Saturday, August 02, 2008

Running While Standing Still

I’ve been thinking about vengeance. There’s a word that has it’s own sort of onamotapea. Venge has the same grunt of strain and force and motion as lunge, it’s the thrust of the blade, which comes up to smack hard on ge, as the hilt smacks on skin and bone, a moment of stillness before eance, a sibilant exhalation that comes after that act, that comes from either side of the knife.

It’s an idea that occasionally looks like justice, but from here the two don’t appear to have much in common. Vengeance sinks its roots in a reaction that can only be described as “how dare you.” A certain level of self-importance is required for such a reaction to occur, which enables anyone to take anything as a personal affront, and then seek to learn the offender of their mistakes, and learn them real good. It demands that the world respect or fear them, regardless of what the initial affront and its magnitude or triviality may have been. That self-importance is all that is needed to justify actions that are not always warranted, on either a personal, moral or social scale.

Suffice it to say, I don’t possess the required degree of self-importance.

I was thinking about forgiveness, a word that sounds nothing like what it is. Given my predilection for latching onto and holding long, entirely pointless and totally eventless grudges, it’s a habit I’ve been trying to cultivate. At first it seemed forgiveness should be indiscriminate, which is just what happens when you’re trying to find balance on new ground – you go too far in the wrong direction.

Forgiveness is no small thing (especially when you’re a grumpy old man), and is not doled out freely. I’ve found I don’t want to deal it out willy-nilly; forgiveness is like respect, it needs to be earned, not expected. Forgiveness means nothing when it isn’t met with an oncoming apology or acknowledgement of things past. If I’m not worth apologising to, then you’re not worth forgiving.

I was thinking about forgetting.

Which isn’t possible.

Finally, I was thinking about what was left for me to do.

The only course of action left is to run. It’s a familiar tactic. I have more practice at it than is strictly necessary and it's a dirty habit, but right now it’s the sensible thing to do. Saying nothing and doing nothing, I’ll flee through time, and every day without earthquakes and every day I see the end of is another day I’ve won, and I’ll put each of these days here, between then and now, until the distance is so great and old hurts are scarred over with new hurts and all history is no longer of any concern to me.

I know these are all just amusing stories in the making. Look at the past through the lens of so many days and nothing means anything anymore.


  1. Interesting post. The other day I got in touch with someone who I'd been nursing a grudge against for nearly ten years. Our paths crossed briefly and he innocently -- or at worst, blunderingly -- did something which absolutely incensed me, and I have wanted to slap his face hard ever since. There was indeed that sense of "How dare you?" - How dare you not be more careful, how dare you not be perceptive, how dare you not understand ME? So I found his email addy, wrote him, and we talked. He apologised without reservation, and I learned a bit about him. Confirming that there was no vicious intent, plus the apology, made a world of difference. The apology was important, but even if it hadn't come, I'd have felt better for having made the attempt to confront him in a reasonable way.

    I wonder sometimes if I've ever unwittingly hurt someone who now holds a grudge in my direction. Once I did deliberately hurt someone who had pissed me off, but I like to think I looked at their action objectively and decided that it really did deserve a reaction.

    But when something that wasn't really that major becomes a big deal for you because it pushed a button, that's when I think vengeance is the wrong way to go. However, I don't know any way to soothe the urge other than talking it through with the other party and probably exposing a little of yourself so that they can see why their action hurt.

  2. I think we all learn, at some point, that grudges don't achieve much other than a bad tasting memory. Letting resentment simmer doesn't do much for anything, although it is the (seemingly) easier course to take when the alternative is something that could be confrontation.

    (I still simmer more than I should.)

    Unfortunately, there's a point where you've done all you can do, and if the other party isn't willing to meet you part way, then that's it, really. Nothing to do but swallow that bitter pill and head off, although coming to terms with the fact that someone doesn't believe you or your hurt is worth acknowledging at all gives rise to a whole new stream of AUGHANGSTRAGE.

    It's nice to know you've exhausted all your avenues, though.

