You’re driving down the road. Someone zips by you on the right. They cut in front of you. Are you angry? Do you cuss them out from the safety of your car? A few blocks later that same car is pulled over, a police officer standing by their window. Do you rejoice?
Some people might say this is karmic justice – a bad deed rewarded with punishment. Maybe it is, but maybe not. We do not know what is going on in that person’s life. Maybe they were being oblivious. Maybe their mother just died. We do not know.
Regardless, the circumstance of the other driver is separate from your feeling. That has nothing to do with justice.
There is a word in German that captures this enjoyment at the expense of others – schadenfreude.
If someone’s trouble makes you rejoice, there is something wrong. Such a thing is wishing for the same upon yourself. Some part of yourself wishes for punishment – out of guilt or shame or anger. Some part of you is stunted, to wish pain upon another, no matter how “small” the pain is.
I don’t care about the other driver in this circumstance. I care about you. I care about the fundamental problem you’re having in yourself. I care about your spirit and how great you allow yourself to become.
If you want to grow, if you want to do good in the world, if you want to let go of any baggage in your life, you must do one thing: you must forgive.
For whatever reason, many people have hang-ups about this. They think forgiveness equates with reconciliation. They think forgiveness is endorsement of bad behavior. These beliefs are false and misguided.
Let me explain: I forgave the guy who t-boned me without insurance (who never repaid the cost of damages). I forgave my rapist. I forgave the little boy who molested me as a toddler. I forgave the person who stole my car stereo (both times). I forgave myself for making mistakes, for rage, for being silent. Why do these things? Because I value my soul. I value my life. I value my ability to move past these moments in time to a new place of wonder and light. Life is too short to hold on to bad feelings. It’s too short to stay stuck. It’s much better to let go and grow.
Now you’re convinced you should practice forgiveness. How do you do it? Here are a few steps to practicing forgiveness on a daily basis:
First, see people as people. Recognize each person is trying to do the best they can with what they know and have. We all start at different places, with different influences (i.e. culture, history, wealth, support etc).
Recognize you don’t know what is going on in other people’s hearts and minds. You don’t know their story unless they volunteer it, and even then, it’s only a fragment. Likewise, they don’t know yours. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Start small. Forgive the person cutting in line. Forgive the person who didn’t put on their turn signal. Forgive the person who left their socks in the middle of the floor. When you do that, you’ll find the bigger stuff gets a bit easier.
Forgive yourself. Really. RIGHT NOW! Forgive yourself for your inner critic, for any and every mistake you think you’ve made. Forgive yourself for any and every response or situation that brings up sensations of guilt, humiliation, or shame. Forgive yourself for feeling those feelings. Forgive yourself for shadenfreude. Forgive yourself for missing the bus, or pouring orange juice in your cereal, or spending the money set aside for the cell phone bill on a concert ticket. Whatever makes your stomach twist, forgive. You’ll feel so much lighter.
Once you start forgiving yourself and others, you’ll find more beauty and love in your life. You’ll find you love yourself more. You’ll find more empathy and compassion. You’ll find more peace.
This is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It’s free. You can start right now. The dividends last for life. And if you find yourself dragging your feet because you’re not sure how you can forgive the big stuff, it’s all right. Remember to start small. And if you can’t forgive yourself yet, well, someone else does.
I can forgive you even if you can’t.
For ways to increase your understanding of others and the ability to forgive, spend some time learning about different faith traditions. My world religion curriculum, SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION, and the associated interfaith devotional, 42 DAYS THROUGH FAITH, will transform your perspective about other faiths while showing just how much we have in common.
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