“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.” ~ George Saunders, Syracuse University commencement speech
The other day someone did something very unkind to me. It was a selfish, self-centered, and rude thing. And no matter how much I tried to express that his actions hurt me, he didn’t relent. He barely apologized, and even that was only after I pointed out that he hadn’t. (There’s nothing worse than apology that you have to ask for.)
Eventually I did the most remarkable thing, a thing that surprised me because I wasn’t so sure I was capable of it in this instance. I forgave him. Not in the sense of forgiving and forgetting. I’m blessed (cursed?) with a memory that doesn’t fade. Ever. But I let go of the anger I felt toward him. The hurt. The impulse to give him a piece of my mind, tell him just how I felt, and hurt him in the same way that he hurt me. I just stopped.
There is something freeing about letting go of these kinds of emotions and the person who incited them in us. All of sudden there is a wellspring of energy, love, and kindness that can be used for something (and someone else) better and more productive. I don’t condone his behavior and I don’t allow myself to be hurt in any way by him anymore. Complete and total disengagement gave me a way to take care of myself without causing harm to him.
George Saunders commencement speech really helped me see that this was the right path in this instance. Many people may disagree with this idea. They may consider this letting go without giving someone exactly what he deserved as a sign of weakness. I don’t. When we inflict pain of any kind on someone else, we are also harming ourselves and often at a far higher cost. That’s not a cost I am willing to pay, and it is a cost that I am certain that this person bears already. His life is lonely. He is unhappy, and that is punishment enough for anyone. I actually feel sorry for him though I also understand that his unhappiness is a choice that he made. It takes strength to walk away without retaliation of any kind. And honestly, I’ve got much better, brighter, happier ways to spend my energy. I’ve got work, good work, to do and good people in my life. That’s where and with whom I intend to put my efforts.