Tag Archives: lessons

Forgiveness & Acceptance

I was listening to Mike Shinoda’s album, Post Traumatic, an (excellent, powerful) album written in the time following his bandmate’s suicide, and one song really stuck out for me. “Over Again” deals with the idea that saying goodbye isn’t something you do just once, but again and again each time you are confronted with your loss. Definitely true. After contemplating this for a time, it seemed to me that forgiveness works the same way.

When it comes to something big–something that has caused a great deal of strife–I’m not sure “forgive and forget” is really possible. Some things you just don’t forget. Some things might take years to work through. When you make the decision to forgive someone for something they’ve done, it isn’t a one-time, immediate erasure of all that pain. It’s a difficult process that takes time and effort. You may reach a point at which you feel better about the past and take a few steps forward, and the next day you might be reading or cooking or showering and it’ll hit you again.

How could that person have done that? How can you ever get over it? You’re so angry and hurt! And at this point you have to decide to forgive them all over again. You have to remember why you chose forgiveness the first time and evaluate whether that’s still the best option. You have to keep in mind your role in the incident if any of the blame is yours. You have to go through the process until you are calm again and can treat them normally. It wouldn’t be fair to confront someone again and again with their mistake when you’ve already decided to work past it, after all.

People seem to think of forgiveness as the end goal, but I think of forgiveness as the entire process–the decision to move forward and all the hard work that entails. Acceptance is a better term for the end goal, and forgiving (or not) is the path along which you choose to get there. It determines whether whatever relationship can continue after acceptance–whether reconciliation can occur.

Whether or not you can forgive someone for the pain they’ve caused, acceptance of what has happened will stop the cycle of those feelings of anger or sadness returning again and again. Acceptance is when the memory of the hurt comes suddenly back to you and you don’t experience that surge of unpleasant emotion; instead, you acknowledge that it happened, terrible as it was, and move along. And whether it takes weeks or years to finally reach that point, the most important part of acceptance is growing from the experience to make sure, whether together with that person or not, that whatever awful thing never happens again.


By the way, I recommend listening to the Post Traumatic album from start to finish to really experience the whole journey from despair to hope.

The Value in Cinderella

Melissa Grey’s tweets on the subject have been getting a lot of attention, and they gave me something to think about too.

I probably only watched Disney’s original Cinderella once or twice as a kid. I didn’t much like all the mouse vs. cat stuff that frequently pushed Cinderella’s story to the background. I also had a hard time understanding the distorted voices of the animals, so I had to infer what they were singing about through context.

Anyway, I didn’t know what it was like to grow up in an abusive home. My family was great. My knowledge of people being mean or unfair to other people was limited to teachers telling the class, “Bullying isn’t nice, so don’t be a bully.” I thought bullies were no big deal and that everyone gets over it eventually. I thought some peoples’ parents or siblings weren’t as nice as others, but that everyone got over that eventually too. I never had an understanding of the concept of abuse, the extent of some abuse, or the devastating effects it can have on victims.

More recently, when it became popular to look back on the older Disney princess movies with a critical, feminist eye, I easily dismissed Cinderella as ridiculous. I thought it was silly for this young woman to put up with how her step-family treated her like a slave. I thought it was awful to show audiences a girl who just waits around for a prince to come along and save her. I claimed that if I were in her place, I would have told my step-family to shove it and then gone off to create a happy life for myself, prince or no. But Melissa Grey is right. That’s not how abuse works.

Victims of abuse are often led to believe that things are as good as they’re going to get. They are led to believe they are not worth caring about or loving. Often, defying their abusers isn’t an option, and they don’t realize they can seek help from others outside. Maybe they make excuses for their abusers. They might learn to become distant from others, angry, or depressed. Perhaps they’ve been taught that their abusers’ behavior is their fault. Maybe they’ve been led to believe that feeling helpless is normal.

