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STS project diary 11 - Forgiveness – Pillar 4 – Warmth

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

October 31 and November 5, 2021 – both Cohorts

Warmth - Without Forgiveness life is chilled.

There are times when living is neither convenient nor simple. We start our journey gathering knowledge and skills, and often, more often than we may wish – we are wrong-footed, we take a step, make a decision, do something that may hurt or harm others; say something inappropriate, or break a relationship.

The event repeatedly plays out in our minds, reliving the moment, and asking ourselves why did I do this. What happened?

Couple breaking up
Why wasn’t I smarter or stronger or cooler or more attentive or more conscious? How can I change it now? I should have… I could have… I would have… If only I did not go there… what kind of person have I been or have I become? We may struggle for justification and find none.

Imperfect beings we are, living in an imperfect world. Look around: how else do we explain the mess the world is in? Our minds rarely stretch to see the whole picture, partially blind, surrounded by others, also imperfect and partially blind. And so we misread moments, misread facts, and colour our memories with regret, shame, or guilt. In those states of mind, we are prone to focusing on similar moments, mistakes, and feelings – overshadowing other moments, walling us off from the rest of ourselves, the best of ourselves, what we love, truly value, cherish, and for which we have struggled.

These states, if we are not careful, can engrave biased views of ourselves, reduce our inner dignity and confidence, chill the fabric of our inner humanity and persuade us that we are defined entirely by all that has gone wrong in our life.

In our urge to find ourselves, and be confirmed that we are both valid and significant – we forget – we are more than what we think defines us. We are unfinished and, no matter how long we have worked in this vast stage of life, much of us remains unknown, even to ourselves. We know this. We cherish human triumph; we value learning and becoming skilled; we feel right when preparing ourselves and our young to be strong and equal to handle life and its challenges.

Ever wondered why, as we fall and rise, learn to improve, and develop a home for compassion,

we find it easier to open the door to forgiveness for others than for ourselves?

Frozen Ice
Our limbic systems, are taught to accept and inflict punishment, anger, obstinacy, and indignation. And this teaches us to inflict the same on others and ourselves. It leads our minds to a place where absolute zero is more important than living. Life is chilled. (The cold shoulder, the cold war, punishing silence… frozen)

Have you ever studied the look a parent gives a child when it is hurt, experiences loss, has been dejected – did you feel what transfers? And have you ever felt, witnessed, the moment when a parent forgives a child for a mistake, a thoughtless or unkind act, from the warmth and love for their growing and developing life? From the sheer love of wanting them to still thrive and grow?

Ever caught the moment, the feeling when another person looked within us with value, belief, love; the look that gives reset and restarts the fires within? Do you remember the influence of another who knew what was possible, spotted it, and helped activate it from within us – out of dormancy into life and renewed hope? A moment with the more of ourselves salvaged from a sink of despair.

Have you noticed that with human life, growth is automatic but inner development isn’t? Parents rapidly learn that. They know that as we all try, rise and fall, make mistakes and break – that warmth, like the sun on a winter’s day – stirs us to make more of ourselves, develop ourselves, from the inside out, to step up and try again.

Not just an outpouring of emotion, warmth seems to transfer with a look, a moment: where what is within, one’s inner potential, is found, received, and valued; attitudes unconsciously imprisoning us in yesterday, are melted.

Warmth is authorized in the admission that we are – no longer – the same people we were 25 years ago, a year, or even a week ago. In the warmth of forgiveness, mistakes have a different place: they may now serve to reflect what we no longer want to do and where we no longer wish to be; giving us cause to raise our game. With forgiveness, we may rebuild the world within, warmed first by what we value and cherish, to reflect the age we are – today – and by what we yearn to hold firm for tomorrow.

Kelly Connor’s life’s story of self-forgiveness tells of her struggle to find a way out of a state she had been locked in: at 17, she had accidentally killed an elderly woman while driving to work. Others – the police, the woman’s family – forgave her, extended kindness, and tried to help her move forward. But she felt undeserving of their forgiveness, undeserving of the right to live. Her mental health plummeted. She attempted suicide and almost succeeded.

Eventually, she learned how to function, on the outside, as a seemingly normal person. But inside she was still frozen. Many years later, on telling her 14-year-old daughter the story for the first time, her daughter listened with warmth, love, and acceptance. It wasn’t a big deal for her. This was a profound turning point for Kelly. She was now able to warm to the value and merit of her own life, a life worth living, with its learnings, its newfound meaning, and purpose, that might help others in a similar state and ease their way. She could finally accept that who she had become now, was not despite what had happened at age 17, but because of it.

“The moment I’ve fixed forgiveness, it’s no longer real. It has to be changing and constantly challenging. What I forgive myself for today, I don’t know will apply tomorrow.”

And there it is. We aren’t fixed. We are not finished. We rise, we fall, we make mistakes. Forgiveness can be our teacher.

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