There is an Elton John song ‘sorry seems to be the hardest word’. The lyrics have always resonated with me. I do find saying sorry is a hard thing.
Perhaps because I’m never sure that sorry leads to forgiving. Or forgetting for that matter. And I’ve certainly said some insincere sorry’s in my time. Usually when I still felt like I was in the right and the other person was in the wrong. Or when I felt like I was being blamed unfairly. Yet I had a lot of conditioning when I was growing up. All about apologising. Even about apologising for being who I was. Sorry was a politeness. So I often said sorry for things that weren’t my responsibility or my fault.
That is the heart of the issue really. Sorry is only useful in limited circumstances. When I actually feel that I want the other person to know I am acknowledging a ‘wrongness’. Sorry is a prelude to ‘please forgive me’. Sorry is an opportunity to practice forgiving. I know that is another challenge for me. Some things have happened in my life that are hard to forgive. Perhaps another person could do so easily. Or perhaps not at all. It depends on the way I experience what has happened. And how I choose to process my thoughts and feelings. I know I have said at one or two points of my life ‘I will never forgive …’
Forgive but not forget?
It’s at those points that I’ve said or heard the phrase ‘I can forgive but I’ll never forget’. What a limiting statement to make. Am I really saying that I will let whatever has been a wrongness pass but I’m going to keep the information in my head? Why would I do that? To keep score? To bring it back up months, years, decades later? To let myself continue to feel aggrieved about a wrong? So I have to ask myself have I really been forgiving? Holding on to past events will eventually keep me stuck in the past. My energy will be spent gazing backwards instead of moving forward.
That has been a challenging lesson for me to learn. To acknowledge that what is done is done. Perhaps even to let myself see, once enough time has passed, that what was appeared to be wrongness has turned out to be rightness. I have had to recognise that feeling sorry can get intertwined with feeling guilty. Guilt is an interesting feeling. It comes from the should, must, ought and duty rules we have stuck in our heads. When I feel guilty I always have a look at which rule I’m breaking. Should I have called someone stroppy? Must I take the blame when I actually didn’t create a problem? Ought I to apologise because that’s what nice people do? Is it my duty to make someone feel better? Even if all I’ve done is spoken my truth?
I’m back to the insincere sorry again. Seeking forgiveness has to be from my heart. From an understanding of my own desire to act in the world from a conscious ethical choice. When I am given a sorry from someone I can also accept it as their conscious choice to behave in an ethical way. If I act from my heart by behaving as I would like to be treated I might even reduce the number of sorry’s I end up saying. I write this in the full understanding that my actions may still be perceived as a wrong. I have no say over how my actions are perceived by others.
Recognising that point was a key change in my understanding of forgiveness. I realised that the person I say sorry to the least is me. I am reluctant to forgive myself. I want people to be happy living a good life in whatever way that means for them. It’s been my life mission. Yet I’ve so often got my actions wrong. Or blamed myself when they don’t have a happy life. As a parent that came home to me in a very big way. After all, it’s easy to blame someone else, have them feel guilty and be forever apologising to you. So how do I make sure that I forgive myself unconditionally?
One of the ways I started to remove the barriers to forgiving myself was to tell myself what I was thankful for. Not about the outer world but what was in me. I’m thankful that I care enough to try to help. I’m thankful that I will speak my mind. I’m thankful that I am prepared to get it wrong right now in case it might be right in the future. I’m thankful that I think about what sorry means and how to forgive. I’m very thankful that I am prepared to forget things that I feel were wrongs against me.
Forgiving myself helps me to forgive others. Saying sorry is getting easier too. I’m developing an approach to my life based on unconditional love leading to unconditional forgiveness. I’m by no means good enough at it yet. I still have to remind myself of the journey I’m on. Every day is an opportunity to say sorry to myself, to be thankful for myself and to forgive myself. Every day unconditional forgiveness grows a little stronger in me. One day I hope to be able to forgive everything in myself and others. I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to do so.
Day 226 of my blogging challenge.