Tag Archives: Forgiveness

What I’ve Learned About Acceptance and Forgiveness

Misunderstood signals.

Confused feelings over a piece of writing.

An old friend knocking on the door.

Acknowledgement of a shared painful experience.

All of the above have occurred in the past two weeks, though not in that order, and I’ve been talking about these experiences with a few people. What has struck me is that I’ve actually learned something over the past year about acceptance and, from that, about forgiveness. What I’ve learned has profoundly impacted my reaction to and understanding of the situations above. The following attempts to explain.


Acceptance

I don’t understand it any more than you do, but one thing I’ve learned is that you don’t have to understand things for them to be. – Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

People sometimes react to things we say or do in ways that are surprising, and such surprises may be unpleasant. I have learned, however, that an individual’s reactions say a lot more about that person than they do about anyone else.

It is very important not to internalize nastiness that might come your way. People can disagree and disagreements can be healthy, informative, and an opportunity for growth. But a negative response to something I have said or done is not because of me. If I do or say something you don’t like, consider why you don’t like it. Consider what bothers you and why. Consider why you reacted the way that you did. You know yourself better than I do and chances are, your reaction has more to do with you than it does with me. I might bring up emotions, feelings, memories, or areas of discomfort that you do not like – but your reaction is about you and not about me.

This does not mean that I should not consider your feelings and try to gauge how you might react in a given situation. This does not mean that I can do and say what I like with blatant disregard for the affect it might have on others. It does not mean that I can be intentionally or unintentionally cruel and walk away like nothing has happened. It simply means that as long as I am acting as a decent person and treating you with that dignity that you deserve as individual, I should feel neither guilt nor shame when you react in a way that I do not expect or understand.

People are surprising in positive and negative ways and that demonstrates that we should always give people a chance because they may be experiencing something we are unaware of or cannot imagine. This means that we cannot condemn others for behaviors that we don’t understand. Rather, we can meet others where they are and accept who they are with open hearts and open minds. Since we still may not like or agree with everything people do it is also vital to practice compassion in all of our interactions.

Forgiveness

It’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then. – Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When we practice compassion towards others and accept them simply because they, like us, are doing the best they can with the lives they lead, being angry with others is nonsensical. Ignorance causes suffering and suffering causes harm. People who harm are hurting and they need our love and support. Our anger only hurts ourselves.

I’ve read a lot about Buddhismmeditation, and how the brain is wired to help others. It has taken me a long time (and six months of chatting with a therapist – best decision I’ve ever made) to internalize what this means. It means that I can’t be angry with you if you hurt me because you’re hurting, too. And whatever you’ve done to me is reflective of whatever has happened to you. I don’t need to know what that is to forgive you for your actions.

When we find ourselves angry or hurt, it is helpful to consider why. Consider what it was that brought up negative feelings for us. Exploring those negative feelings is an opportunity for personal growth and development. When we find ourselves angry, we can stop. We can take a breath. Acknowledge and lean into our emotions. We can allow ourselves to feel.

And then we can return to the people who brought up these emotions and forgive them for causing us harm. Likely, that harm comes from their own suffering. Likely, they did not mean to hurt us.

When we forgive each other, we become different people. We become more knowledgeable about ourselves and others. We become more aware, more open-minded, and probably happier than we were. Even if we choose not to continue our relationships with people who have angered us, we are not allowing negative feelings to take over other aspects of our lives. It is far healthier to live without anger, either at ourselves or others.


It has taken me my entire life to learn these lessons. As someone who feels very deeply, I know that it’s very challenging to step away from emotions that arise without invitation and often claim our attention for longer than we’d like. Recently, I’ve noticed that I’m far calmer now in the face of adversity than I ever have been. I’m not driven to anger as readily and when I am hurt or upset, it’s much easier and less painful to find a quiet mind and state of equanimity again.

