Sunday, March 21, 2010

When 'I'm sorry' isn't enough

How huge does a transgression have to be before simply saying, "I'm sorry," is not nearly enough? And does someone actually have to earn forgiveness or should it be given freely, when an apology seems sincere?

I've been thinking a lot about this recently. Mostly it's because of people like Tiger Woods and Sandra Bullock's husband, who've been publicly apologizing like crazy for cheating on their spouses, but it's also because I have a truly terrible habit of holding grudges for eternity. It takes a lot for me to lose faith in someone, but once I have, forgiveness does not come easily. And I have to say if I were in the position of some of these wronged wives, forgiveness would likely be impossible.

I have a couple of friends who are ministers. One, who shakes his head at my stubborn refusal to let go of things, reminds me that the person I'm hurting most is myself. The other, who's written a book on forgiveness, would probably be appalled to know how deeply I cling to past hurts. Even I recognize just how absurd it is at times.

To give you one of the more ridiculous examples, when I was maybe eight, an umpire tossed a pitcher from the old Washington Senators -- my favorite team at the time -- out of a game because a coach from Baltimore in my "expert" opinion harassed him till he did something stupid. Remember now, I was eight. I wrote to the commissioner of baseball to protest. More dramatically, I boycotted the entire city of Baltimore. I had not set foot in that town until last year when I was sent there on a book tour. Now that's a grudge!

At fourteen, when a dentist jabbed me with novacaine to do my first filling without discussing it with me, my parents had to change dentists. I refused to ever go back to that one.

See what I mean? Those examples might be dismissed as slightly wacky or eccentric, because I was, after all, just a kid. As an adult, it's meant that there are businesses I won't patronize or individuals I won't spend time with. And I suppose there'd be nothing wrong with that, if either had seriously wronged me and I'd simply made a decision to end the relationship, whether business or personal. Sadly, though, I often let it eat at me.

What a waste of time and energy and proof positive of the importance of letting go of things, not for the sake of the offending person, but for yourself. Who wins if you hold onto a grudge? You're not really making the other person miserable, are you? If they're so inconsiderate that they've done you seriously wrong in the first place, then you staying mad at them probably won't matter. It'll only ruin your health.

So, my advice to the wives of all those cheaters -- get furious, call the louses every name in the book if it'll make you feel better, then forgive. Not for their sake, but for yours. That does not, by the way, mean you take them back unless they've gone way beyond 'I'm sorry' to prove they're worthy of another chance.

A poet and writer whose work I've enjoyed over the years, Dorothy Parker, said it best: "Living well is the best revenge." Forgive, and live really, really well.

What about the rest of you? How do you handle it if you've been wronged, whether by a cheating spouse or a friend? Is a sincere apology enough to win your forgiveness? Or does it depend on the seriousness of the betrayal? And if you've found a way to truly let go of the past and move on after someone's hurt you, how have you done it? Let me know by clicking on comments below.

Sherryl Woods

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Blogger Kathleen O said...

I think forgiveness is good, but I will admit that being publicly humiliated like Tiger's wife and Sandra Bullock etc., would be hard to forgive. But my attitude. I can forgive, but sometimes I cannot forget. Depends on the injustice that was done to me. But I like Dorthy Parkers quote... Even when I am hurting, I never let em' see me cry, I always have a smile on my face.. And kill em' with kindness.. is my motto..

March 21, 2010 9:56 AM  
Blogger Sherryl said...

There's a great attitude and plan, Kathleen. Kill 'em with kindness. Maybe I can put that one to better use.

I had to laugh this morning when I opened my paper and read my horoscope: "If you harbor ill will toward someone, your unhappiness will bind you like a pair of handcuffs snd prevent you from doing better things." So, even the stars are aligned to tell me to let it go.

March 22, 2010 5:52 AM  
Blogger Sonya Natalia said...

You know what? I don’t think it’s right to always apologise. Look at the Pope who forgave the man who tried to kill him. Why? (Apart from the fact he wanted to be made a saint and so ‘had’ to do it.)

My grandmother (whose mother died the day she was born) was abandoned by her father at birth, and, though they lived in the same small Ukrainian village, only once in his life did he speak to her. Recently my grandmother (who’s going on to ninety) has started thinking maybe she should have a service at church to forgive him. Why should she? Some acts ARE unforgivable, and I don’t believe the bad guys should get off the hook just so we feel better.

The double standard of a man being able to declare himself a ‘sex addict’ and thus be forgiven by society at large (and even congratulated for his behaviour) is sickening. I'd be willing to bet a woman wouldn't get away with it. Tiger Woods is a disgusting pig. If we spent more time congratulating people who deserve it, rather than loving the bad guys, maybe society would be better.

(By the way, maybe it’s just me, but I cannot see the writing on this blog. I have to highlight it with my mouse. Perhaps the text should be in a different colour? Or maybe it’s just my computer.)

March 30, 2010 9:31 PM  
Blogger S Hertel said...

I can't read the text on this blog I have to hightlight to see it.

April 1, 2010 8:02 AM  
Blogger Sherryl said...

For all of you can't see the type on this blog, I've been trying to get this fixed, but so far all I have to offer is a tip from a reader. If you open the blog, then click on Tools and click on view this message (or something like that), it will appear like magic. Or so they tell me.

April 4, 2010 6:43 AM  

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