Life 101: Forgiveness Versus Forgetfulness

Stephen F. Dennstedt

This blog is all about photography, writing, travelling and lifestyle. But sometimes I venture into deeper waters when the notion strikes me. I guess it just struck me (again)—but I can’t really say why. It’s not like I’ve ruminated on past grievances recently. If you’ve lived for any time at all you will have memories of being wronged (or at least your perception will be that you were wronged).

To err is human, to forgive divine definition. All people commit sins and make mistakes. God forgives them, and people are acting in a godlike (divine) way when they forgive.

This saying is from “An Essay on Criticism” by Alexander Pope

But I don’t think it’s part of our human capacity to forget (I know I don’t have the ability to forget). You certainly don’t have to dwell on past grievances but to erase them from your memory would seem to be empirically impossible. I am grateful to those whom I have wronged for their forgiveness but I cannot imagine they could ever forget my transgression(s). The parenthetical (s) is an important distinction because my transgressions have been many—I am human after all (contrary to the opinions of others).

I think it’s important to forgive yourself (although in my case I find it virtually impossible to do so). Like Alexander Pope said in the quote cited above: To err is human. If we’re human we are going to make mistakes. I love the Buddhist invitation to: do less harm. That invitation acknowledges that as sentient beings we are going to do harm, irregardless of our intention, but with mindfulness (awareness) we can and should mitigate that harm. To do no harm is impossible but to do less harm is doable. It’s a worthwhile goal.

In my life I try to be a forgiving person but I’m not very good at it. Still—I do try. For the longest time my motto was: Get even plus 10%. The 10% was for punitive damages. Not a particularly noble motto I must admit. I’ve come to realize that attitude was very defensive on my part: make the transgressor pay so dearly for their transgression that they (and others) would think twice before attempting another. It often worked. But the trouble with having a reputation as a badass is you become unapproachable (people are fearful and keep their distance).

These days I try to forgive even if I can’t forget. However, I’ve learned that trust once lost is never regained. I’m not so naive or saintly as to believe you can ever trust someone again who has lost your trust. By the same token I can’t expect someone to trust me again if I’ve done something to betray their trust. That is the price we pay for betraying a person’s trust. Therefore, be very careful when you’re tempted to betray a trust (and you will be tempted). The person you betray might forgive you but they will never forget. And they will never trust you again. Trust me on this.

5 responses to “Life 101: Forgiveness Versus Forgetfulness

  1. I think those are very wise words and well spoken…and I LOVE the Buddhist “invitation” to “do less harm”…that seems to have the forgiveness factor built in.

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