Posted in Lost in Thought, Political and Social Issues, Writing

Keeping Perspective

I never posted my last blog post…. that’s two or three I wrote that never got online! Well, I hope this one is luckier.

A day or two ago, this writing prompt from WordPress arrived in my inbox:

I Can’t Stay Mad at You
“Do you hold grudges or do you believe in forgive and forget?”

Topical. 🙂

Several weeks ago I searched for ‘forgiveness’ and discovered it’s defined in a way that doesn’t match my understanding of it.

It seems if you forgive someone, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will continue to have anything to do with that person. It merely means you won’t be acting on ‘it’, whatever it was.

It makes a certain sense if you see forgiveness as a form of self-regulation. If someone damaged something of yours, you might choose not to chase them for reparation. In such a situation, perhaps other things would be of more value to you — community goodwill, for instance, or family ties.

Whether you continue to deal with that person is another issue entirely, and has nothing to do with forgiveness. Well, that’s the impression I formed after reading around.

I always saw forgiveness as continuing to see and speak to the person without changing towards them. If you cut him or her out of your life, that doesn’t seem like true forgiveness. How can you forgive someone without letting them feel it?

I don’t know what to think now. I don’t know enough to know the truth of it, and maybe none of us do.

I enjoyed the following:

Forgive (The Word Detective)

Still on topic, and looking back at the blog prompt… do I bear grudges?

Most of us do, I imagine. First I wrote, “we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t,” then realized cats, dogs, horses and birds in trees most likely bear grudges. Yes, birds sitting on rooftops do; also those flying over your washing. That line of thought was tying me in knots, so the best way of releasing myself was to cut the entire phrase loose…

Yes, I bear grudges over plenty of stuff that has happened to me over the years, and though I don’t act on these things, think, or even talk about most of them, I can still get grumpy when I remember any. Like the time the janitor rapped my knuckles with his keys when a few children were taking refuge in the hallway for some warmth. That really hurt… and I wasn’t shouting, swearing or doing anything wrong… I just didn’t want to be out in the icy playground. How old was I? Six? Seven? How long can we bear a grudge? Oh, as long as we live!

‘Grudge’ is an odd word, but less of a mystery than ‘forgive’. It’s to feel bitter about a wrong done to you. I guess it doesn’t even have to be a wrong that a human, cat or dog has committed, but something more abstract such as… life circumstances, perhaps. You can bear a grudge against the world. The phrase ‘done me wrong’ is interesting, though — very sure of itself.

Perhaps when someone wrongs you, it’s not always something intended to hurt you in any way or to any degree — just a fallout of how things actually are. In that case, what is it we grudge or forgive?

I was interested in the suggestion that ‘forgiving’ means not taking offence at all. Most of us will feel hurt by something, and need a way to move on from that, but what if we can bring ourselves to realize “it’s just how it is” and that no one was being actively malignant?

Can we realize in a comfortable fashion that something is not worth taking offence over? Or does it always take a bit of ‘processing’ to reach that point? Sometimes you have to work out the dynamics of the situation. If they are not clear, then nor are your feelings.

At any rate, there’s often a bit of a battle in our minds when feeling wronged or hurt. The way old grudges fade is when you see them as a curiosity, a bit of social history — something that happened to someone else a long, long time ago. We can’t possibly remember all the ins and outs after all this time, and sometimes we wrong ourselves as well as others if we judge an isolated experience without having all of the facts. Then again, when you find something similar happening all over again, and the same negative feelings surfacing (the ones you’ve long lambasted yourself for giving way to), you suddenly remember why you reacted the way you did all those years ago and appreciate afresh the rollercoaster of emotions you were dealing with back then. You are also faced with the unsettling realization that you’re not really a wiser, mellower being! You haven’t even shown more understanding of your younger self, and (it turns out) you still have those fierce internal battles to deal with. They were only dormant because no one was stirring the magma.

So, forgiveness… what does it mean? I always thought I knew, but life is messy. You can’t say “I forgive” and literally never think of it again, unless you really understand everything and know there’s nothing to forgive.

One way or another, it works best when you are still actively engaging with the other person. It’s a live, warm connection. Your experience of the person continues to update (and isn’t frozen at some point in the past). That’s a healthy situation. Less healthy is thinking you know someone based on something they did years ago, while more recent information is lacking.

These are general thoughts only, and wouldn’t fit all cases. At times we are wise to ‘cut all ties’, but it’s not a decision to be taken lightly and without considering one’s own part in it. We are a community for a reason — there has to be communication. Forgiveness should be about allowing that communication to continue.

Have just noticed I’ve blogged on this topic before, and my perspective does not seem to have changed. (The Point of a Grudge). Having gone through some kind of recent upheaval, I’m glad I can say that. 🙂 A tried and tested viewpoint! I prefer my older post to the newer one, especially as I forgot about Mme Ramotswe’s take on forgiveness.

