On Forgiveness—Part I

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
― Lao Tzu

The science is telling us more and more that the brain is a muscle. The ancient wisdom is true, what we think and say matters, thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, and habits become character. People that live a life defined by anger and revenge are not only unpleasant to be around, that anger and that desire for revenge corrodes the person for whom anger and revenge becomes a way of life. It is unpleasant and unhealthy, rather like living on top of a leaking, toxic dump.

Forgiveness and gratitude on the other hand, are a joy to live close to. They bring healing. Entire religions are founded on this core principle, that every human needs and craves forgiveness, and every life is enriched by gratitude. But why is this true? What makes anger and revenge destructive, and forgiveness and gratitude their opposites? The most obvious answer is that anger and revenge are themselves violent and destructive, while forgiveness and gratitude are not, but there is a more subtle answer.

Anger and revenge are oppositional, and represent a path that is blocked by something that must be destroyed. Forgiveness and gratitude are a way of removing barriers and clearing a forward path. Revenge depends on factors that are often not in our control, while forgiveness and gratitude are most often well within our control. Anger is often a product of the frustration felt at being unable to reach an objective. For reasons which should be perfectly obvious, revenge is often neither a good idea, nor is it obtainable, not without resorting to actions which are illegal, immoral, and often both.

But the fact that forgiveness and gratitude are possible, does not mean that they are always easy. Far from it.