Forgiveness is one of the most difficult tasks in our lives. It involves substantial personal growth. It involves the ability to change. The forgiveness journey is a trying one. This journey that accompanies personal growth and the ability to change demands introspection—individuals look inside themselves for their own thoughts, actions and reactions. And this also requires certain innate traits or traits that are learned and used liberally going forward.
Morrie Schwartz, a Brandeis University professor so well celebrated in Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie: an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson, articulated what I think are the keys to forgiveness—to forgive yourself first, to forgive others and to do it now. None of those are easy. The Forgiveness Project: Stories for a Vengeful Age dramatically provides multiple examples of forgiveness in situations that folks can barely believe and situations in which one could not imagine the ability to practice forgiveness.
The traits that are necessary to accept forgiveness, to extend forgiveness and to do it in a timely manner include sincerity, humility, susceptibility, and vulnerability. All of these traits must be sprinkled into the mix as we gauge our involvement every time forgiveness is extended or accepted. Most of these traits are self-explanatory and self-evident. But the one that is particularly difficult in today’s political climate is vulnerability.
Vulnerable is defined as “capable of or susceptible to being wounded hurt…or open to moral attack, criticism or temptation.” 1 At first blush, the trait of vulnerability would appear to be a moral failing or weakness. I would argue to the contrary. I think vulnerability in the context of practicing forgiveness is a positive trait, a trait that allows us to accept our humanity and to accept the humanity of others.
Forgiveness, in my estimation, is the most difficult task in one’s lifetime. Our ability to evolve in the practice of forgiveness requires the traits above, but most importantly, requires the acceptance of vulnerability. In today’s political and social climate, while being vulnerable is seen as a weakness, I think see it as a strength.
When one is vulnerable, they accept that they are not intrinsically better than someone else. They accept that others are not inferior to them. They accept that their failings are similar, if not identical at times, to those of their fellow citizens. They accept that they can be wrong or at least not as right as they were initially convinced that they were.
When we accept that we can be wrong or “less positive” that we think we are (after appropriate reflection), we realize that we have to be vulnerable (“capable of or susceptible to being wounded hurt…or open to moral attack, criticism or temptation”) and be willing to admit mistakes in ourselves and accept similar mistakes in others.
With that vulnerability, we can then forgive ourselves first. With that vulnerability, we can then forgive others and accept the apologies of others. With that vulnerability, we can then move on in a timely fashion. With that vulnerability, we can act in the manner consistent with most faiths that recognize that there is a being or force that is above or greater than us—and that being or force reminds us that we are all equal creations and not better or less than each other.
Without that vulnerability, we can easily slip into the trap that strength without humility and sincerity makes up better people. Without that vulnerability, such strength is seen as a moral superiority and unfortunately renders such people to be incapable of exercising true forgiveness.
Without forgiveness, we cannot resolve conflicts. Without forgiveness, we are unable to move on in life. Without forgiveness, we are in a cycle of always being the victim and convinced that we are always right. To not be the victim and to realize that we are not always right requires our acceptance of vulnerability.
Being vulnerable when practicing forgiveness is a strength and one to accept as a strength when dealing when others. I applaud the “strength” of vulnerability and encourage others to do the same.