The cardinal rule of forgiving others is this: in order to forgive others, you have to forgive yourself as well. These two aspects of forgiveness are like the two wings of the same bird. With one wing still broken, you can’t escape.
To fully understand why it is that way, come to my bedroom for a moment. I know, it’s a loaded statement, but trust me, it’s completely innocent.
Imagine a regular weekday morning at 6 am. If you were to look over the edge of my bed, this is what you would see:
That nose belongs to my dog Rex who is patiently waiting for his morning stroll in the desert with me.
But who investigates the floor in front of their bed before getting out?
I don’t! I swing my feet over the edge, and most likely not even open my eyes.
Yet every morning, this nose is right at the spot where I place my feet. And even though I know there’s a nose waiting for me, that doesn’t mean I remember it at 6 am in the morning with my eyes closed.
Yes, the worst happens. I bounce my feet right onto this nose on most mornings– not hard enough to make him yelp, but hard enough to make him pull his nose back. On some mornings I remember, but on most, I don’t. And so I hurt my sweet dog on most days.
Do I plan to do it? Did I wake up and plan on hurting him?
No, I wake up to get on with my life, focused on my own agenda, in the center of my world.
Let’s expand this to the world outside of my bedroom, and beyond my morning routine.
We hurt others even if we don’t mean to do it.
Or we hurt others knowing that we are hurting them, but in the moment we forget (or choose to forget) because we are immersed in our own agenda.
Therefore, forgiving others doesn’t mean condoning the hurtful act but acknowledging that we are rarely the center of someone else’s world.
That’s the one wing of the bird.
Now let’s talk about the other wing of that bird – forgiving yourself.
I have heard a lot of the following from friends, colleagues, strangers:
If this other person is abusive towards me – physically, mentally, emotionally, then why do I need to forgive myself?!
And we understand it – I hurt you, and you forgive me. But why do I need to forgive myself??!??
Let’s come back to that nose under my bed.
Sure, I hurt Rex by kicking his nose, but he’s the one who puts the nose there, knowing darn well that he might get kicked. I hurt him almost every time he’s there, yet he keeps putting his nose in the same place day after day.
I hear you, he’s a dog, he forgets!
I trained myself to skootch over to the end of the bed and within a week, the dog had skootched his nose over as well.
Is he considered a masochist for putting himself in a situation where he gets hurt?
Well, let me ask you this: Every morning when we welcome the world into our lives, we might get hurt – are you a masochist then by just getting out of the bed? Isn’t that what we do every day? Yet we do it anyways, knowing darn well that future is unpredictable.
Iyanla Vanzant, an American lawyer and New Age though leader, has said these words of wisdom:
“Your greatest abuser sits in your chair.”
What that means is the same old “We can’t control others’ lives, but we can control our own.” We can’t always prevent getting kicked in the nose, but we can choose where we put our nose.
Furthermore, we can choose how we handle the pain – by holding onto it, placing blame, shame, and guilt on our shoulders – we abuse ourselves. And for that, we need to forgive.
Thanks to Birmingham Museums Trust for sharing their photo!