Mindful awareness of how I intuitively react and why I do so has been extremely helpful in developing a clearer mind, deeper understanding of others, and a renewed desire to be vulnerable in relationships with others. I no longer try to be right because it does not bother me as much when I’m wrong. I am much happier accepting people for who they are and forgiving them for what they do than I ever was when I constantly kept score or internalized what others said or did. I am not nearly as important in anyone’s rational or irrational decision-making as I used to think. Knowing this makes it much easier to respond with love when others are clearly hurting.

If I’ve hurt you, I apologize. I was likely suffering and certainly did not mean to cause you harm.

If you’ve hurt me, you’re forgiven. I love you, too.

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. – Lewis B. Smedes

Dance. Share love. Forgive.

I’m not a big fan of “stuff”. The more I move around, the less I want to own things that I have to move from place to place. The less I want to own things in general, really. If I can’t or won’t transport it, whatever it is, I just don’t need it in the first place. If I haven’t worn it in a year, forgot I had it, or have other things that could substitute for it, that’s one more item I can donate to someone who might find it useful.

There are exceptions, of course. I have a few boxes of memories in my parents’ basement. Photos, dolls and children’s books I’ve been saving “for someday”, thirteen years of yearbooks, textbooks from college and graduate school that I might reference if I ever pursue a doctorate.

Overall, though, I make an effort to use what I have and think very carefully before I buy anything new. Again, there are exceptions. Namely for books.

I’ve been thinking about consumerism a lot lately because it’s that time of year where we turn from being thankful for what we have to becoming obsessed with acquiring more.

I had to laugh when I first saw this. Original from here.

Back in February I spent a long weekend in Ubud, Bali, recuperating from a week in Battambang, Cambodia with the grade ten students at my school. It was a deliciously relaxing three-day period in which I did yoga, walked for hours, ate delicious food, made photographs, read a lot, and wrote even more.

While exploring Ubud, I wandered into more than a few jewelry stores. I’ve always admired really classic pieces that are elegant, subtle, go with everything, and will never go out of style. Bali produces a lot of silver, my favorite metal because of its versatility. It took me three trips to the same store to look at the same necklace before I finally decided to buy it.

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I wore that necklace to school today and a couple of my students asked what it said. I turned over each side and read it aloud to them, “Dance. Share love. Forgive.”

Dance.

Share love.

Forgive.

Dance.

Share love.

Forgive.

Repeat.

That’s what living is all about. That’s what the holiday season, the sprint between Thanksgiving and Christmas (regardless of whether you personally celebrate), really should be about.


It’s the middle of December.

People are excited about the time of year, perhaps anxious about entertaining family members and friends, finalizing travel plans, and looking for ideas of what to give those they love. We all aim for something meaningful, something that is put out on display and remembered rather than something that ends up shoved in the back of the closet, regifted, or donated. We want to express our love towards the people in our lives through actions (love is a verb!) rather than presenting our people with “stuff” in the hopes that they find a use for it. We want to do something that shows our people that we hear them, we’re listening, we’re there for them, we understand, we care.

For the last year, I’ve made donations to several organizations (including GiveWell, Against Malaria, SCI, and CARE) in honor of a number of people in my life for a variety of gift-giving occasions. All of those people have told me that they were, indeed, honored. They were glad that they’d helped others who need it, glad that they could play a role in improving society for all.

I find immense value in cultivating connections with others in our increasingly fractured world. I am willing to argue that human connection is the greatest gift we can all give or receive. Ten months ago, I bought a necklace to remind me. Today, I remembered.


Dance. We are, all of us, trying to create a world where we can live peacefully, eat well, sleep soundly, fulfill our desires, learn endlessly, and be our best selves as frequently as possible.

Share love. We have the ability to give in everything that we do. We can share anything from a smile to a good book, from an idea to a call to action. The positive things that we do for ourselves and those around us are acts of love. They are easy and cost nothing.

Forgive. We owe it to ourselves to move forward, to the greatest extent that we can. Dialogue and reconciliation about what has hurt us can free us from those feelings, form common ground from difference, and allow us to turn our energies elsewhere.

In the frenzy of the weeks ahead, I will be doing my best to remain grounded and to give what I can in the ways that I can. I encourage all of you to join me and to do the same. Together, we can create the world that we all deserve to inhabit.