    I'm sure I've damaged plenty of people, it's inevitable. But I hope that should any of them turn around and say so, I'd acknowledge and respect that in turn.

  3. What a great post. :)

    I used to think forgiveness validated the actions of the perpetrator. Like, if I forgave someone, it made it OK for them to have acted that way. But at some point forgiveness became a totally internal act. It meant letting go of the bad energy, letting go of whatever external event it had been, soothing whatever internal event had resulted, and moving forward.

    It's OK, I realised, for something to be not-OK, and for me to get over that.

    The world, someone smart once confirmed for me, is not fair. It's not. I look forward to being OK with that ... one day. :)

    Thanks for the post.

  4. At this point, I still differentiate between forgiving a person and accepting what's done is done and moving on from that...which sounds contradictory. I'm not sure I can properly explain it other than I take care of my end of circumstances and me, which is separate from cleaning up dealings with the other person.

    Probably something that only occurs when the other person has turned ninja and vanished from the face of the world, heh.

    But yes, being okay with things not being okay is okay, and I know it only takes time to be okay with that too. Okay? Okay.

  5. >I take care of my end of circumstances and me, which is separate from cleaning up dealings with the other person.<

    Yeah, that makes sense. And your point that vengeance has an aspect of narcissism to it is excellent, I think.

    Look to yerself, & let the others try doing the same. And if they happen to die horribly in the process, well, fck 'em, really. ;))

  6. >But I hope that should any of them turn around and say so, I'd acknowledge and respect that in turn.

    Definitely. I didn't expect this guy to apologise, I didn't think he was the type. But he gave me a perfect lesson in how to say sorry when you're at fault.

    I don't think forgiveness is a completely internal thing for me. It's more about understanding why the other person did whatever they did - hypothetical violent crimes excluded.

  7. Vengeance is all about me, me, shopping. ;P

    Well...Having dwelled long enough, I'm pretty sure I understand why they did what they did, and I accept that it happened, but that doesn't mean I forgive them for it.

    I think for me, forgiveness is not one sided, it needs the input of all parties. It would be wonderful to dish out a big old lump of forgiveness, I'd love to, but I'm not going to waste it on people who don't appreciate it.

    Which is possibly narcisstic of me. Eh!

  8. >It's more about understanding why the other person did whatever they did<

    I think that used to be a huge deal for me. But one day I realised I was looking for *more* than what was possible. Like, ok, Person X is driven to verbal abuse because he had a rotten childhood & is now frightened by the world. Fine. But I found I still wanted to know WHY he chose *this* behaviour instead of *that*. I thought there had to be MORE to understand.

    Now I don't need that so much. OK, he had a rotten childhood, he reacted through fear & became a jerk. That's enough.

    As to not wanting to waste my forgiveness on ingrats -- oh, heck, I'm happy to still forgive someone. Doesn't mean my behaviour towards them will be any different.

    For me, if I stop trusting someone, then I stop trusting them. I might forgive them for what happened to cause that distrust. But I still ain't never gonna trust 'em.

    Ayup, forgiveness s'all about me, baby.

  9. For all the accepting and forgiving we do, there'll probably always be a little part that will remain shocked, hurt and betrayed, and will never be able to understand ZOMG WHYYYYY? I don't have much trouble ignoring that though, it's tangled up with all the parts of me that want to blame myself for every relationship failure and hiccup. I have to ignore them (or at least try to), or I'd never get anywhere.

    It is a good point about trust though. Trust is near never won back. Sort of, I let you do it once and that's okay, but I'm not even going to give you a chance to do it again.

    I'm still young and dumb and bitter enough to be frugal with forgiveness. It's a WIP. You guys have had a headstart on me, with your magnanimous ways.

  10. I think I need to understand the other person enough that I don't feel like a victim. If I can see the weakness/stupidity/damage at the root of their actions, I can, erm, look down on them and make myself feel much better. The dog bite turns into a mosquito bite. (Does this still count as forgiveness?) If the offending party was a friend, there's a different, more compassionate (or selfish) will to forgive, because I care about the person and/or don't want to lose the friendship.
    This all changes if more than feelings are hurt, though -- if health, money, reputation are affected. I guess that's why we have compensation in the law.

