Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Giving by Asking

In my last post, I told you about “Fred” and the technique I used to forgive him. One of the commenters observed that when we forgive, we often see our own share of the responsibility for what happened. So true. So I would like to add a bit more today.

In telling the story of Fred to someone awhile back, I stumbled across a new perspective on forgiveness. As I explained in the last post, I held such bitterness towards Fred for so long that it was poisoning my whole life. So I set out to forgive Fred. I would like to tell you that my motivation was that I wanted to be a good person, but really I just wanted relief from the choke hold the resentment and blaming had on my life.

I worked hard in therapy, I completed forgiveness workbooks, I went to healing services, and I prayed. And gradually I forgave. And for the most part it stayed put. I went on with my life, free of the chains I had dragged around for so long. But as I was relating all this to my friend, something started nagging at me. Later, still reflecting on this vague uneasiness, I had a lightbulb-turning-on epiphany.

I realized that I had only completed half the work of forgiving. I still saw myself as the innocent party in this story. But was I? I had heaped judgment and blame on Fred. I had wished unpleasant things for him. And I had completely denied my own contribution to the escalation of the enmity between us. It was my own reaction to what had happened that created such a monster of bitterness and anger. It was my own feeding of that resentment that caused forgiveness to take so long and require so much effort.

I myself had committed hurtful thoughts, words, and actions, both during the time of conflict and for a long time afterwards as I nursed my fury and pain. And so in my heart I asked Fred for forgiveness. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t like admitting, even to myself, the things I had thought and said and done. Humbling, to be sure.

In recognizing my own complicity, I found it hard to hold onto any lingering unforgiving feelings I had toward Fred. So I’m wondering if I have stumbled onto a shortcut to forgiving others. Giving forgiveness is easier if you are also asking for forgiveness. It is very difficult to ask for forgiveness and judge someone at the same time. That’s because asking for forgiveness is a heart opening gesture, and, as we know, unforgiveness closes our hearts. By shifting our attention, even momentarily, from blaming the other person to looking for our own responsibility, we soften the hardness of our hearts. We see that we are in need of forgiveness, too.

Now, when I catch myself feeling wronged, in even some small way, before I get too invested in the story of someone else’s shortcomings, I try to stop and ask forgiveness for the separation I am creating by my own thoughts. My heart stays open and filled with compassion for all of us, trying to do the best we can.


  1. That is such a great post, Galen. It is so difficult to see our part in any situation where we believe we have been wronged. It's so easy to blame and point fingers. Remember the 3 pointing back at us and forgive. Splendid.

  2. Lovely writing again here today - Thank you
    When I was a child I thought and spoke like a child - I was constantly defending myself against M's abuse against me - As I grew older, I understood her needs and concerns - I no longer played her weakness to get relief. I have forgiven M so many times and then it bubbles up in some new way. If M moved here in her retirement my whole family was prepared to change locations even if that meant selling our firm - no lie.
    I found I could only communicate with her through a gentle spoken lawyer fellow...we actually communicated..(He died )
    I have forgiven her again, and I still do not want any contact.
    I have forgiven myself, but apparently not, because I feel like my weight and money issues are still tied to protecting myself from people like M in my life.
    I am afraid to let after reading your post, I decided to write M a letter offering up all the asking of forgiveness I can put forth - but I think I will not mail this letter, but rather use it as a meditation to higher selves in my next acupuncture session. I hope this will be healing for all?

  3. Oh Galen.....this post is right on the money today. Your situation is so much in line with a situation that I have had to deal with the last year or so
    you shared this solution.......PERFECTLY!



  4. Amen! You've hit the nail right on the head, so to speak. Another amazing post regarding forgiveness.

  5. I like your post and sure gives thoughts on the importance of forgiveness in our lives.

  6. Hi Galen,
    I am very judgemental person and often suffer angst when others don't see it my way. This saying always softens view towards others and their alleged
    transgressions: Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle - Goethe.

  7. Manzanita--Always a good reminder about those fingers pointing back! Thanks for your comment.

    Patricia--Thank you so much for sharing some of your story here. It sounds like you have put some very healing practices in use. Thank you for commenting.

    Jo--I think many of us can relate to this sort of scenario. It seems to be part of life! So glad it was timely. Thanks for your comment.

    darlin--Thanks for the kind words and your comment.

    Cynthia--Yes, forgiveness seems to be central to any kind of deep, lasting happiness. Thanks for commenting.

    Riley--I understand. It's a burden to be right all the time! Ha! Great quote and so true. Thanks for your comment.

  8. I love your thought process Galen.. and all that you do to improve your inner happiness! It really is inspiring you know!

  9. This was a great post. I think forgiving others for offenses and learning to forgive ourselves for our part in the situation. Right now I have two daugher in laws that dislike the other daughter in law; who feel has a mental problem.
    It has caused a lt of contention in our family. None of them want to be around each other. I
    Your thoughts were awesome and helped me think of ways I might can help them all work through the problems.
    Blessings to you!

  10. If someone caused me that much pain and anxiety like Fred did, I know I wouldn't ask for forgiveness in my heart. Letting go of the situation is important and moving on. But if someone did wrong by me, nope, no asking for forgiveness. Sometimes that anger makes me a better person and I'll learn from it.

  11. Hi Galen, after all else failed (therapy, trying to understand, knowing I had to let it go for my own health etc.) what really helped me to forgive a very powerful business partner whom I felt had betrayed me was when a friend asked me if I had benefited from the relationship. At first I was perplexed by his question, but once I was able to focus on how much I had gained from this person, my bitterness left almost over night.


  12. Galen: I am all for forgiveness. I am equally against anyone becoming a doormat. It's tough to find the balance.

  13. Average Girl--Well, in the sense that "if I can do it, you know you can," I hope it is inspiring! Thanks for your comment.

    LeAnn--Family dynamics are the most challenging, I think. I hope your daughters in law can reach a place of peace or at least a civil truce. Thank you for sharing this and I hope things get better.

    ryoko--Thanks for sharing a different perspective. I know sometimes I have felt empowered by anger, and when it works in the way you describe, I agree that it can be helpful. For me, acknowledging my own thoughts, words, actions was a step I needed to take at that time. Thanks for your comment.

    Danny--I just read something about looking for the gift in every situation. Sounds like that is exactly what you did, with immediate success. Thanks for your comment.

    JJ--I completely agree. I hope that acknowledging my own responsibility does not make me a doormat! Thanks for your comment.

  14. A good way of helping to change our perspective Galen. Forgiving others is so hard. but we always wonder, why can't someone else simply forgive us? double standard?

    i'm going to try out your suggested shortcut:)

  15. This is so true; I think it makes it easier to forgive someone if your realize the danger of the bitterness and anger that come from not forgiving them. Thanks for sharing.

  16. Hi Galen,
    Great post. We do need to look a bit further when we forgive don't we? We need to accept our role in creating the negative situation as well. Terrific advice. It does take two to tango, right?

  17. Vishnu--Interesting observation about the double standard many of us have. If you try out the shortcut, let me know if it's helpful. Thanks for commenting.

    Toyin--An honest cost/benefit analysis will often help to make that clear. Thanks for your comment.

    Angela--Yes, it does take two. Sometimes it's hard to see our part in the dance. Thank you for commenting.


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