Forgiveness Made Simple

When I was young, I used to watch a Japanese anime series called Naruto. The show has two main characters: Naruto and Sasuke, and the setting is in the world of ninjas. Naruto is this awkward kid who’s always seeking attention and has a big goal to become the strongest and the leader of his village. On the other hand, Sasuke is this cool kid who’s extremely talented, and his goal is to find and kill his rogue brother, who killed his family members and betrayed the village. The story follows the rivalry and goals of two main characters. It was (and still is) very popular, with 220 Naruto episodes and 479 Naruto Shippuden episodes.

Like most kids watching the show, I looked up to Sasuke. After all, he was cool, smart, talented, and popular. He was also very serious and often angry-looking because he was always thinking about getting stronger so he can get revenge on his rogue brother. Throughout the entire story, Naruto and Sasuke continue to get stronger and stronger. The difference though, is that Naruto gets stronger through his desire to protect his friends and his village, while Sasuke gets stronger by increasing his hatred towards his rogue brother. In fact, Sasuke even has a special power that grows with his suffering. Sasuke also had cooler and more diverse powers compared to Naruto.

At the end of the story, Sasuke admits he had always looked up to Naruto and admired his positivity and determination. No matter what crimes Sasuke committed in search of greater power, Naruto never gave up on saving Sasuke from darkness.

A theme that is prevalent in Naruto is the idea of unforgiveness. Sasuke was unforgiving towards his brother and himself. Many people in our world are like Sasuke. They hold strong grudges against others and seek revenge. Others criticize themselves for not being good enough, which motivates them to work hard in the short-term but ultimately leads to self-loathing and despair in the long-term.

Forgiveness is an interesting concept. When and how should we forgive? What does forgiveness really mean? Let’s break it down. Forgiveness can be either for ourselves or for other people. To me, forgiving yourself means to stop being angry at yourself, while forgiving others means to let go of ego and arrogance.

When and how to forgive yourself

We should forgive ourselves if not doing so hurts you. When people make mistakes, many start an internal dialogue of self-criticism and victimization: “How could you be so stupid? I can’t believe you did that. I’m so miserable.”

To forgive yourself, I recommend asking the question, “If your friend made this mistake, would you say the same things to him or her? If you said those things, would it actually help them feel better and improve?” Obviously, the answer is no. So stop saying that to yourself. You are the most important friend you have.

Instead, be productive by

1. acknowledging the mistake

2. recognizing everyone makes mistakes (especially new mistakes)

3. identifying preventative measures to avoid making that same mistake in the future

As Jay Shetty said, “Mistakes are only mistakes when we don’t learn from them because when we learn from them, they become lessons.”

When and how not to forgive yourself

We should not ourselves if doing so is just being lazy and lenient. For example, let’s say you commit to going to the gym 3 times a week. You got lazy and only went 2 times last week.

You should not think, “Oh well, at least I went 2 times. I know people that never go to the gym. At least I’m not like that.” This will only make you complacent and set a bad precedent for your future decisions. Instead, you need to ask yourself, “How much do I really want to accomplish this goal? Am I willing to pay the price?”

If the answer is no, then stop wasting your time doing something half-heartedly and find something you want to do full-heartedly.

If the answer is “I don’t really want to do this, but I have so many external pressures to do it,” then ask yourself if you would rather live your life pleasing others or live your life benefiting others. Pleasing others is making others happy in the short term. Benefiting others is doing something you want to do full-heartedly so that you bring positive energy to all those around you.

If the answer is “Yes, I really want to do this and I’m willing to pay the price,” then you better make it up by going to the gym 5 (not 4) times this week. You need to reinforce to yourself that breaking a promise is not okay.

When and how to forgive others

We should forgive others if we are too focused on what they did wrong to us. Tony Robbins once said, “Suffering is an excessive focus on yourself.” Thinking, “How could they do that to me. I don’t deserve this. They are so wrong and need to apologize,” hurts you a lot more than it hurts them.

Venerable Chin Kung said that any intention we have affects others 30% and ourselves 70%. So if we harbor negativity towards someone, we experience 70% of the harm, while the other only experiences 30%. Conversely, if we harbor positive emotions, like love, understanding, and kindness, towards others, we receive 70% of the benefits. When I reflected on my life, it certainly seems true to me. Therefore, it’s simply not worth it to harbor negative emotions toward others. But as we’ll see in the next part, this does not mean we can’t be strict with others.

When and how not to forgive others

We should not forgive others if they indeed did something wrong and have not yet learned from their mistake. “Wrong” in this case refers to both intentional and unintentional harm in the goodness-harm quadrant. However, we can let go of our anger and arrogance while still remembering to teach them to correct their mistake.

Telling someone they did something wrong and need to improve is an extremely difficult task to do well. It’s hard to communicate good intentions and not seem like you’re judging them. It’s also hard for the other person to not react defensively. We really need to have both an effective message and a strategic delivery method. Four criteria of speech we can follow for delivering such a message are

1. True: be 100% of the facts and don’t exaggerate or speculate

2. Honest: people can sense dishonesty, which will make them suspicious or defensive

3. Helpful: people like those who have good intentions and dislike those who are judgmental

4. Timely: be patient and wait for a good time to say what you need to say

For example, let’s say your boyfriend/girlfriend is always on their phone whenever you go out on a date, and you are very annoyed by it. How might people react?

Some might say “Why are you always on your phone when we’re together?” This statement is not true. The other person will instantly think about a time when he/she was not on their phone, and they will get defensive.

If the person who was always on the phone asks, “How did you enjoy the evening?” and you say, “Good,” with a straight face and a sarcastic tone, then that’s not being honest.

If you say, “Why are you so rude, being on your phone when we’re out for dinner,” that’s not being helpful. The other person will feel like you’re judging them and attacking them, and will get defensive.

If that person just had a tough day, it’s probably not a good idea to say “by the way, can you not go on your phone so much when we’re together?” The last thing that person needs is more criticism on a tough day.

A good way to approach the situation might be to say ““Hey I’d like for us to have the best possible time we can have together when we go out. To do that, I think we should both keep our phones in our pockets on silent. What do you think?” And this conversation should be brought up when the other person is calm and open to feedback. We should give our suggestion in a calm, friendly way with the intention of improving happiness together as oppose to judging the other person.

These four criteria may be simple to understand, but successfully implementing all four in tandem is no easy feat. Hence, we should make practicing the four criteria of speech a life long endeavor.

Passionate about self-cultivation, happiness, and sharing wisdom.