While leafing through one of my old journals yesterday, I came upon a note from my past self: “Maybe forgiveness is learning to live with an unaddressed wrong.”
This description of forgiveness struck me as particularly important in our current political climate.
When I defined forgiveness as “learning to live with an unaddressed wrong,” I was thinking about a situation in which I both felt I had been wronged and knew that the chances of the person who committed the wrong actually making it right were slim to none. I realized that my emotional equilibrium could not depend on the other person apologizing, providing redress, or changing their behavior to prevent the commission of the same wrong again in the future (against me or anyone else). Because those weren’t gonna happen. If I were to find any peace of mind after having been wronged, I had to find it myself.
I had to let go of what I didn’t control: The other person’s behavior. Instead I had to focus on what I did control: Living my own life from this point forward.
Before I defined forgiveness for myself as “learning to live with an unaddressed wrong,” I’d spent years needing the person who wronged me to apologize, make amends, and change their behavior. When I accepted that the apology or amends or change would never come, however, I freed myself to start deciding what I was going to do about this unaddressed wrong. I didn’t need to “let go” or “pretend it never happened.” Instead, I could treat that wrong for exactly what it was – harm done to me, without any attempts to make it right – and respond in ways that protected me. I couldn’t make that wrong right, but I could respect my own understanding of the harm caused.
Almost immediately after armed insurrectionists stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to force Congress and the Vice President to violate the Twelfth Amendment and illegally certify the 2020 election results for one Donald J. Trump, Republicans started calling for “unity.”
I wouldn’t describe the call for “unity” as a call for forgiveness, exactly. When someone asks for “forgiveness,” they’re usually acknowledging, if only tacitly, that they committed a wrong.
Calls for “unity,” on the other hand, aren’t admitting to a wrong. In fact, the most strident of them insist that no wrong was committed at all: They’re proud they stormed the Capitol to demand a lawful election result be unlawfully overturned, and given the chance, they’d do it again.
“Unity!” may not be a demand for forgiveness, but it’s a loud and clear signal that the perpetrators of the wrong will not address it. The rest of us have to learn to live with this unaddressed wrong.
The good news is that “learn to live with” doesn’t have to mean “resign ourselves to.” It can also mean “address the wrong ourselves, as far as we are able.” Specifically, post-January 6, addressing the unaddressed wrong may mean that we proceed in a way that protects us and the nation from people we know would happily harm us again.
Defining “learning to live with” to include “addressing the wrong myself as far as I can” was also freeing for me, personally. If I know the wrong hasn’t been and isn’t likely to be addressed, then the work required to protect myself is on me. I don’t have to wait for the wrongdoer to make it right. I can do what I need to do to avoid being harmed again.
Because our national wrongdoers are obviously unrepentant, learning to live with them – safely, healthily – means kicking them out of any space where they might be able to commit similar harms.
Kick out the members of Congress who encouraged the events of January 6. Kick out the ones who voted against impeachment of a President who incited an armed insurrection against the United States Capitol. Convict him of high crimes and misdemeanors, so that he can never again hold any kind of public office. Refuse to do business with him, so he can’t screw you over the way he’s so gleefully screwed over so many others. Put the country back on a track that protects it from similar wrongs, so that it can flourish.
That’s how we find peace of mind. That’s how we live with the unaddressed wrong that is insurrection. That’s what forgiveness for January 6 looks like.
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