Today’s post relates to last week’s and seeks to cushion the impact of negativity engendered by others.
Wouldn’t the world be a wonderful place if everyone acted the way we wished they would? Perhaps, although it would be pretty difficult to mature beyond the two-year-old level; think of the tantrums toddlers throw when they don’t get their way. By encountering people who don’t act the way we want (and, relatedly, situations that don’t turn out as we’d prefer) we learn how to tolerate and manage disagreement and conflict, and eventually develop an ability to look at situations from multiple perspectives (including the perspective that holds us accountable for our actions rather than blaming them on someone else).
Here’s the applicable experience I had this week. A neighbor with whom I’d had a friendly relationship owns a nearby bike shop. In January of 2009 I went to his store to buy a bike so as to be able to ride down to the Capitol to witness President Obama’s swearing in (driving down and parking was out of the question, and the subway was going to be a zoo scene). The store didn’t have any bikes that I liked in my price range, but my neighbor said I could order one and he would lend me a bike until mine came in. I told him I’d need to think about it. I visited another nearby bike shop which had a model that I very much liked, in my price range, available right then, and so bought it.
A few days later my neighbor saw me riding the bike and must have realized that I’d purchased it from a shop other than his own. I got a frosty reception fom him then and from then on.
Earlier this week I was driving my car back home from grocery shopping and as I neared my parking space saw my neighbor chatting with a woman in a vehicle that was blocking access to my space. I waited perhaps 10 seconds but as neither the driver nor my neighbor glanced in my direction or gave any indication of being aware of my presence, I lowered the window and said (quite calmly, in my recollection) “Would you mind asking her to back up a few feet”. He responded (somewhat curtly) “Just give us a minute.” I waited perhaps another 15 seconds at which point the woman driving the car backed up enough to let me access my space. I pulled in and a few seconds later heard “Goddamn it!”. She had backed all the way up into a telephone pole (which she bumped rather softly). As I got out of the car my neighbor yelled at me “Look what you made her do! You’re always so impatient!” (reflecting, no doubt, his take on my decision not to order the bike from his shop because it wasn’t available at the time I wanted it). I responded “How is it my fault that she backed into the telephone pole?” to which he answered angrily “Shut up!”. I realized at that point it would be futile to continue any “discussion,” and so I went inside my house. (She, by the way, came out of the car and said “don’t worry, I just bumped it”).
Clearly my neighbor was holding onto a grudge born years earlier as a result of my “impatience” about the bike purchase. What a shame! He allowed a relatively minor incident from years before color his present experience needlessly. But that’s exactly what holding a grudge does….it “preserves” an unhappy experience from the past and resurrects it in the present, allowing no possibility of healing the earlier hurt.
The answer to this problem is Forgiveness. The Mayo Clinic website has a beautifully worded exposition of the benefits of Forgiveness: “(It’s) a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can help lessen its grip on you. It can even lead to feelings of understanding, compassion, and empathy for the person who hurt you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you deny the other person’s responsibility for hurting you, or that you excuse the act, and it doesn’t minimize or justify the wrong”. It simply allows you to move forward in your life a little less burdened with anger and sadness.
When I next run into my neighbor I intend to approach him and say “I’m sorry if I gave you the impression of being impatient. I wasn’t feeling impatient, but maybe by asking her to move the car I suggested I was”. I could certainly argue that I bear no responsibility for the incident, that it was all a matter of overreaction on my neighbor’s part, and that HE should be making peace with ME. But that way of thinking allows no possibility for “clearing the air,” something that I very much wish to do since I don’t want to feel uncomfortable every time I run into my neighbor. Forgiving his outburst and then suggesting that it may have been based on a misunderstanding offers a much greater possibility for peace between us.
I could hold on to a grudge and fume every time I see my neighbor, reliving his excessive, inappropriate reaction. But in what way would I benefit from that? Forgiveness is usually viewed as something altruistic, but it can, and should, also be viewed from a “selfish” standpoint: how will it help ME??? Moving beyond past grievances opens space for you to focus on other, more positive aspects of life.