can remember people have called me a very forgiving person. That has always made sense to me because I don't hold grudges and I generously give the benefit of the doubt. So I accepted the title, pinned the Forgiving Person badge to the lapel of my personality, and went about my life. I have not examined it more deeply until this week when my mum shared something from a book she is reading called Deep Kindness.
The author, Houston Kraft, posits that humans cannot be kind until we are capable of true forgiveness. That makes sense to me: a person carrying around hurt or anger or betrayal will express themselves through those filters. If they intend to express kindness, their message passes through those filters and reaches the recipient as kindness colored by hurt or anger or betrayal. So we cannot cleanly express one part of ourselves if we are unable to let go of the other things taking up space in our heart-mind.
True forgiveness, according to Kraft, is understanding the difference between a person and their actions. This is one of my most well-honed skills. I don't remember exactly when I began developing it, but this ability has been with me since the way way back. When someone says or does something hurtful, I can almost always distinguish that person from whatever they did or said. That means I can hold their humanity in one hand while I hold my feelings (my humanity) in the other. Maybe that’s at the root of my forgivingness.
Before this examination, I have always thought my propensity for forgiveness was borne of my disinterest in or non-attachment to blame. When something goes badly, a lot of folks never make it to the resolution phase because they get hung up on who is to blame. Most of the time, I’d rather invest my energy in moving forward to a place that includes not-that-problem. I’m much more interested in the repair work.
And while it is often critical to identify the cause of a problem in order to fix it, merely identifying who is at fault is not a solution in itself. Assigning fault is only relevant as part of the larger goal of healing and resolution. Blame for the sake of blame doesn't move us closer to either, so it doesn't interest me.
This outlook has manifested in both positive and negative ways in my life. I have been able to see through a loved one's problematic behavior and identify the root cause as their own suffering instead of my failure as a human being. I have managed toxic bosses while simultaneously working to make a positive workplace environment. I have healed from many traumas and solved a whole lot of problems.
It also happened that some people in my life hurt me repeatedly because I was too quick to let things go and move on. Although, my letting go was not actually the problem. The problem was a lack of boundaries. Every time those habitual harmers handed me some of their hurt, I held it for them. Even when it hurt me.
And I didn't ever hand it back because I assumed they couldn't hold it themselves, and I knew they would feel terrible for lashing out and handing it to me in the first place. I valued their emotional comfort more than my own. I held their humanity above my own. And I didn't recognize it at the time. I can let things go and forgive right away, I don’t need to hold on to hurt. And to do that I need to hold on to my self-worth and value my own humanity. I need to hold on to my boundaries.
Brené Brown says the most compassionate people are the ones with the most steadfast boundaries. Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries continues to be one of my greatest challenges, but as I hold more of my own humanity I am able to hold more of other people's humanity. So it seems that in order to be kind I not only need a capacity for true forgiveness, I also need really good boundaries.
This seems to be what politicians are missing in the current quest to mend the Great American Partisan Divide. Our leaders are either stuck in their attachment to blame or they are rushing past accountability into “can’t we all just get along?” Asking the country to come together without acknowledging lines have been crossed is not kind. It is sowing seeds that will blossom into resentment.
So as constituents and regular folks, that’s what we need to ask our elected officials for. As Brené Brown says “clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Have difficult and challenging conversations with yourself, your family, your friends, your neighbors, and your elected officials. Establishing and honoring healthy boundaries will help us all move toward forgiveness and compassion for each other.
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Jaydra is a human in-process, working to make the world a better place. Sharing thoughts, feelings, and observations about the human experience.