A Lesson In Forgiveness

Catherine Pratt

Lessons learned

I wanted to share with you a valuable lesson I learned about forgiveness today.  It all happened because I responded to an email in what I told myself at the time was being helpful but it didn't come across that way. Looking back at it, it surprises me actually because the way I responded was completely out of character for me. But for whatever reason, I did it. Perhaps, I needed the situation to occur in my life to teach me the revelations I had afterwards.

Looking back, I can see that her email triggered an annoyed response in me and then my email back to her incorporated some of that when I should have taken the time to figure out why her email bothered me in the first place.

Anyway, there’s nothing I can do to change what I did now. In response to my comments, she emailed me back saying I should keep my comments to myself. I agreed she was right and I apologized to her.

I feel terrible for having done it but besides apologizing and feeling guilty and bad, there’s nothing I can do to change what happened. All I can do is learn from the experience and hope that I’ve become a better person for having gone through it.

But, thinking about it, it struck me that there are a number of valuable lessons to be gained from this experience. In fact, I came up with 17 lessons I learned from having gone through this experience.

Forgiving Yourself

1.  I can’t fix this relationship
Other than apologizing to her, there’s nothing else I can do to fix this relationship which is too bad. My careless comments may have destroyed a friendship before it even started. Unless the other person is willing to accept my apology, all I can do is move on. I need to learn my valuable lessons and forgive myself for what I did though. I can't continue to stew about it or allow the guilt to chew me up inside.

It is important to feel the emotions though and let them be processed through. Stuffing them down or trying to deny them or trying to justify to myself why I did what I did does not help the situation. It's important to feel the emotion and then accept the emotions in order to gain the knowledge from the situation which will then lead me to move forward in a wiser, more compassionate way.

2.  It’s a good reminder to me that if you’re feeling angry or frustrated about something, don’t answer emails or deal with others.
It would be far better to take a break or deal with the situation that’s bothering you directly, but don’t take it out on others. They have no idea why you’re acting the way you are.

If you're feeling angry, figure out what's the real emotion going on behind that feeling first before you do anything else.

You don't need to respond to people right away. You can do it later or tomorrow when you may be in a better mood.

3. Know how you're feeling

It can be easy to be so caught up in your emotions that you're not even aware of how they're causing you to think and behave. You're just reacting on automatic pilot.

Be aware when you're feeling out of sorts and know that you might possibly be over-reacting to a situation that has nothing to do with what you’re really upset about.

Pay attention to how you're feeling and know when you should deal with your own emotions first prior to interacting with anyone else.

4. Before you say something to someone, ask yourself:

  •  “What is my intention by stating it this way? If your intention it to be hurtful, don’t say it.
  • Is there a better way to say this?
Before criticizing someone or giving advice, ask yourself, "Does this need to be said?" Often it's kinder to say nothing.

And the most important question of all to ask yourself:

  • Does this even need to be said?”- a lot of times, it really doesn't. There's nothing to be gained from it, so don't do it.

5.  Don’t criticize others if it’s not necessary
This bear repeating, most times, it’s not necessary to criticize others. And, even if it is necessary to criticize others, do it in the nicest way possible. Don’t put the other person down. Put a positive spin on it instead. Ask yourself what would be the most positive way to make your comments?

Also, ask yourself if you're saying it simply to be right and to let the the other person know they're wrong. If that's your intention, don't do it. It'd be far more beneficial to ask yourself why do you feel the need to be right?

6.  Remember that a lot of people don’t like being given advice
Unless they ask you for it, it’s usually best to not say anything. Also, if you do give advice, pay attention to your tone of voice when you say it. Make sure that you’re not instantly putting them on the defensive.

Remember that if the way you say your advice makes the other person feel defensive or like you’re criticizing them, they’re not going to hear a thing you say anyway. They’re just going to react in anger and defend themselves.

Forgiving Others

Forgive quickly

This situation also made me start to think about this from the other side of the equation too. How many times has someone been rude to you and you never forgive them even if they do apologize to you? For example, a waitress is having a bad day and is rude to you. She might apologize but do you ever truly forgive her? Do you now associate the restaurant with how the person acted towards you?

Or if a co-worker snaps at you one day, do you forever hold a grudge against them thinking that they’re a jerk no matter what they do in the future?

Or if your neighbor complains to you about something, do you forever feel angry at them? If someone at the next stall in the campground asks you to turn down your music, do you just react angrily to them instead of looking at the big picture that maybe your music is too loud?

You can see how something as simple as someone unintentionally being rude to someone can create a truly toxic workplace, community, or even family.