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Posted in Books

Thoughts on Middlemarch

“That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

Yesterday I finished Middlemarch by George Eliot. I don’t believe the following is a spoiler, as I don’t refer to the plot or individual characters, but if you are going to read the book, wish to start with a blank slate and don’t even need the persuasion, you might want to skip this, in case. 🙂 It was a surprise of a book… a slow and graceful waltz which illustrates life in a small English town in bygone days. I didn’t know if anything more would come of it, but in fact the pace quickens and there’s a strong finish. George Eliot is at pains to point out that life continues after that climax, with people either becoming what they want to be or getting lost along the way. Eventually they pass on, leaving room for young hopefuls, who tread similar paths while thinking them new. Major social events (such as weddings, births and funerals) tend to be skirted around, with the main focus falling on events both before and after: the things that make all the difference. It’s remarkable how a person’s life and character can be so affected and changed by individual decisions, both great and small. One person getting married or deciding to do good instead of evil, evil instead of good, or walk this way instead of that, could utterly transform the lives and characters of the people around him/her. It reminded me of An Inspector Calls in that respect… how separate and apparently irrelevant actions by different people could impact on one individual’s life in a major way. Parts of Middlemarch are dry and hard to follow, but there is plenty of humour and liveliness, and the style in general seems to loosen up in the latter half of the book. A quality I like about some of these older books is that there is a focus on redemption, forgiveness and change of heart, whereas many of today’s books and films have a shallow quality, demanding indignities and vengeance to be inflicted on unsympathetic characters.

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult to each other?”

Sometimes I couldn’t decide if I liked or sympathized with a Middlemarch character or not, which is like real life in that we don’t know everything about people. Our views are irrelevant anyway, because people have both good and bad things about them, and have good and bad experiences regardless of our opinion, and they make friends with people we like, even when we wish that they wouldn’t…

“‘I suppose we never quite understand why another dislikes what we like, mother,’ said Mary, rather curtly.”

I was amazed at the corners and shadows of human nature that George Eliot explored; it made you wonder what she has experienced in life to know all of this. Some of it falls in your own experience. It’s unsettling to know that you are thinking and feeling no differently from people back in the 1800s, but then you ask yourself what else you expected? As George Eliot said, these paths have been trodden and these stories told many times before.

“I protest against all our interest, all our effort at understanding being given to the young skins that look blooming in spite of trouble; for these too will get faded, and will know the older and more eating griefs which we are helping to neglect.”

“…people were so ridiculous with their illusions, carrying their fool’s caps unawares, thinking their own lies opaque while everybody else’s were transparent, making themselves exceptions to everything, as if when all the world looked yellow under a lamp they alone were rosy.”

Posted in Lost in Thought

The Point of a Grudge

WordPress continues to suggest possible blog topics (I enjoy this!) Some look interesting; others I’ve done already; yet others make my toes curl in horror! The latest one was, “What’s the longest grudge you’ve ever held? How long do you stay angry at someone or something? Why do you think we hold our grudges?”

I don’t want to describe any of my actual grudges, but I had a thought that although we eagerly forgive and move on, forgetting is quite another thing. We are taught that it’s a good thing to ‘forgive and forget’, and maybe most of the time we do, but some things are burned in our memories and continue to shape our lives.

In a somewhat less than Pollyannaish way, we may be mistaken about how negatively we were impacted by something. If we were done out of a job or promotion that we really wanted, our loss might have led to a better path in life, or to our meeting someone we otherwise wouldn’t have met. But to us the original sin remains… it was an an injustice, and will be remembered as such.

We may bear a grudge against someone without realising how much he/she has been hurt by us in turn. We don’t know everything that goes on in other people’s minds, so sometimes all we remember is our own pain.

In The Full Cupboard of Life (from the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels by Alexander McCall Smith), Mma Ramotswe said she believed in forgiveness. “Why, she asked herself, why keep a wound open when forgiveness can close it?”

Though I remember being confused by the way Mma Ramotswe approaches forgiveness… She forgives people and moves on, but cuts them out of her life. That’s something I can’t square with my notion of forgiveness. Perhaps it’s just another way of saying “I forgive but I never forget.”

I meant to say there are REASONS why we remember — we must try to avoid similar experiences in the future. We were always told pain has a reason… to stop us doing something damaging like putting our hand in the fire.

Most grudges should not be allowed to affect future relations, except where they safeguard us from future harm… they do have their uses. But we should not be TOO self-protective… if we remove people from our email lists for every slight — real or imagined — none of us would have any friends.

Mum says, “life is too short… the only acceptable reason one could have to end a friendship is boredom.” With our Grudgometers alive and ticking, I don’t think any of us will ever be bored. 🙂

Posted in Lost in Thought

The Passing of a Kind Person

On one of my sites there came the news that a long term member had died. She was around and posting very recently, so it was a shock to most of us. People who had been at loggerheads were writing in and saying how upset they were.

I am sad that D has gone. I’m sad for her children. I’m sad that I didn’t know more about her — I didn’t even know she was ill. Someone said D had been working through a list of people she’d had differences with. There was only one person left on the list, and though they weren’t reconciled, they were discussing it… and now the chance was gone and he was sorry. He wanted us to be honest and kind to each other in our postings and thoughts, and not shut people out. He said that we should bear in mind that the person we’re cold-shouldering today could be dead tomorrow, and it will be too late.

I had been thinking about that a lot recently. I’d woken around 5 that very morning (before hearing about D), and couldn’t get back to sleep. I was worrying about people miscommunicating and kicking each other to the kerb over minor things.

D was brave to tackle these difficult issues. If you worry about getting a bad response from someone, it seems easier to remain silent. Even if you know you won’t be around very much longer, people still have the power to cause hurt.

I think that guy’s right, and Mum keeps saying to me (whenever similar issues come up), “life is too short.” I can’t imagine her falling out forever with her best friends — they each have a core of stability, and you know that even if they get annoyed with each other sometimes, the channels of communication will remain open. And that’s how it should be.