    Definitely a good point about trust. I think that's a big reason to try not to do things that will require forgiveness. You still might lose trust, and how will you ever get that back?

    This is really interesting. I've never thought so much about the mechanics of forgiveness.

  11. >You guys have had a headstart on me, with your magnanimous ways.<

    OMG, you just called me old!!

    I may never forgive you for that.

  12. >If I can see the weakness/stupidity/damage at the root of their actions, I can, erm, look down on them and make myself feel much better.<

    Heh! You know, I'm thinking about one person I forgave a while back, & realising that I did just that. My anger at the humiliation I'd suffered (for me, the biggest deal -- for some reason) turned to pity. In that way, I was able to move on.

    It helped that he was pretty severely screwed up, of course. I think he couldn't help himself when it came to his destructive behaviour.

    And yet, the fact he couldn't help himself still didn't make his behaviour OK -- not to my mind. I wasn't able to get my head around the fact his dishonesty might've come from some kind of disordered psychology.

    But I was able to feel empathy for him. And that's what form my forgiveness took.

    Re. Kirsten's question: is it still forgiveness -- to my mind it is. Because forgiveness is nothing more (for me) than letting go. And if forgiveness for you is understanding, then it's STILL forgiveness, 'cos that's the best understanding we can make of the situation.

    Great discussion! I'm enjoying this. :)

  13. Forgiving the other party and performing your own internal damage control are distinct areas for me, but each influences the other, and vice-versa. For example, I’ll accept and get over and carry on regardless of any forgiveness, but the fact that I wasn’t able to bring about some sort of closure, let alone forgive them, means it will take significantly longer (which in turn makes me a little more grumpy at them, which is further resentment to work out of my system, which drags the whole thing out a little more…).

    Given that forgiveness can only exist in the realms of the personal and each instance is distorted by emotions and thus pretty much entirely subjective, even to the same individual, I think you can only ever go by your own definition of forgiveness. In regards to Kirsten’s example, I’d say that mental positioning in order to feel you are the bigger/better/not as FUBAR person lies in the camp of individual damage control more than forgiveness. On the other hand, if such positioning allows you to continue a healthy(ish?) relationship with the other party, then it is forgiveness as well.

    I suppose I come at it largely from the angle of damage control because I’m all too aware of how such upsets trigger depression in me. The preferred damage control -is- forgiveness/apology and a friendship carrying on the stronger for such mis/understanding, but if I’ve worked towards that and it’s clear that won’t be the case, then it’s a matter of working down the list, so to speak, and killing of every ‘what if’ and ‘maybe’ until there’s nothing left to do but move on. At least then I know I’ve done everything I could, and the matter was never in my power to amend. That’s not how I want things to turn out though. I’d prefer to just…keep my friends.

    This probably comes from letting too much slide in the past.

    And I did not call you old. I would never!

    I called you venerable.

  14. >Forgiving the other party and performing your own internal damage control are distinct areas for me<

    I guess it's one & the same thing to me. Forgiveness is something I undertake for the purposes of damage control. Because to live with the bitterness/unforgiveness is destructive. For you, that means depression & for me it's a spiral of anger & they're probably similar in some ways.

    'I forgive you', for me, does not translate into 'what you did was OK' or even 'we are OK' -- it is 'I am OK'.

    And maybe it's 'you are freed from my previous need for you to address the hurt you caused me'. To be complicated about it.

    Maybe that's what forgiveness is, maybe it's letting go & enabling the other party to let go, too. Perhaps that's where the compassion that is implied by Forgiveness kicks in.

    'What you did is not OK, but what you do next is free for you to choose.' That's how I felt at the moments I forgave.

    In big cases of forgiveness in my history, part of my moving on was just that. I moved on from the relationship, too. I let go of my hurt, and I let go of the thing causing the hurt at the same time.

    Maybe I shouldn't call it forgiveness, maybe I should call it good-bye. ;)