7.  Often if you tell someone you’re upset by what they said or did, that person will react in a defensive manner.
They may blame you for them making the comment or they’ll tell you, “You’re too sensitive.” If you think about it, they could be reacting this way simply because they don’t know how to handle the situation or maybe because they feel bad for what they said. Yes, it’s a strange way to react about feeling bad but many people do react that way. They don’t think the situation through, they just react on autopilot. They feel the other person is angry and it feels like they’re being attacked so they automatically attack back. You can see how this quickly escalates into a much worse situation. Any future contact between these two people will also most likely be negative as both will feel angry at the other.

8.   So, what’s the solution to this?
I think part of it has to do with having empathy for others. Understanding that if someone is rude to you, it may not be completely about you. Maybe they’re having family or financial issues, maybe they’ve been working for too many hours, maybe they’re just having a bad day and their words came out wrong.  Give people the benefit of the doubt.

9.  Remember that it takes a big person to own up to when they’ve made a mistake and apologize.
Be gracious enough to accept that apology and don’t continue to hold a grudge or feel negative about that person.  It actually takes a certain level of maturity to accept someone’s apology and to not hold a grudge forever.

10.  Remember that there will be times when it’s you that will make the careless comment or be unintentionally rude.
We’re all human and we all make mistakes. So, forgive others when they make a mistake. It might be you one day soon needing that forgiveness from someone.

11.  Understand that when someone apologizes, they most likely truly do understand that they made a mistake and they will grow and become a better person for it.
Be gracious enough that you have helped someone become a wiser person. This doesn’t mean you need to rub it in or continue to remind them of their mistake or tell them what you think they should have done instead. It means that when someone apologizes, you simply say, “Thank You for your apology. I appreciate that.” And, mean it when you say that.

12.  Let it go if someone apologizes to you.
The situation is over. Move on from it and work towards creating a much better relationship going forwards.

13.   Is there something you can learn from the comments?
Even if someone says something rude to you, is there something you can learn from the situation? In their unkind comment, is there a grain of truth about something that you could also improve in yourself to become a better person? For example, if they snapped at you for being late, is it true that you always are late? Is there something valuable to be taken from their comments?

14. Is there something you could have done to handle the situation better from your end?
If you reacted angrily to them, could you have simply said, “Thank you for your feedback” Or “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day” or simply not taken it personally? Ask yourself, did you take it personally? If you took your emotions out of the situation, would you see the situation in a completely different light?

15. If someone is rude to you, try to always take the high road and don’t be rude back to them.
Their being rude says a lot about them. Don’t let your thoughtless reaction to them be a negative reflection on you. You have incredible power to possibly turn a negative situation completely around. Imagine this scenario, a checkout girl says something to you that you feel is rude. Your first reaction might be to make a biting comment back to her or tell her to simply F Off. But has your reaction done anything to improve the situation?

You might feel better that you didn’t let someone be rude to you but you’ve actually made the situation worse. Instead, you could have been polite back to her and she might have apologized and then told you that her boss is cutting her hours and that she doesn’t know how she’s going to pay rent this month. You’d suddenly have sympathy for her instead of being self-righteously angry at her. Maybe the next time you go through her checkout, she’ll remember your kindness when she was having a bad day and she’ll give you a discount or something. At least you tried to make a positive out of a negative situation. 

If you just make a biting comment to her then you’ll continue to replay the scenario over and over in your head thinking about how angry you are that she was rude to you. Also, the next time she sees you, she will remember how you treated her when she was having a bad day. No one wins, nothing is gained, negative energy continues to flow.

whenever you think of the situation you might try to think of even nastier things you could have said to her. It’s not worth it. It’s a waste of your energy doing that. You’ll always come into contact with people you find rude. It’s not worth taking something like that personally.  Always take the high road. You can make the world a far more positive place.

16.  Yes, but they were rude to me.  I should let them know.
Not true. Most times if someone is rude to you and you respond in a calm, polite manner, they’ll suddenly realize they’ve been rude to you. They may suddenly realize how they came across. Most likely they’ll even apologize without you telling them off for being rude. I can’t tell you how many nasty emails I’ve received but when I’ve replied in a nice way, they say Sorry, didn’t mean it the way it sounded. People might just be venting on you without realizing it, they may not even realize they’re being rude because they’re so caught up in something else.

17. Have a thick skin – if you’re never going to see the person again, does it really matter in the big scheme of things?
Not really. Some people are rude. That’s just the way they are. It doesn’t mean you have to be rude too. You just choose not to let them be in your life. You can choose to be the positive role model in the situation.

You could also take The Garbage Truck pledge which reminds you to not take on other people's negative attitude. If someone cuts you off in traffic or screams at you while you're walking down the sidewalk, remember the garbage truck pledge and just smile and wave.

So, there you go. 17 positive lessons came out of reflecting on my mistake. I truly am a wiser person for having had the experience.

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