The first thing that we have to understand and accept is that forgiveness is an active act, not a passive one.
The common misconception is that if we do nothing, or if we avoid, or if we just give in “a little bit this one time” or we don’t stand up for ourselves, that somehow, conflict situations will just magically resolve themselves.
But, much like being an entrepreneur of any stripe, if you are in conflict and you don’t act to get forgiveness (or to be forgiving), nothing will happen. Conflict events will just unspool towards outcomes and consequences that may not work for you, but may work out quite nicely for the other party.
Because resolution, forgiveness and even mindfulness is so wrapped up with philosophy, theology and spirituality in the West, we often forget that there must be action taken on our part in the physical, material realm to get anything started in the first place.
We have to decide—the first strategy is that we have to make a conscious decision to longer mentally, spiritually, and emotionally carry the baggage of another’s perceptions of us. What happened in the past cannot be undone, and revisiting old conflicts repeatedly in language, stories, narratives and other ways, only serves to allow each conflict participant to hold on.
We have to act –the strategy of action cannot happen before decision, though many people try. The strategy of action is what we teach our children (“Go and say you’re ‘sorry’ to your sister”) when they have wronged each other. Rarely do we tell them that this is the second step. Without deciding to act, the action of seeking resolution, forgiveness, and restoration become hollow exercises that retain as little meaning to the other party as they do for you.
We have to face forward – the strategy of facing forward goes past a lack of empathy (which is focused on others) and goes directly to confronting and giving language to unarticulated fears. This is the hardest thing to do, because human beings are encultured to avoid even talking about their fears aloud in casual conversation. Our modern tendency (in the West) to confuse transparency (“I posted a rant on Facebook and people responded”) with authenticity (“This rant on Facebook reveals what I REALLY think about ‘X’ issue”) is another way for us to hide from what scares us. Before we can seek forgiveness, or pursue it from others, we have to confront what we’re afraid of and articulate our fears.
We have to be empathetic –the strategy of being empathetic is one that also can be perceived as being disingenuous when it’s not performed in concert with these other strategies, which is why many trainers leapfrog over it. Or, we give a head tilt in it’s general direction, and then move on to addressing what we feel are more concrete areas of impact. But empathy is other focused and requires us to put down our selfishness (based in our fear of lack) and really see the other party for who they are. We have to care. And the things is, many of us don’t.
We have to want the forgiveness as badly as we want to attack, avoid, or accommodate the other party in conflict—the strategy of wanting forgiveness and restoration to a new relationship is personal. So personal, in fact, that we almost never say it to the other party. Instead, we many times opt to hoping that the other party will just “get it” from our nonverbal communication and then become frustrated when it doesn’t happen. Or, we don’t want to admit that we want the conflict scenario to continue because of the feelings of power and control that it gives us in the relationship.
All of these strategies are hard, time consuming and might not work. They also have to be employed when you might not feel like employing them, instead desiring to “just do what I’ve always done.” But getting forgiveness (and giving forgiveness) are not actions based in hope.
-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principle Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org