Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Everyday Forgiveness: How to Give Yourself and Others Some Slack

Let's face it, we humans tend to be a judgmental bunch, wouldn't you say? I guess it's a product of duality, because ours is a world of light and dark, up and down, hard and soft, good and bad, right and wrong, and so on. While philosophies such as Buddhism are committed to accepting life on life's terms, for most of us this is a foreign concept. Most organized religions, political parties, and cultures in general, have set ideas about what's okay and what's not, and are more than happy to enlighten you as to how things, and people, should be.

And so most of us have learned to judge virtually everything and everyone we come in contact with, even if on a subtle level. Of course there's great variation among people: some are naturally more easy-going and accepting, while others are naturally more shrewd and opinionated. But it seems that most of us spend a lot of valuable time and energy judging and critiquing ourselves and others. (And they go hand-in-hand, don't they? If we're hard on ourselves we're probably hard on others, and vice versa: when we punish our kids for lying and then do it ourselves, we have to deal with the annoying hypocrisy issue. Ugh!)

So, what's to be done? I'd say if you're comfortable with the stream of thoughts that run through your head on a daily basis, then you're right where you need to be. On the other hand, if you are troubled by an internal gripefest, you might want to work on developing what I call everyday forgiveness.

What does that mean exactly? For me, there are two kinds of forgiveness: big and small. Big forgiveness is when you have to reach inside your soul and find the willingness and strength to forgive someone or something that you believe has really, really hurt you.

Small, or everyday, forgiveness is easier to implement on a case-by-case basis, but requires great persistence and commitment to master. Per my definition, everyday forgiveness means forgiving yourself and anyone else who you might be inclined to judge, condemn, or hold a grudge against. And here's how it works:

You have the thought, "Chad is a jerk." which upsets you for one or more reasons. Maybe because you believe Chad's jerk-like behavior is causing you stress, or because you believe Chad shouldn't be a jerk; or perhaps because judging Chad this way makes you feel like, well, a jerk! So what do you do? You could get into a kerfuffle with yourself and/or Chad about it, or you could just say to yourself (with as much sincerity as you can muster), "I forgive Chad for acting like a jerk, and I forgive myself for judging him."

Believe it or not, this really does work. Why? Because it feels good to cut a brother some slack, and it feels good to take responsibility for your own judgments (and then forgive yourself for having them). This can also provide useful information, because if you're intensely annoyed or judgmental toward someone over a seemingly minor infraction, and forgiving them and yourself doesn't work right away, you can be sure there's more going on there than meets the eye. It alerts you that you might need to dig a little deeper to discover what (and whom) truly requires your forgiveness.

This week I invite you to try this on and see how it goes. You might find that you need to state the idea a different way, like "I accept you, and I accept myself, in all our imperfection." Or you might find that you actually enjoy the charge you get from entertaining banter in your mind. That's fine!. But, if you discover that you are unable or unwilling to forgive yourself and/or others for being other than you want them to be, you might want to look at that, because no human is perfect and your judgments will never change that fact. Forgiving is not condoning, giving in, or even being nice---it's just allowing people to be who they are.