Fear is wisdom as a child.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are two distinct and different things. Forgiveness is letting go of the desire to punish; reconciliation is the re-establishing of a relationship. They often go together and this causes some confusion between them. However, there are some very important difference between forgiveness and reconciliation: forgiveness is always a possible, but reconciliation is not always possible. We may not be able to reconcile with someone because they may have died, or we may have no way to contact them, but we can always forgive them. The fact that reconciliation is not always possible, yet forgiveness is always possible, shows that we do not have to be reconciled with someone in order to forgive. The choice to forgive someone is a different choice from choosing to reconcile with them. Deciding not to reconcile with them may even make it easier to forgive them, as we may be holding back out of fear or worry that they will harm us again.
In some cases reconciliation may not be desirable because the other person is very likely to re-offend. They may be a career criminal, a persistent abuser, or someone who is in denial even to themselves that they did anything wrong, or in denial that we were hurt. If they maintain an aggressive stance against us, “What’s your problem!”, then reconciliation is much more problematic though it is still possible to forgive. Even though we forgive someone we still have the right to protect ourselves from their behaviour.
Putting up with someone is not the same as forgiving them. We put up with someone’s behaviour because we fear that we will be worse off without them. When we truly forgive someone we do not put up with them, at least not for long. We are then more free to make wiser choices not based on fear. This means that we may forgive someone and still walk away from a relationship with them. Becoming reconciled is also about becoming reconciled with ourselves and our own deepest needs and our own highest aspirations. If being with someone makes it impossible to become reconciled with ourselves then we could choose to forgive them, forgive ourselves, and move on.
If we assume that forgiveness has to include reconciliation then this can block us from forgiving, if we feel unwilling, reluctant or wary to reconcile. In some circumstances we have the right to expect to see evidence of their true remorse before we are reconciled with them. We need to be careful with this one, as it may be vengeance in disguise and ‘wanting to see them crawl’. However, it is also true that without true remorse it is possible they will do the same thing again. Some people seem to get caught in an offending/guilt loop. They offend, they feel guilty, they offend again, they feel guilty, and so on. It is almost as if their need to feel guilty, or to prove that they are guilty, drives their behaviour. Such a person is not someone we can reconcile with unless there are very strong limits on their behaviour.
We also need to balance protecting ourselves with the fact that an act of forgiveness, possibly including some form of being reconciled with them, may be the very thing which transforms the persons life. Forgiveness can be a powerful form of transformation for us and for the other person. This is especially true if it takes the form of Restorative Justice, or the like, which has been shown to greatly reduce repeat offences. It also reduces the level of the offence by those who do re-offend, as they do things which are less harmful. However, Restorative Justice offers inbuilt forms of protection and that is why it works so well as it reduces the fear of being further harmed.
Fear often gets is the way of both forgiveness and reconciliation. Looking for ways to protect ourselves from further harm can greatly assist us in forgiving, and in becoming reconciled if we choose that too. Why should we set ourselves up to be harmed again? Folly is not forgiveness.
A while back I took some electronic equipment needing repair to the shop of a guy whom I vaguely knew. I contacted him later to see how the repair was going and after him giving me many excuses and lots of run around for many weeks I realized that he had lost my equipment (or sold it to someone else – who knows). I threatened to sue him and began to explore the options.
After a while I began to realize that I would need to hold myself in a state of being angry, tense and frustrated for months in order to sue him, otherwise I would just give up. Also I found the idea of suing someone very scary and stressful. I began to feel that it was not worth it just for the sake of a few hundred pounds worth of equipment. I could see that partly I wanted to sue him just for the sake of giving him a hard time, but I could also see that this was just a form of revenge and it felt like a lot of wear and tear on my nervous system.
After some deliberation (and a long walk along a deserted beach with some stomping and swearing), I decided to let it go. I sent him a letter saying I was not intending to sue him after all and that I was going to let the matter go. I told him it was up to him if wanted put things straight by sending me replacement equipment or a refund, but that was the end of as far as I was concerned.
Did this story have a happy ending – yes! I got back my peace of mind, but not the equipment. I felt very relieved that the whole thing was over as far as I was concerned and I could get on with my life. I felt like I got back my internal freedom so I felt like I won. Whether he won anything also is nothing to do with me.