To my students, today and every day, thank you for reminding me about what counts.

Who would we be if we could not sympathize with those who are not us or ours? Who would we be if we could not forget ourselves, at least some of the time? Who would we be if we could not learn? Forgive? Become something other than we are? – Susan Sontag

Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Listening

Yesterday was Canadian Thanksgiving, which my family has not celebrated since we moved to the US and the US version of Thanksgiving became my mum’s favorite holiday. It has been years since I started keeping track (sorry about the photos!) of who or what I’m grateful for on a daily basis, and this is as good a time as any to make some of those thoughts public.

I am grateful for the family and friends who have held me up over the past year during which I’ve made some really hard choices and have restarted everything – twice. I am grateful to those who stand beside me as I continue to make choices about what to do next.

I am grateful for the technology that allows me to keep in touch with people all over the world from anywhere in the world.

I am grateful for the people I’ve called at all hours when I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think, and couldn’t see tomorrow. I am grateful for those who have reached out just to see how things are going.

I am grateful for everyone who has helped in the three big moves that I’ve made over the last twelve months. Sorry that my book boxes were so heavy!

I am grateful for all the people who make me laugh, certainly including my students. I am grateful for the compassion of those who have seen me cry (including a group of grade ten students in Cambodia).

I am grateful for everyone who has helped me learn and grow, and who believe in me when I don’t believe in myself.

I am grateful for my travel experiences and all the travel partners I’ve had along the way.

I am grateful for the roof over my head, clothes in my closet, food in the fridge, and for getting paid to do my favorite thing – teach.

For all this and more, I am grateful and I thank you.


These reflections leave me acutely aware that today is Erev Yom Kippur, the night before the Day of Atonement on the Jewish calendar. (I’m a huge fan of this website for all things Judaism, so have a look if you want to investigate Yom Kippur further.) Since I’m teaching at a Jewish day school this year, I have time off for all the Jewish holidays, which is the first time that has happened since my own day school days. Overseas, I struggled to get the time to be part of a religious community, which is really important to me. With the tumultuousness I’ve been experiencing lately, I’m glad to have one fewer thing keeping me up at night.

Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a day of self-reflection, connection with others, and an exploration of individual spiritual relationships. Judaism teaches that the only way to be forgiven for wronging other people is to seek their forgiveness. The goal is to begin a new year with a clean slate based on the new connection formed between both parties.

Forgiveness changes who we are because we are required to relate to each other in uncomfortable ways. Not only am I admitting what I have done wrong, but I am asking your forgiveness because I care about you, about myself, and about our relationship. It’s easy to brush off a negative conversation, walk away, and never mention it again. Acknowledging that someone has been left hurt, when that happens, means looking outside yourself to the impact your actions have on others.

It is very important, however, to keep in mind that many things that we do cause harm, pain, or discomfort. There’s a huge difference between actions and words that are malicious and those that hurt because of misunderstanding or miscommunication. While I am by no means advocating avoiding challenging and uncomfortable conversations, I do believe that my responsibility over the course of these conversations is to talk with you rather than at you, listen to and hear what you are saying, and respond to your ideas without attacking you personally.

When I don’t do that, I will ask your forgiveness. I will not apologize for my ideas or perspectives, but I will apologize for the way I treated you during our conversation. I have learned that the most difficult conversations need to be had sooner rather than later, with open minds and care towards others.

I believe this is important, especially in such a corrosive political climate. There’s a lot to be said about Hillary Clinton’s experience and policy proposals over Trump’s shockingly violent, hateful rhetoric. But there are also ways to have these conversations so as to actually hear one another.

On our way home from school last week, my carpool friends and I discussed our own failures to listen to and hear the other side. In our case, we’re too quick to dismiss Trump supporters as “crazy” or “ignorant”. What we need to do instead is provide evidence for why we believe what we believe and ask for their evidence in return. When political conversations move towards facts and evidence and away from personal feelings, we all learn a lot more. And we’ll cause a lot less anger, hate, and violence towards each other as a result.