For me to declare “I forgive” is to announce that I am not going to impose my perceptions of reality on another person. Implied in this process is the understanding that everyone’s reality is their own perception. Explaining my perception of the meaning of the reality that I behold is at the heart of the process of judging. In so doing I project my perception of reality onto the data field that in my perception represents another person.
It is obvious that there is no uniform perception of reality. If we all had the same perceptions, then there would be no differences regarding what tastes people like, what colors they like to use in their clothing or their home decorations or the car they prefer to drive. The variety of our preferences reflects the variety of our perceptions.
I suppose that people’s interpretations of reality drive their own behavior. I behold that behavior and conclude how that person interprets their reality. I may make statements that suggest that I would conform my own behavior to that model or that I would not conform my behavior to that model. Those statements are not evaluations of the other person’s behavior; in fact, they are simply declarations about how I am applying the reality I behold to my own life. If I allow my beholdings to become evaluations which influence the way I treat other people, I am moving toward being judgmental.
Forgiving can be value free, but judging cannot. Behind my temptation to judge is a personal arrogance that claims my values (and explanations thereof) are superior to those of other people. There are variety of folk sayings which invite us to at least moderate our personal arrogance. One of those sayings is about withholding judgment until you have walked at least a mile in somebody else’s shoes. My own arrogance tempts me to believe that I am entitled to impose my beliefs on others.
Engaging in dialogue with others about our choices can be a process that builds relationships and enriches the participants if we understand that dialogue is not judgment. This kind of dialogue involves listening enough to enter an “I-thou” relationship as opposed to an “I-it” relationship.
Offering to forgive is also a process of declaring that I am not responsible for someone else’s behavior. The notion that I understand why other people behave the way they do is fantasy on my part. When I refuse to forgive, I am rejecting a relationship with anyone whose perceptions of reality are different than my own. This suggests that accepting and forgiving are related.
I can copy behavior that I behold, and I can do that without understanding the dynamics that create and drive the behavior that I am beholding. In fact, there have been times when I asked people to explain the behavior that I was beholding by telling me why or how they did that and have them answer me by saying that they did not know.
There is a story that illustrates this reality. The story is about a young couple who were recently married. They decided to have a dinner party to express their appreciation for support for their wedding. The young woman, who was not very accomplished as a cook, decided to bake a ham for the dinner. The young husband watched her preparing the ham for baking. He noticed that she sliced the ends off the ham and tucked the two pieces into the pan on the sides of the ham. Since he had not seen that done in his childhood home, he asked why she did that and she replied, “it’s the way you cook a ham; I learned it from my mother.” Several months later the couple were at her parents’ home for a Sunday dinner and his mother-in-law was serving ham. He observed that she also cut the ends off the ham and tucked them into the pan on the sides of the meat. He asked her why she did that and she just told him it was the way you cooked a ham and that “I learned it from my mother.” Eventually the time came when the young man got to talk to his wife’s grandmother and he asked about the way they cooked ham in this family and after he had shared his observations and the fact that two generations of women had told him they learned from their mother, grandmother started to laugh and then she said “when your mother-in-law was a little girl I just had a very small baking dish into which I had to fit a ham in order to bake it.” This story shows us behavior being copied even though those copying had no explanation for why it was done that way.
The word “forgiveness” is a noun. To belabor the obvious a noun is a word that signifies a person, place, or thing. It seems clear enough that forgiveness is not any of those. This is another example of how we have nominalized an action or a process and turned it into an object. This helps us to separate it from a lot of other things and in the process avoid needing to face the concept that being a person who forgives is a constant and continuing process. Nominalizing various actions prevents us from feeling that we need to integrate a concept into our living. Perhaps it seems too obvious, but it is important to become aware of this process. I have a car and I have a house, but I am not a car and I am not a house. If I say that I offer forgiveness, I am describing an object and I might as well say that I am offering a ham sandwich. Nominalizing verbs like “forgive” and thus turning them into objects enables me to diminish their significance. So, I can say I have a car, I have a house, I have a ham sandwich, and I have some forgiveness; all these “objects” thus have similar value and significance (or insignificance).
If I can describe myself as a forgiving or loving or judging or hating person, I am describing traits that are active aspects of my personality. Any of these traits could be manifest as actions—but not objects. How I choose to talk to myself about myself has a major impact on myself understanding. If I encounter pain in an interaction with someone, I need to find a way to resolve that experience. Physiologically pain may be a signal that I need to avoid something. I cannot let an experience go if I insist on judging or hating the other person. Forgiving is about letting go. That opens the door to understanding and loving others. The basic truth is I need to forgive for my own well-being. I cannot be self-compassionate unless I can forgive. I certainly cannot love other people if I cannot be self-compassionate. When I am forgiving, I am also letting go of my need and my expectations for an explanation for other people’s behavior.
Trying to explain something is part of our effort to discern meaning in life. We are tempted to attach explanations to our experiences of beholding. That shifts the concept of beholding to observing. We get confused and believe that if we have an explanation of something that we now “know” that something. We like to believe that explanations improve our “knowing.” This is also part of the process that tells us that cognition is more important than or superior to intuition. I also tend to seek a level of explanation about my beholdings that satisfies my curiosity. That level of explanation might be satisfactory for me but not for others. I have encountered that sort of thing in trying to deal with unexpected good fortune or unexpected bad fortune when people have been prone to suggest to me that the explanation for this event is something that God is doing. While others may find this “interpretation” useful, I do not.
There are at least three broad definitions of the word “know.” One definition implies that we have information about that which we know; a second definition suggests that it is a relationship that is being described and a third archaic definition is about having sexual intercourse with another person. The second and third definitions suggest that we are intimately involved with the reality that we claim to know. Those second and third definitions also imply an intuitive and emotional involvement with that which we claim to know. I think that most of the time we reduce the concept of knowing to possessing information about something or someone. This level of “knowing” also turns the focus of our attention into an object.
Forgiving focuses on the “who” and not on the “what” that I behold in the data fields around me. The goal of forgiving is to create or sustain a relationship.
I make most decisions about my own behavior by using the intuitive sense driven by the values my heart cherishes and survival instincts of my gut. I use my cognitive skills to explain that behavior because I need to explain to myself why I have chosen a particular course of action. I also use those cognitive skills to create a narrative of my selfhood that helps me to believe that my life and my very existence has meaning. I use that narrative of my selfhood to guide the decisions I make about both my behavior and my interpretation of my experiences.
“(I)t is the process of thinking that creates the self, rather than there being a self having any independent existence separate from thought. The self is more like a verb than a noun. To take it a step further, the implication is that without thought, the self does not, in fact, exist.” [Niebauer, Chris. No Self, No Problem (p. xvii). Hierophant Publishing. Kindle Edition.] If this concept is correct, then the behavior I choose to incarnate will influence my own thinking and thus gets involved in what sort of self my self-narrative is creating.