Each of us is made up of two parts: our DNA and our experiences. And our experiences really consist of what others do to (or for) us, and what we do to (or for) others (including ourselves). Unfortunately, we can’t control our DNA; we come pre-wired. But we can control our experiences, or at least how we react to them.
I believe everyone should write their own personal history (someday I’ll even write mine!), not because others will clamor to read it, but because our individual history (our experiences) has shaped who we are. The better we understand our history, the better we will understand ourselves. As I think about my own experiences, I have realized there are three small sentences that I should have spoken much, much more than I have: “Thank you.” “I’m sorry.” “I forgive you.” Of course, we say “thank you” in response to what others do for us. For most of us, that’s a natural reaction when someone does something for us. But it’s not always easy to say “I forgive you” when someone does something to us, or “I’m sorry” when we do something to someone else. In fact, often we don’t apologize because we don’t even know we have offended or otherwise hurt or embarrassed another person. We remain in our own world, oblivious to what we have done, while the persons we hurt are left to plan out their hateful revenge, or perhaps worse, turn that hatred inward upon themselves, as Willie did in this scene from Gridiron Gang[i]:
Who knew such wisdom could come from the Rock! By failing to forgive, we give those who hurt us too much power over us. We need to forgive and move on.
Many years ago I had an interesting experience. I was playing in a church basketball league, and being more competitive than most, I trash-talked about the best player (who was also a friend) on the team we were scheduled to play next. I told another player on that team that their best player (my friend) had no shot (or words to that effect) – that if we locked him in the gym for a week the only way he would make a basket is if he jumped through the hoop while holding the basketball (he was a former collegiate volleyball player and proved wrong the stereotype that white men can’t jump). It was all in good fun – or at least that’s what I thought. Several days later, this player approached me in private and said, “I’m not quite sure what I said or did to make you not like me, but whatever it is, I’m sorry.” At first I had no idea what he was talking about. Then it hit me. The person I had trash-talked with (all in good fun at least on my part) had gone to this man and told him in all seriousness what I had said. Some friend I was. I immediately felt terrible. I assured him that I didn’t really mean it – I was just having fun (although apparently at his expense) and apologized profusely. That experience taught me two great lessons. Obviously, if you are going to joke about someone’s looks, abilities, etc., don’t do it behind their back. And if you do it to their face, make sure they know you are just joking (although even doing it to their face shows a certain lack of common sense). More importantly, I learned that if someone offends you (assuming you can’t just let it go), rather than let it fester into hatred and revenge, go to that person and talk through it. Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” Said another way, the most important thing is, not what someone may do to you, but how you respond to what they do to you. I love what Oscar Wilde said: “Always forgive your enemies – nothing annoys them as much.” Seriously, we need to forgive others, not because of what it might do to help those who have hurt us, but because of what forgiving others does for us. It is liberating. One of my favorite movie quotes is from The Light Between Oceans.[ii] One of the characters, when asked how he always remains happy, regardless of what life throws at him, replies, “I choose to [be happy]. I can leave myself to rot in the past, spend my time hating people for what happened … or I can forgive and forget.” When pressed further, he adds, “It is so much less exhausting. You only have to forgive once. To resent, you have to do it all day, every day. You have to keep remembering all the bad things. I would have to make a list, a very, very long list, and make sure I hated the people on it.” Hate lists reminds me of this scene from Billy Madison[iii]:
Perhaps we don’t keep an actual “People I Need to Kill” list, but often we keep mental lists of those we hope bad things happen to, even if we aren’t willing to inflict the hurt ourselves. I love this scene from The Interpreter,[iv] as Nicole Kidman explains the tradition an African tribe uses to end grieving by forgiving.
Let’s have the courage and strength to forgive everyone that does something to us, by doing something for them – forgiving them and perhaps even more. They will be happier, and more importantly, so will we.
[i] Gridiron Gang
- Production Company: Sony Pictures
- Director: Phil Joanou
- Screenwriter: Jeff Maguire and Jac Flanders
- Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Xzibit, L. Scott Caldwell
- Release date: September 15, 2006
[ii] The Light Between Oceans
- Production Company: Heyday Films, LBO Productions, Dreamworks
- Director: Derek Cianfrance
- Screenwriter: Derek Cianfrance (based on the novel by M.L. Stedman)
- Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz
- Release date: September 2, 2016
[iii] Billy Madison
- Production Company: Universal Pictures, Robert Simonds Productions
- Director: Tamra Davis
- Screenwriter: Tim Herlihy, Adam Sandler
- Starring: Adam Sandler, Darren McGavin, Bridgette Wilson-Sampras
- Release date: February 10, 1995
[iv] The Interpreter
- Production Company: Universal Pictures, Working title Films, Misher Films
- Director: Sydney Pollack
- Screenwriter: Martin Stellman and Brian Ward
- Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sean Penn, Catherine Keener
- Release date: April 22, 2006