Friday, August 17, 2007

Forgive and Respect

I have always been good at forgiving the mistakes and slights of others. Perhaps it is because I have screwed up plenty of times and have often needed to ask for forgiveness. Maybe it is just that simple.

As far as I am concerned, if I am offered a sincere apology, my anger and hurt tends to melt away. I also seem to have a dangerous tendency to forgive and forget, as the saying goes. If I trust in the apology, I trust it won't happen again, and I don't dwell on the matter. I am a water under the bridge kind of gal. Once the issue is honestly resolved, it is done and buried - whatever event gave rise to the need for an apology. I don't believe I have ever resurrected a buried issue in a later argument. It goes against the way my (usually) rational brain behaves. Crimes against a relationship (friendship or otherwise) have a very short shelf life. Speak then or forever hold your peace on the topic.

By the same token, if you don't speak up and admit you're hurt, or, on the other hand, honestly apologize when you realize you have hurt or wronged someone else, you may lose the opportunity to fully resolve the issue and mitigate the harm you caused. Every situation and shelf life is different, but timing, she is a cruel mistress. Sometimes it can take you months or years to realize that you fucked up, and yet you can still make the deadline for a constructive apology. Other times, you can miss the window just moments after you fucked up, and the opportunity to mitigate the harm is gone forever.

The conundrum (great white wine, by the way) arises when an apology can repair some, but not all of the harm. You can mitigate the anger and hurt, but not the damage that you caused. You didn't wait too long for the apology to fall on deaf ears, but the recipient has lost the ability to accept and attribute it to the same "person" they needed it from. I think this is the situation that people often characterize as "being able to forgive, but not forget." I didn't understand that school of thought until recently.

A lot of people balk at the idea of even offering an apology in this scenario, since there may be little reward in the long haul, aside from limited peace of mind. Without question, I have taken this cowardly route. Some of the relationships were obviously not that important, as I tend to act upon those I consider meaningful. Others were relationships where the situation was hazy and gray, where fault was shared and perhaps a reciprocal apology felt warranted. Still others occurred in the context of family, where forgiveness is ultimately expected. All in all, still cowardly of me, and cowardly of others in similar situations.

In my own context, I now realize that my failure to sack up timely apologies to certain people has probably irreparably altered the respect those folks have for me. Respect is a close cousin of trust, upon reflection, although they are certainly distinct. You shouldn't accept an apology without trusting in it, so trust really isn't the immediate issue. Respect is what needs to be rebuilt. Restoring respect is what I suspect most people confuse with restoring trust. I wouldn't accept an apology from someone I didn't trust was honestly expressing regret and a commitment not to re-offend (at least in that manner) again. No, I think the obstacle is re-establishing your value in the relationship, and that, ultimately, that is a matter of respect.

I guess I think you can trust someone not to hurt you again, but have absolutely no respect for them. I think that is exactly where I am with the exes of relationship-past. I suspect that is also where I sit in terms of a few relationships that I torpedoed. I am going to sack up and learn a little from my experiment in "better living through blogging."

*Yes, I wrote this a days ago. The publish button eludes me.
** And yet it publishes on Friday. Awesome with an e.

No comments: