Defining Actions and Forgiveness - One time and you're a thief?

“True forgiveness is when you can say, “Thank you for that experience.”— OPRAH WINFREY

I have thanked many people for experiences that were sometimes divine and sometimes deeply painful. I have no regrets. Around the time of Kobe Bryant's death, I had an opportunity to look back. I started to wonder about what my classification of those people and experiences was based on. I think that right now, as we move through these uncertain times of unrest as we look at the lack of justice that so many black people have received again, I asked myself about forgiveness.

 I  had two questions.

  1. How many times do you have to commit an act before you are labeled by it?
  2. If you never commit said action again and repent, is it fair for you to continue to carry the label?

I think most people believe that the "circumstances - the egregiousness" of an act determine if you should carry a label. Or even be punished. For instance, if I stole something from the store ONE time, am I a thief? What if it was because I was hungry? Were my children hungry? My child was sick and needed medicine?

I am aware that often people believe that life is black or white and that one act determines a person's character, and thus shall they be! Those are the people that believe that rules are fixed and should not change for any reason. It seems those people color in the lines out of fear. I think more people allow circumstances to regulate how they judge a person's character. Stealing diapers or milk for your children IS different from stealing Someone's purse. For most people, one act of taking something that is a necessity does not make Someone a thief. How about committing one murder or raping one woman? Is there a circumstance a person can commit these acts and NOT be labeled a murderer or rapist? An act of racism, blatant or micro?

I tend to agree with a dear friend that stated, "I believe it has to be a pattern or a or history of repeating an act. In most cases, but when it affects something that you can't take back, correct, or make up for, then the label sticks. You can repay the act of being a thief...you can't un- rape. You can't un-kill. You can pay back theft or correct a lie." You can gain an understanding of another culture's history of injustices and despair. But this isn't really about the actual commission of a crime or evil deed. It's about how we forgive these things.

If the determining factor is a pattern, can one heinous act be forgiven? Does it have to be overlooked? People pardon the terrible actions of others every day. But at what cost? It seems that forgiveness is given in exchange for sanity or as a band-aid for the heavy work required to heal deep wounds. I do not believe that forgiveness is necessary to repair ourselves. Healing is the ultimate form of self-care and should not be predicated on relieving a perpetrator's guilt.

No, you cannot undo a sexual assault, but what if the rape occurred due to a misunderstanding? Or an honest lack of knowledge of sexual etiquette? What if a person commits one heinous act, whatever the circumstance, and never does it again? What if they also pay restitution, repent, and become a better person? Does the method of restitution matter? Do they have to wear the Scarlett Letter forever? What if a murder occurred as an act of self-defense? Is that person forever a murderer? What if they were insensitive and unkind about systemic racism and police brutality? Can we come back from these things? How?

If we are spiritual beings having a human experience, wouldn't one of the most crucial parts of this experience be mastering our humanity? Without the hope of redemption, we have nothing. But, we cannot reach redemption without penitence and recompense. It is a unique process that should not be determined by anything outside of ourselves. It is uniquely our own and must start from something inside of each of us.

Without having a name for it, it has been these acts of redemption that have allowed me to forgive those I have chosen to absolve genuinely. It is the absence of these things that have prevented me from forgiving others. It reminds me of Celie in The Color Purple, "I curse you. Until you do right by me, everything you think about is gonna crumble!" But it's not my curse. Perpetrators carry the burden of their deeds. I find it difficult to forgive a person that has not forgiven themselves. And I have no desire to attempt to forgive people that have not earned it through even small attempts at repentance and restitution.  

What about you? What is your process of forgiveness? Do you feel it is necessary for healing?

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