I watched a video on Facebook yesterday about The Mengele Twins – a woman who was kept with her twin sister as a science experiment during the Holocaust. Her family was killed and she and her sister were tortured and injected with unknown substances that made them very sick. At the end of the interview, she spoke about how she met with two of the doctors that did this and forgave them for what they did. She said, “But what is my forgiveness? I like it. It is an act of self-healing, self-liberation, self-empowerment…I want everyone to remember that we can not change what happened. That is the tragic part. But we can change how we react to it.”
I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on the concept of forgiveness since revisiting and sharing my story in The Fire Within, and it’s taken me a long time to even write this post. There are some commonalities between the stories within the book. In every story, there is resilience, determination, reflection, growth, and forgiveness. In every story, the choice that people made in how to react to their adversity involved forgiving the people who caused the hurt. One of my most important life lessons has been:
The story I share in the book that led me to this conclusion was very personal, but there are professional connotations. The Mengele Twins story from the video was heartbreaking and tragic beyond words. The stories in The Fire Within are adversities that can be difficult to read. But there are many times beyond major adversities that we need employ forgiveness. Many times I have needed to forgive someone in my professional life that may not have been ready or willing to say they were sorry. They may not have understood the damage they caused. They may not have had the tools to understand what they did. They may not, from their perspective, believe they were wrong.
I’ve been the victim of workplace bullying. I’ve been told that I’m not boots on the ground because I’m an administrator. I’ve been told that my ideas are too way out there to be real. I’ve been made to feel inferior and stupid and wrong. Sometimes, it’s been as simple as an idea I’ve been really excited about that was shot down. Sometimes, it’s been about sitting in a meeting and contributing to the conversation, only to have everything I say ignored. It doesn’t need to be a major adversity that makes me feel hurt. It can be all the small hurts along the way that add up.
And I know what people say. It’s easy to believe that people who do things wrong don’t deserve to be forgiven when you’re angry and hurt. But here’s the part of forgiveness that I figured out a long time ago: true forgiveness isn’t about those people. Forgiveness is allowing yourself to accept the things you cannot change and find the peace you need to let go of the anger. Forgiveness is actually about you and valuing your own happiness and peace over anger and sadness. It allows you to build your self-worth and confidence because there is more power in controlling your ability to forgive than allowing someone else to make you angry.
There are also a few things that I think forgiveness is not:
It does not mean you’re weak. To forgive someone who has hurt you actually takes a massive amount of strength to let go of the anger.
It does not excuse the people for their behavior.
It does not mean you forget what happened.
It does not mean you put yourself in the situation of allowing it to happen again.
It’s also important to allow forgiveness for yourself. We all make mistakes and we all have things we struggle with. So many times we feel guilty because we can’t balance, for example. A smart friend of mine told me lately that balance does not mean 50/50, yet I know that as I’m typing this post I’m feeling guilty for not speaking to my daughter sitting next to me, and when I put my work away and chat with her, I’m going to feel guilty about the work I didn’t get done during that time. But, forgiving my inability to effectively balance allows me to let go of the guilt that I constantly feel.
Developing the ability to recognize when forgiveness is necessary and what I need to reflect on to make it happen has made me a less angry person and letting go of that allows me to focus on the things that make me happy in my job and keep the negativity from dragging me down. I really do feel like adversities that hurt us are one of the reasons why teachers disengage from the profession. Forgiveness and letting go of the anger can be one of our best defenses and a way to keep us happy and engaged in our jobs and doing the best for the little people we serve.