I struggle a lot with forgiveness. I struggle to forgive others, yes (I’m the raver that cannot fathom that one person once did that thing and my goD I just don’t need them in my life anymore), but I struggle to forgive myself more. From when I was so small, I would tear my brain up, fretting over a comment I had made, or an action I had performed, unable to let it go or get over it. It riddled me with guilt and frustration (ah the joys of early onset anxiety) and as I got older, it only got worse. Life presented situations of more weight and importance, which only meant I had more to feel bad about. Where others would accept their action hadn’t been ideal but life goes on, mine seemed to stop temporarily, for as long as it took to either punish myself enough mentally, or forget about it. Unlikely to be the latter. We all have a bank of regrets. Some only regret few, significant things of weight. Others regret not going to the gym, or making a nasty comment whilst PMSing (ya gal is the quEEN). But everybody has a few memories just chillin in their mental, which make em feel a little funny.
A less than ideal action (or actually, even worse, thought) was the cause of my 3 month long acute anxiety I suffered last summer. I had considered kissing a boy other than my boyfriend in a club whilst he was on holiday. The monstrosity, I know. I didn’t even do it. But I considered it, and I suffered the consequences for months. Perhaps I still do, considering my regular therapy sessions and the occasional beta-blocker (on a side note- ideal before a French oral exam). I have been studying the idea of self forgiveness for months now, on my road to low-levels of adrenaline and telling my intrusive thoughts to doooo one. And then just now, my dad sent me a link to a radio podcast he suggested would help with my work (I study Philosophy). It didn’t at all, but it did help me heal a little more. So that’s what imma talk about. leggo.
Bishop Richard Holloway gave his insight into forgiveness and looking back. Obviously, I’m 20 and (hopefully) far from the end of my life, however the podcast was relevant, as it can be understood by anyone who’s lived at all, really. Because unless you literally don’t care at all how you treat others or yourself, you’re unlikely to not have one regret. The first idea Holloway introduces is the idea of free will. We all seem to think we get to choose our actions, and consequently be, and become the person we want to be. We can decide ahead of time how we will act and therefore generate the outcome according to our idea of who we are. But perhaps this isn’t the case, and we don’t get to always decide how we act. If we did, and if we had always contemplated our actions to be perfect each time, surely we would regret nothing. Instead, it’s suggested time is the weaver of our lives. All the times I can remember saying or doing something less than ideal, and of which I have suffered consequences, I never meant to do. I have never intended to perform an action that would make me anything less than a perfect person. But moments are so fast and unique and decisions can be thoughtless and before you know it you’ve done it and before you know it you’re pacing your room at 4am wondering if sleep is something you’ll ever know again. I digress. Must call therapist. But this is the thing- we don’t always have control! Yet we tell ourselves we are fully responsible. Because for some reason it must always be a person that takes responsibility for an action. They executed it; they are to blame.
But what if we stopped looking at it like this. What if we realised we didn’t mean to. It wasn’t a conscious decision made with our desired character at heart. Because we cannot be exactly who we want to be all of the time. We don’t have the control. To illustrate this point, Holloway uses the betrayal of Jesus by Peter. I’m not religious but this story really helped me consider my own forgiveness. Peter, was a passionate man. He loved Jesus, and after hearing the police were coming for Jesus, assured him of his support and protection. He had every intention of behaving that way, as it was who he was, and he wanted to. But, when he was faced with the reality, he failed himself and refused any connection to Jesus, letting him be taken. The point Holloway makes is that, Peter really didn’t want to do this. And he really was amazed and filled with anguish over what he had done. The conclusion Holloway draws from this story is that Jesus understood human nature; ironically that we do not know our own nature. But when it is revealed to us, in the moment, we must accept however we react. Because until it happens, we cannot know ourselves. Peter has the chance to repent, and announces with the same amount of passion the love he has for Jesus, as he did deny his love for Jesus. In doing this, the act has not been forgiven, as perhaps it was (as some of our actions are) inherently wrong, but rather the actor, who has had the chance, upon reflection, to understand what they really mean and want.
One philosopher, says “our tragedy is, that though we did not know what we were doing when we acted, our actions were irreversible.” This, I think, forgives one’s actions in a situation of which one has never found themselves before, because how could we expect them to know how to act. One’s actions in response to being put in such a situation is who they were in that moment. It is not who they are full stop. And, as a favourite quote of mine says “Part of being human is that we can’t go back, we can only hope that if we come across that moment again, we’ll do it the right way.”