In reviewing an incident about which I posted early in this blog’s history, I realized this blog is now in its seventh year. That strikes me as being a very long time to be writing political
rants and bowel jokes, even if I don’t update it as often as I ought.
Yet this blog still survives because I have become the de facto online locus of all those with a beef against the Order of the Arrow, which still amuses me to no end, even as it enrages many O of A supporters. Yet I recently received a very kind comment from someone called “Andy Arrowman” who acknowledged the legitimacy of my original point and suggested I seek a formal apology for my experience.
Fact is, I don’t want or need a formal apology or anything like it. My comments about the O of A were always meant to be funny, not vicious. If I were to be actively still holding a grudge after thirty-five years, I’d be the one with the problem.
Which brings me to my latest comment, which was attached to a six-and-a-half-year-old post titled “On Being Hated.”
For those of you unwilling to click the link and read the old post – you slothful readers, you! – it’s an article where I recounted an unfortunate incident from my Kids of the Century (KOTC) days. KOTC was the performing arts group I participated in during most of my adolescence, and the timing of this comment seems appropriate. Just this past week, I was back in Los Angeles, and several of my old KOTC friends, many of whom I have not seen in decades, came out to a gathering in which we renewed old friendships, caught up, and generally had a delightful time. The story recounted in the post was also discussed on that occasion, which leads me to believe that it somehow inspired the comment I’m about to address.
Anyway, here’s the scoop. Back in the day, there was a couple in KOTC, and in my piece, I called them Hank and Sheila, which are not their real names. Hank and Sheila were very comfortable with public displays of affection, which resulted in much untoward mockery and general nastiness from yours truly. When I ran into Hank and Sheila back in, I think, 1990 or 1991, which was five or six years since I’d seen them last, I went to say hello, and, while Hank was quite friendly, Sheila was decidedly nonplussed and unwilling to speak to me, still quite angry about how she had been treated.
Well, today, Sheila had her say.
“This is Sheila,” she wrote. ” You could have apologized for all the belittling, harassment and bullying you gave me, my now husband and brother-in-law but you sat next to me without any regard for your actions. There are consequences to your actions and You were a very big bully to most of the people in our group. Our incident would not have happened if you learned the art of remorse.”
So here’s what I wrote back:
“Well, hello, Sheila! Glad you found me! I hope you, your husband, and your brother-in-law are well.
I am grateful for this opportunity to apologize to you for how cruel, rude and boorish I was back in the day. If I could go back and undo my unkindness, I would. I have no excuse, nor do I pretend to have any.
Yes, there are consequences to actions, and it seems that my actions have cost me the opportunity to be your friend. I sincerely regret that.
My point in this post was not to justify my behavior, but rather to illustrate that holding grudges hurts the grudge holder a whole lot more than the object of the grudge. Having held a fair number of grudges over the years, I learned long ago that forgiveness is healthy not because the forgivee deserves it, but rather because the alternative is so destructive. As my old boss used to say, ‘hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.’
Your timing is appropriate, as I was in Los Angeles this past week with my family, and I spent an evening with a host of old KOTC friends that was the highlight of the trip. The people who showed up to see me were some of the dearest friends I have ever had or ever will have. I remember them – and you – with nothing but fondness.
I apologize again. I wish you nothing but happiness and joy.
(Unlike “Hank,” “Sheila,” or “Stallion,” “Jim” is, in fact, my real name.)
I just want to share a few more thoughts that have occurred to me here.
While in no way trying to deny that I was, indeed, an insufferable boor toward Sheila, I find it interesting that she insists I was “a very big bully to most of the people in our group.” I just don’t think that’s accurate. I don’t want to start a new quarrel with Sheila and add additional insult to injury, but I’ve stayed in contact with enough of these people to realize that this perception is distorted by Sheila’s ill will toward me – which, again, I earned by my actions.
Rather, I think this serves as the point of the post, which was not to say I was a good guy, but rather to say that hating people, even bad people, does nothing but damage to the person who hates.
At the same time, I think many misinterpret what forgiveness is. Sheila, even if she were to forgive me, would not be required to have anything further to do with me as a condition of that forgiveness. People talk about how important it is to “forgive and forget,” but those are two very different and often contradictory things.
I can forgive someone who steals from me, for instance, but I’m not obligated to give them my PIN number. I can forgive someone for being an alcoholic, but I’m not going to take them barhopping in the future. Those who suffer any kind of abuse should forgive their abusers and, at the same time, do everything in their power to avoid suffering abuse at their hands ever again. We should forgive, but we should not forget. Remembering allows us to prevent further abuses that prompted our forgiveness.
Forgiveness is not acceptance or an embrace of the wrongs perpetrated on us, of which there will be many in this life. Rather, it is the abandonment of the hostility and hatred that accompanies those wrongs. That’s something we ought to aspire to, incidentally, even if our hatred is justified.
Or perhaps especially when our hatred is justified.
The Christian principle isn’t just forgive those who deserve our forgiveness, but rather to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44)
That’s an impossibly hard thing for many to do, but I think the alternative – living with hatred – is even harder. Forgiveness, while beautiful and noble, isn’t an entirely selfless act. It’s necessary to protect ourselves from what our own bile can do.
To sum up: I forgive you, Order of the Arrow. But don’t expect me at The next staff meeting.