There are people in your life
Who’ve come and gone
They let you down
You know they’ve hurt your pride
You better put it all behind you baby
‘Cause life goes on
You keep carryin’ that anger
It’ll eat you up inside baby
‘The Heart of the Matter’, Don Henley
“The beautiful song “The Heart of the Matter” is about forgiveness, one of the hardest human emotions, particularly when it comes to someone we love or even detest.
Over recent years I’ve committed myself to not holding grudges.
We’ve all been in that place where we felt that someone has hurt us. For some this may be a physical hurt, for others the pain may be emotional. Whatever form it takes, it’s a pain, nonetheless. Furthermore, this isn’t about comparing one’s pain. For me it’s more about recognising you have been hurt and figuring out how to respond to it.
I’ve just finished watching the movie “It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood” and it got me thinking about a conversation I had recently with a friend about ‘forgiveness’.
What is forgiveness?
Is forgiveness good for you?
Who benefits from forgiveness?
In the movie Tom Hanks plays the US television host Fred Rogers who was the creator and host of the preschool television series ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’, which ran from 1968 to 2001. The film begins with (no spoilers here, I promise, because I think everyone should see this film) Mr. Rogers defining forgiveness as “releasing a person from the feelings of anger that we have toward them.”
The real Mr. Rogers once said this about forgiveness: “Forgiveness is a strange thing. It can sometimes be easier to forgive our enemies than our friends. It can be hardest of all to forgive people we love.
In my view life’s toolbox should always include an ability to forgive and the capacity to let go of resentments.
Forgiveness isn’t just freeing the person who has done the harm, it is also about freeing yourself from ‘a pain’ caused by someone else. In many ways it’s more about you than the other.
In 2008 my I lost my dad. One August day he went missing. The red flags were there from the time I was contacted by his partner. At first I thought he was just taking some time to himself. In the weeks and months that followed it got harder and harder for my family and myself. I would find myself stopping at a location and going for a walk to see if I could find him. I admit that I knew after a day or two that he wasn’t coming back. I just wanted to find him.
I can remember on the day he went missing seeing a police officer, a colleague, searching the communal garden he shared with his neighbours. It was in this garden; in the mass of bushes he was found some 10 weeks after he had disappeared. It later transpired that he had probably gone there almost immediately.
When I was told where my dad had been found I knew that the story was only going to get messy for my police colleagues. My focus was on my children who were old enough to realise what had happened. I was angry but in many ways my focus on my children allowed me to park this emotion. But I knew I would have to re-visit this but not at that time.
I’m not discussing anything that hasn’t already been in the public domain. In fact, I can remember the tabloid journalist turning up at my home asking for comment. He had a job to do. I was polite and he left when asked to do so.
Looking back, I think I had to come to terms with what had happened. The feelings I had were strong and I could see how the situation was impacting on those around me. Forgiveness would come later.
As we know life is a journey. It doesn’t always go to plan. After a couple of years’, I met my now wife who helped me see that I was holding onto grudges. My efforts to protect those around me meant I was not protecting myself.
I think acknowledging the pain was what led me to me being able to forgive. As a police officer I know mistakes are made. We are human after all. I also know that in my dad’s case there was no intention nor malice. Mistakes were made and that’s what happened.
When you are in the process of forgiveness, it is crucial that you have compassion towards yourself. Many people often struggle with forgiveness because it may be a sign of being weak. It’s not and to forgive is an act of kindness for oneself. Don’t forget that.
Once you’ve acknowledged your pain and you understand how it has affected you, you can ask yourself: What do I need in order to be free from this pain?
I made a point of speaking to officers who were involved in the search for my dad. Many were friends and I knew that they had taken it badly when he was found. I made it clear that there was no ill-will being held by me.
Forgiveness has taught me many things. A need for all of us to think of ourself. Self-awareness and self-care are important and can help an individual to be better aware of self and to be available and equipped to care for others. We’re no good to others unless we care for ourselves first.
Over the years I’ve become interested in the psychology of heroism. Selflessness is an outstanding heroic trait, but one has to first be appropriately selfish before selflessness is even possible.
How do we find that balance? How do we encourage self-care, especially amongst boys and men? Can It be taught? Can we retrospectively equip people with this skill? Is it as simple as teaching this skill or creating the space for individuals to consider self-care?
Lots of questions I know. The hero’s journey as described by Joseph Campbell is one that we see in many popular films. He described the journey as
“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”
Over the last few years I have imagined myself on a similar journey. I have met many individuals who have been on their own journey. Their support, their guidance, their lens has all shaped me into the person I am today. It’s time to support others. Forgiveness is but one element that will support me to support others.