Understanding and Expressing Forgiveness

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Forgiveness. It’s a word people everywhere seem to understand. The dictionary, our guide to the English language, defines it: “to grant pardon for or remission of an (offense, debt, etc.)” 

Yet there’s another, definition that may give you pause and make you think. It begins with making a choice. It’s a decision to avoid judging people, situations and events in your life. Let’s explore that idea.

What is Forgiveness, Really?

Imagine you’re watching a reality TV show. As you get to know the characters, it’s natural you’ll ascribe certain traits to some of them. You might think, “Oh, that guy is really devious.” Or, “I like that woman because she’s so honest.” In an instant you’ve assigned a trait to the person. That’s the act of judging. It’s something we all do.

It seems to happen automatically, as if we’re hard-wired to judge what life presents us. Perhaps we are. After all, from an evolutionary standpoint, we had to make judgments to stay alive. Is that a tiger in the bushes waiting to pounce on me, or is it just a bird? Making judgments was essential from the beginning.

Yet think for a moment. It might be possible to watch that same reality TV show without attributing anything to the performers. To do that you’d have to make a choice. You’d have to consciously decide to simply watch each person without judging their character. That choice, that decision, enables you to begin understanding true forgiveness. When we don’t judge others, we find no need to “forgive” them in the traditional sense. Referring back to the dictionary definition, we find no “offense” and no “debt” because we’ve chosen to not-judge.

This alternate and more spiritual form of forgiveness begins with the decision to simply “look past” the things you perceive; to choose not to judge them. Those who take this idea into their lives and practice “looking past” things we usually perceive as annoying—peoples’ behaviors, life’s events and situations—find a sense of peace, and even joy, gradually descends upon them. For by not judging, finding fault, ascribing traits to people and perceiving wrongness in situations and events, you can cultivate a mental outlook that accepts what is. Those who make the choice to accept life on its own terms, rather than struggling against it, judging it and finding problems every step of the way, are the true practitioners of forgiveness.

It’s a Challenge

This definition of forgiveness does not mean to “look past” and ignore behaviors and events that are clearly damaging, anti-social or dangerous. Doing so is like jumping under an oncoming bus; you’re likely to experience pain, or worse. Instead, respond appropriately and take action to avoid unwanted outcomes.

However, countless things happen every day that are not damaging, anti-social or dangerous. Those events are where you can begin practicing real forgiveness. Think of times when …

  • You thought something “shouldn’t” be the way it is. (You might find it helpful to consider banishing the word “should” and “shouldn’t” from your vocabulary).

  • You felt angry or annoyed because someone expressed a view different from yours.

  • You felt strong emotion because an event or situation didn’t meet your expectations, or somehow disappointed you.

Daily life offers countless experiences that, in the long run, really don’t affect you at all. They only seem to matter because we judge them. Practice forgiving those and you’ll soon develop a new habit. It’s a habit that can lead you to a more peaceful life, one that can bring you more love, joy and satisfaction.

As Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.”

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