Most of what passes for forgiveness is actually a cut-rate imitation, an easy, breezy amnesty that you extend, not because it’s earned, but because you don’t want to deal with it. It preserves the connection you have with the person who offended you. You don’t have to fight, express your feelings, or watch anyone squirm. You don’t have to prolong the awkward scene of your partner, down on his knees, asking forgiveness, or the equally uncomfortable situation of having to explain the offense to one who is clueless, defensive, and in denial.
You might feel good about yourself, offering grace at discount prices. You think you turned the other cheek, gave the shirt off your back, and welcomed the prodigal sinner. You did what you thought you were supposed to do. The problem is, by rushing the process, neither you nor the offending party took the opportunity to fully assess the situation. You may not have defined the problem, acknowledged the injury, or confronted your own complicity. You wiped the slate clean before anyone got to read what was written.
Cheap pardon may preserve the relationship, but it prevents you from achieving a more intimate bond. Magic happens when partners see each other naked, in all their ugliness, and decide to love anyway. That is very different from turning away from the ugliness or pretending it’s not there.
Easy forgiveness lets the offender off the hook, while you still have to deal with the offense. It’s a self-inflicted injury on top of an injury. It gives him a green light while you are still waiting at red.
An addict in recovery, for instance, does not need cheap pardon. It doesn’t help him. For instance, right in the middle of the Twelve Steps are seven that have to do with taking a moral inventory, admitting wrongs, and being ready to make amends and remove shortcomings. A recovering addict working his program goes through those steps slowly, carefully, and thoroughly. When you let your addict breeze through them, they’re skipping important aspects of their recovery. Don’t be surprised then if they fail to stay clean or, even if they do abstain, remain the same selfish son-of-a-bitch they were, back when they were using. No, you’re not at fault, but you have not helped the matter when you let him off the hook.
How do you know when the forgiveness you are offering is too easy? How do you set a price for pardon? I’ll go into this in much more detail, as I describe the road to genuine reconciliation; but, for now, ask yourself the following questions:
Do I deny the violation when others see it clearly?
Do I beat myself up and blame myself when he mistreats me?
Do I make excuses for the offender before she gets a chance to?
Do I accept apologies without restitution?
Do I say I forgive an incident, but get angry or bring up that incident again?
Do I reflexively repair relationships despite how I feel?
Do I even know how I feel?
It’s easy to get into the habit of granting cheap pardon. If you know someone, anyone, long enough, a million things will come along that annoy you, or concern you, or make you uncomfortable. Learning to live together involves learning to overlook things, to go with the flow, to not make a big deal about nothing. However, when you find that you are alienated from yourself, don’t know your own feelings, or continuously act against your own interests, you are not properly learning to live together; you are chopping off pieces of yourself to make room for him.
We all know people whose feelings are easily hurt, who wear their hearts on their sleeves, are enraged when others don’t follow their agenda, and are hypersensitive to anything that wounds their pride. These people feel injured continuously. They’re always looking for apologies so they can get others under their control. You don’t want to be like that. You’re afraid that, if you don’t grant cheap pardon, you’ll turn into that guy: narcissistic, entitled, and embittered. Therefore, you grant amnesty easily, sometimes before it’s even asked.
The thing is, even if you are a person who is easily wounded, cheap pardon would still not be the way to go. It’s enough that you feel hurt, that your girlfriends say you’re hurt, that your best buddy doesn’t believe the things she’s done to you. Whenever there is any indication of harm, no matter how ill-founded it may be, you still need to get on the difficult road to real reconciliation and not take the shortcut of cheap pardon. As with many things, it’s the journey that’s as important as the destination.