those two “f” words

05 Oct

Lately, it seems there’s been an incursion into my life of two lesser-considered “f” words: “Forgive” and “Forget.” Not a huge incursion, but just enough of one to set a few of my subconscious brain processes working on a problem it didn’t really have a definition for, but was nonetheless obvious. Three and a half decades of life experience and more college credit hours than I feel like counting right now continue to tell me that trying to solve a problem you haven’t clearly defined isn’t going to get you very far. In those cases, I write things.

Forgive, sounds good
Forget, I’m not sure I could

Forgive. Forget. These two words are often paired up in idiom, though in my mind, they’re too different concepts, all but incompatible in anything more complicated than the inconsequential. There are a lot of definitions out there for “forgive,” which in itself presents a problem. Again, if no one can agree on what a concept means, it’s rather difficult to implement that concept. I don’t like it in the context of “forgive and forget,” which many people interpret as tabula rasa – a complete writing off of whatever happened in the past and starting over from scratch*. I suppose that if all parties are entering such arrangement in good faith, and the writing off is equitable all around this could work, but the odds of such a thing happening, in my experience, is relatively low.

That’s really the big reason I personally divorce “forgive” from “forget” – “forgetting” something is really the act of cutting ourselves off from our past experience, which is our primary means of learning about life, ourselves, and others. Sure, many of our past experiences are painful and traumatic, but all are valuable, and by “forgetting” those experiences, we’re willfully ignoring those lessons.

I’m simply not a big fan of setting aside knowledge and experience. Past experience is the best predictor of future behavior. Lacking evidence of factors indicating change, things (and people) tend to continue along more or less as they were. Newton’s First Law applies to people in much the same way it applies to the idealized particles the scientist was theorizing about. Of course, theorized particles can’t choose to deny that external forces exist and continue along the same path in spite of them**.

“forgiving and forgetting” in the popular vernacular is, more often than not, an invitation to just continue the old dynamic that resulted in the conflict in the first place.

That said, I am a huge fan of forgiveness, but in another sense. I like forgiveness as a personal letting go of the cycle of conflict and pain***. Forgiveness, as giving up the pain of being hurt or betrayed by another, but not forgetting the actions that hurt us or hurt others, or the consequences that come from those actions, but learning from them, and building forward from that point…it’s a healthier option than resetting the clock at zero.

That’s not to say that I’m always successful at living life this way (or even successful a majority of the time), but it’s something to aspire to, and having goals is generally a good thing. And, in falling short of a goal, one can find an opportunity to learn more from the experience.


*-this interpretation is probably rooted in Christian thinking, and while comforting for the sinner, is far from the only interpretation. The person petitioning for this kind of forgiveness from another is often also the kind of person who misinterprets the “turn the other cheek” concept, and expects the forgetter to just roll over and take further abuse. In fact, in the context of the society that spawned the historical Jesus and/or the writer of Matthew 5:39, the concept means pretty much the opposite: a demand to be treated with respect as an equal – it’s appealingly rabble-rousy.

**-Denial is one of humanity’s most common superpowers.

***-I came around from this definition initially from mishearing of the quote “Forgiveness is giving up the right to hurt you for hurting me” as something like “…giving up being hurt by your hurting me.” Not that the first isn’t valid – it’s an integral part of breaking that cycle of conflict – but as I’m fond of saying, it’s more complicated than that. There’s actually a lot to like related to both versions in this piece which is almost surely copypasta to fill space on a web site, but it’s mostly good copypasta. That said, I’m more comfortable with the idea of letting go of the hurt, because that’s the kind of thing most of us don’t really have time or space for in our lives.


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