Is forgiving enough?

It is said that “to err is human: to forgive is divine”. But divinity falls short when it comes to the human condition. Forgiveness has many open ends: and so many a times, mere forgiving is just not enough!!

A la lip sympathy, forgiving is also given a nodding acquiescence very many times. People say “I forgive you” but they do not mean it at all. Events that have happened have gone deep into their mind, and though the lips say “I forgive”; the heart is actually saying “How could you do this to me? I can/will never forget this”. The hurt factor remains; and vitiates relationships in future.

This is true in all sorts of human relationships. A school child playing a prank is told by the teacher that he is forgiven: but the teacher keeps it in mind and suddenly the student is no longer a favorite, his marks deteriorate, performance suffers and he is constantly reminded : “I cannot trust you. I remember your last goof…”. Same experience when someone has let down parents or caused embarrassment to a friend. We have all experienced the hurt which relatives can just not get over, maybe after a genuine mistake on your part. Despite a thousand plus apologies. And thousand plus one “it’s ok”!! All future interactions thereafter are seen with colored glasses. In offices, we have seen subordinates struggle to change the boss’impression about them after one faux pas. Unfortunately in the formal environment, there is hesitation in even accepting one’s mistake and saying sorry. And even when you do it, that is not the last you hear of it. “Boond se gayi wo haud se nahi aati”: to paraphrase the Birbal saying into modern parlance.

With wives or girlfriends, the less said the better. A litany of past misdeeds is perpetually pulled out and thrown into the ring, with every new argument. Like the childhood game of Memory, when every subsequent player has to remember all the names of the fruits the earlier players have spoken of, and then add a fruit-name of his own, when your significant other wants to tell you how wrong you have been, it is never this present instance, but the list begins from the past: your first misdemeanor, and then a full recounting of all the times you have been found wanting. Though in the past after your apology you were told : “Ok, I forgive you.” If you think forgiveness was complete, you have a guess coming my friend! Forgiveness lasts, only till you err the next time!! The past is hanging like a heavy weight in between and relationships and actions are more shaped by the past than the present. So you are left perpetually wondering : what exactly was meant when you are told : I forgive you? Forgiveness is never enough.

In the corporate arena, Union Management relationship also throws up many examples. I have heard so many discussions which go like this: ” This person is like this only. You remember last year when there was a problem in the xyz Shop, we discovered that he was in the background, instigating his colleagues. His absenteeism record is also very poor. How many times we have counselled him. But he does not change”. As an HR person, I tried my level best to say “but we are discussing the event of 29/5. Not the past” The answer was always: “Vikas don’t be impractical, foolish and immature. He is like that only. Don’t you remember once…”. So even industrial jurisprudence is a calibrated test tube, wherein your wrong doings are always additive. Even for Union leaders’ their past casts long shadows ahead of them. And again rather than dealing with them on merits, case by case, event by event, issue for issue – very often you are indulging in shadow boxing. You cannot fight and correct the past. Images and impressions carry the day: and that is what holds a person guilty, even before the hearing is completed!

I feel we are missing the wood for the trees here. Forgiveness to be complete must include Forgetting. They are 2 sides of the coin. One complements and completes the other.

If you want to genuinely and completely Forgive, train yourself, your organization, your family, your near ones to also Forget. Don’t hold grudges of the past. Carry on afresh and anew. Treat every interaction with the freshness it deserves. Do not let past experiences (bad, or even good ones) cast shadows on future interactions. Divest and dissect your relationships from their history. Past is NOT a good predictor of the future. When you believe past does shape the future, then you are denying new things happening, people being ready to change, doing things differently, having a free will and choosing a path afresh in every interaction. If you are only your past : what is the difference between us and circus trained animals?

For embracing new possibilities, we must acknowledge full potentiality of the future. Which means effectively we must FORGET the past. And only then will be able to accept new results, take new turns and lead a life free, from the dead-weight of the past. As a case in point consider the Whistle-blowers’ Policy. Most companies are codifying it now. A question I have is Why does every such policy talk about “no retribution”? To me this means the Management and bosses of the whistleblower, as well as the whistleblower himself, are scared that the past will haunt them. The clauses reflect the fear that the person maybe damned for the past action. Actually if you see, we owe a lot to the whistle blower in Enron and Infosys and all the famous reported corporate cases. It is due to the whistleblowers that corporate governance took a different direction. Rather than hailing the heroes, corporates made them scurry for cover. When will we learn to forgive and forget?

Let me end with 2 quotes of 2 wise men:
i) When Jesus said from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they not what they are doing”. What he was saying is: really forget the past and let us look ahead. No analysis of the past. No hankering after the done deal. Look ahead.
ii) And the Learned One, Buddha said : “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” Unfortunately, we keep the anger bottled inside and are not ready to forget. Thereby ruining a perfectly repairable relationship!

Wishing you a poor, poor memory which forgets, even as you forgive: vikas