Why do we always have to be the ones to forgive?
I’ve often heard that complaint from African Americans when a violent act by a white person (or white people) that results in the injury and/or deaths of Black people. I heard it spoken when some celebrity or political leader lets something racist slip from their mouths and have to apologize for it. Why do we always have to be the ones to forgive?
Considering the frequency with which these offenses occur, it’s actually a valid question. Why do we, the people who are aggrieved and attacked and insulted over and over again have to be the ones to forgive?
My answer, “because we can’t afford not to forgive!
First, let’s remember who we are. We are the people who were released from 250 years of chattel slavery in which we were kidnapped from our homeland, robbed of any connection to our ancestry, denied our history and yet, despite that, we are arising with an awesome spirit that refuses to die. We are the people who were released from 250 years of chattel slavery without resources, without money, without education, without hope and yet within 50 years were able to build hundreds of competitive, functioning businesses, communities, and towns – some so prosperous and wealthy that “better educated,” frightened, jealous and enraged whites attacked us with guns, bombs and torches to burn, murder and maim until our successes were wiped off the face of the earth. We are the people who were released from 250 years of slavery and became such a threat to the stereotype of dumb laziness and ineptitude that laws and policies were enacted to prevent us from owning property, voting, participating in the justice system, having decent schools, procuring mortgages and business loans, joining unions, and being able to participate as full citizens in this country as was our right.
So, despite the best and worst efforts of our adversaries (the representatives of the majority power structure), to delete us from the equation, to squash us from visibility, and to destroy our very will to live, we still stand and we continue to rise!
Do you realize how much energy that takes to accomplish? Do you realize the level of stamina, resilience, and downright will to survive that it takes to be where we are now? Granted we are still way down on the social and financial totem pole, but look back down the timeline of our history and see how far and what we have come through.
Then think about this: Can we really afford to divert the time and energy it takes to hold a grudge, succumb to anger and steam in resentment instead of moving forward to complete the gargantuan task ahead of us to attain social, financial and political equality?
Forgiveness is the only thing that makes sense!
So let’s look at it a couple of ways. First, what would happen if we choose not to forgive? What would happen if we choose to stay angry and hold the grudge? There are those who would view that posture as standing up for yourself, being a real man or woman, not being a wimp!
Ok, here’s what would happen if we choose that route. First there would be that satisfying rush of anger enhanced by the explosive release of the verbal middle finger (F*** You), possibly followed by a few more expletives.
Then what? What do you do with your anger after that? Attack the culprit? Actually, that’s only an option if that person is standing right in front of you. Otherwise what? There’s nothing left to do with your anger but stew in it. By the way, I mean that literally. Your body will stew in the chemicals generated by your anger.
Initially, there’s the release of Adrenaline (aka epinephrine). Your body is flooded with it when the rush of anger hits. It’s called the “fight or flight” response. Adrenaline increases the heart rate, increases blood pressure, expands the air passages of the lungs, enlarges the pupil in the eye, redistributes blood to the muscles and alters the body’s metabolism to maximize blood glucose levels (primarily for the brain) and shuts down the prefrontal cortex.
The prefrontal cortex is the brain region identified in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. In other words, the thinking part of the brain. Why would that part of you brain be shut down? So you can focus on fighting or flighting without the distraction of thinking. The adrenaline also stimulates cortisol production. Cortisol serves to keep all those levels elevated so the body can continue performing at peak “fight or flight” levels for an extended period beyond that initial burst.
So now your body is prepared to act in a dramatic way and sustain that high level of action. Only there is nothing to act upon.
With nothing to act upon, your anger doesn’t go away. It lingers and simmers at a slow boil level. The medical industry calls this condition “chronic stress,” which can slowly tear down the body as well as the mind!
So the cortisol hangs around at elevated levels.
Prolonged cortisol elevations result in sustained elevations of blood sugar (diabetes), substantial loss of calcium from bones (osteoporosis), depression of important immune responses (susceptibility to colds and other ailments), high blood pressure (danger of stroke), loss of muscle mass (weakness), increased fat accumulation (obesity), and even loss of cognitive function (turns off brain’s thinking function).
According Dr. Hans Selye (known as the Father of Stress), “Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older.” In other words, chronic stress makes you grow older faster!
It can not only make you older faster, it can actually help support the spread of cancer. According to to Dr. Michael Barry at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, 61 percent of patients at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America have issues related to unforgiveness!
With all that in mind, let’s talk about African American health stats. We are already facing health hardships due to the stress of just living in this society. African Americans are more likely to die of a stroke than Caucasians. African Americans are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure than Caucasians. African Americans are more likely to be obese than Caucasians. African American life expectancy is 14 to 25 years less than Caucasians depending on where they live because environmental factors have an impact. So, considering the fact that we are already at risk, does it really make sense to complicate our health and wellbeing with factors that will damage our bodies even further than they are already being damaged?
Let’s try a better way – Forgiveness!
So, what is forgiveness actually? A good way to define it is from the psychological perspective. Forgiveness is the conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you. It’s important to remember here that forgiveness is not for the other person — the forgiven. It is for you — the forgiver! Forgiveness is not explaining away or denying the seriousness of the offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. Forgiveness does not mean condoning or excusing offenses. And forgiveness does not obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or even release them from legal accountability.
Instead, the purpose of forgiveness is to bring you, the forgiver, peace of mind. Forgiveness is to release you from the mental and emotional prison of corrosive anger, resentment, grudges, self-blame and just plain pain!
Forgiveness is letting go. Not condoning. Letting go!
Most people think that forgiveness is condoning someone else’s hurtful actions; letting them off the hook! I think that is probably the basis for the complaint, “Why do we always have to be the ones to forgive?” But, it is not that at all! Forgiveness is for your well being not theirs. Forgiveness is taking that load off your emotional shoulders and dropping it like the hot steaming mess it is! Then walking away from it.
What about retribution; revenge; payback; justice? Forgiveness does not absolve someone of their wrongdoings. If they are to be punished, then you can support that but do it without the anger and negative emotions that are going to tear you apart inside. Forgiveness is letting go. If the offenders are politicians, work to vote them out of office. They don’t deserve to be there. But do it without the anger and negative emotions that are going to tear you apart inside. Forgiveness is letting go.
So, in answer to the question, “Why do we have to always be the ones to forgive?”
Because we as a people have too much to do and too far to go! Martin Luther King, Jr. promised that “We as a people will get to the promised land.”
If we don’t learn how to forgive (release) that promise cannot come true. Unforgiveness is a ball and chain around our progress. Not only does it debilitate our health and drain our energy, it is a big distraction from keeping the eye on the prize – social, political and economic equality!
Forgiveness releases us to move onward and upward. Forgiveness releases our energy from the prison of the past to the action of the now! Unforgiveness allows the offenders to live in your head rent free! Forgiveness releases you to turn your back and walk towards the future. Unforgiveness nails your feet to the past. Forgiveness frees you rise on the wings of you mind!
Now I don’t want to imply that forgiveness is easy. It’s not. I think its one of the most difficult things in the world to do until you’ve learned how to do it. So, don’t berate yourself if you can’t forgive someone right away. It might take time, maybe even lots of time, but intention is key. If your intention is to get there, to let go of the pain eventually then that is a powerful element in the healing process.
Those who offend you, or hurt you don’t deserve your attention, mind space or emotional involvement. Let them go. You’ve got better things to do!
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