Cinderella dealt with terrible abuse, but she stayed bright and hopeful. She kept smiling. Despite her situation, she believed that she could still find happiness. From this point of view, the silly love at first sight, fairy magic, glass slipper stuff at the end isn’t really the important part. Having the courage to go on her own to the ball was her success. Confirming that she was worth being loved was her happy ending. And for once, the heroine marrying the prince is a good ending to the story, even if it’s not the goal every princess should have.

In reality, if Cinderella and her prince were just regular people, they’d probably start dating and getting to know each other. Even if it didn’t work out between them, Cindy would at least come away knowing it was true that she could be loved and appreciated by others. She could go forward with that confidence and make sure she lived her life happily ever after.

I don’t know if this theme of surviving abuse and finding love was really the focus of the people who made the animated film, but it is there. I was quick to dismiss the story without thinking about what important lessons could be gained from it, especially by people who share Cinderella’s situation as they’re growing up. It’s easy to criticize something as a whole when you see its flaws, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t value there too.

A-P-P-E-A-R

When I was in the sixth grade, all the teachers decided to hold a grade-wide spelling bee. Each individual class would have a bee, and the winners would be put into semifinals. Once it had been narrowed down to six finalists, the last competition would be held in the library. Participation was not optional.

Though I disliked being quizzed in front of my class, I was a great speller. I was too proud to purposefully spell a word wrong in front of others, so I kept advancing until I was one of the finalists. The six of us were taken to the library for the final competition. I was relieved to find our big library was deserted and dark and quiet, and there were only a couple teachers there to judge our performance. No pressure.

Then, the entire sixth grade marched in, class by class. The teachers filled up the room seating them before us. They situated a spotlight on our six chairs and kept the rest of the room dim. My pulse started racing. Why hadn’t I just spelled a word wrong and gotten myself out of this? Nobody was enjoying this game. We weren’t receiving a grade for it. What was the purpose? I had no desire to win at all, but I didn’t want to disobey the teachers or embarrass myself now that everyone I knew was watching.

A teacher sat down in front of us, everyone got quiet, and she announced that I’d be going first. She asked me to spell “appear.” The light was bright, hundreds of eyes were on me, I was tensing up, and my face turned red. I said, “Appear. A-P-P-E-A-R. Appear.”

“Incorrect,” said the teacher. “Please take a seat.”

I was stunned. I shook my head at her. I looked to my friends. I looked to the other teachers. Nobody said anything. They all just stared at me while my face surely reddened even more. I couldn’t understand. Maybe I had been too quiet due to being so nervous. Maybe that was just how I always thought “appear” was spelled even though it was wrong. Maybe “appear” only had one “P.” Didn’t it have two? I thought it had two.

“Please go have a seat,” the teacher repeated.

So I got up, went to sit by a few of my friends in the nearby crowd, and tried my best to hunch down and hide behind one of them so that no one could see me. Those tears that come when something mortifying and infuriating happens kept trying to fight their way out. The next girl in line said, “Appear. A-P-P-E-A-R. Appear.”

“That’s correct,” said the teacher, and she went on to the next word. I don’t remember the rest of that ordeal due to staring directly at the floor and listening to the blood rushing in my ears. I tried to tell myself, “At least you don’t have to keep playing. You’d rather be out here in the dark anyway.”

People seemed to forget about the whole event pretty quickly. Nobody was all that invested in it. But for years afterward the experience was one of those that still came to mind and made me feel awful. For one thing, every time I typed the word “appear” I mentally cringed.

What did I learn from this experience?

1) When somebody treats you unfairly, especially in front of EVERYBODY, stand up for yourself. Tell that teacher that, no, you are absolutely sure it’s spelled A-P-P-E-A-R, and she might want to double check her list or consult the other teachers to make sure.

2) Don’t worry. Nobody is going to remember much less care about who was the best speller in their sixth grade class, nor any of the other silly embarrassing things that happened to you in middle school. You’re the only one who’s going to agonize over it, so you might as well pull some lessons from the experience to use in the future and stop letting it get you down. It’s like a battle scar. It makes you tougher.