Anger and Forgiveness

   Lately I have been thinking about forgiveness, and I realized that there are people I have not forgiven for wronging me. Should I?

   Despite resembling an atheist1, my thoughts and feelings about forgiveness grew from Christian mythology2. I later grafted forgiveness on to a more rational root stock. I understand its efficacy for defusing conflict. I do not feel a moral imperative to forgive. For me, forgiveness is practical. I forgive when forgiveness serves its purpose. These purposes are to enable me to let go of a grudge, as well as to reduce any animosity still held by whoever wronged me. But - and this is where my rationale becomes irrational - if in the later case, my softening of the conflict merely enables bad behavior towards me to continue without check, I withhold any public apologies or making nice, and remain defensive. Why meet someone half way if they never do the same and will simply resume attacking you or otherwise be free to cause you harm unchecked? My conflation of apologies with forgiveness, and that bit about defending myself shows where my reasoning becomes suspect.

   The Internet Bullshit I wrote about before is what initially stimulated these thoughts. Mostly I am puzzled so question is a better word to use here than thought. The questions I have about it3 are:

  • Would forgiveness of the other camp have any positive effect?
  • Is there a downside to forgiving them?
  • How do you forgive a mob of anonymous people?
  • Would you even want to?
  • Would forgiveness and reconciliation between the individuals at the center of this have any positive effect or would the mobs just keep going?
  • Are private apologies and forgiveness adequate at this point?
  • What about the fact that these are people in the same industry and they have reputations to cultivate and protect and so likely need this to happen in public?
  • What if you think someone's views are morally wrong and cause you harm, but spreading those views is at the heart of their livelihood? In other words how do you resolve inherently opposing interests peacefully if at all?
  • Does anything fundamental change in the dynamic above when one person crosses the line from attacking the behavior to attacking the person?
  • Looked at from another angle, if someone's views - which they publicly espouse and advocate for - harm you and they refuse to acknowledge this, what good would forgiving them do? Shouldn't you keep challenging them? Can you forgive the person, and continue to challenge their behavior? But isn't this impossible for almost everyone to genuinely and convincingly achieve? So what good could it possibly do anyway, but then why should anyone be required to stop defending themself?
  • When does defense become an offense? Can I apply the concepts of proportionality and unfair power dynamics between individuals in a battle of words or does this only apply to nations and groups in conflict?

   These questions are intended as food for thought, my own thought, but if anyone else wants to have thoughts that's great too. Go have them, and keep them to yourself. I do not need your answers to these questions. Do not email me answers. The conflict that stimulated these questions is not my conflict, and it probably is not yours. I have thought about these questions, of course, but since the answers speculate about other people they remain private. The value of asking these kinds of questions is not to seek answers about someone else's business, but the thought process itself, and maybe you develop some empathy for the people at the middle of the whole mess. In addition to that, I followed these thoughts back to my own unresolved conflicts, looked inside myself to find a lake of bad blood, congealed, fetid, and rotting.

   I think that I have in part dwelled on the Internet Bullshit rather than my own issues because other people's issues are easier to deal with, harder to solve of course, but much easier to handle because they are not mine. Perhaps rather than dealing with my own problems I'm projecting them into someone else's conflict. Kinda like sexual transference, but not sex, and no good, potentially harmful. I don't know. I get the sense that I am only half way on to something here. But despite this fuzzy thinking, hopefully not because of it, I think I need to deal with my shit. I am in danger of becoming an open sewer. Here, take a look. Let me pull back the lid.

   Lately when alone, my anger sneaks up on me and devours me whole. For those who do not know me, I am noted for my anger, but even when displaying monstrous anger I am in control. I have not always been able to control my anger. I learned to do this because it is a problem, my problem to solve, and I do not want to make it your problem. I always regret showing any anger to my boys, because sharing that anger is like passing on a disease. I do my best to maintain control with a hot head, and much of the time I am successful. This anger I have when alone, however, this anger seethes with destruction and consumes me. I wrote a piece earlier about my anger at the wind. That was my warning sign. Only a crazy man gets angry at the wind, and when alone in the dark with no one around for whom I feel a need to maintain control, occasionally at those times, I lose it, debating out loud with people who are not there, words expressed like bloated fish yanked from the depths, colorless, slick, and ominous. They slip through the air out of context, meaningless with no one else to hear. The exercise is pointless because saying the words reinforces rather than purges the anger. Those fish dive right back down into me. Perhaps this is because I typically engage in a self-righteous tirade, a one man show of which I am the hero.

   Although the anger is always there, most of the time I don't notice it, like a shark well below the surface. I am not consumed by it when active, nor does it sneak up on me most nights. Generally throughout the day I am at my desk working, and I am not yelling at the screen or grimacing in frustration. I am simply working away in solitude. Still I feel hampered by it. I have become ponderously slow like I am trapped in a maze of my own making. It is like I have walled my anger off rather than process it, and those walls are spreading so far that my thoughts have to wander the maze before I can do anything with them. It is dangerous to conflate metaphors with reality. I don't know if this is a fair representation of the actual workings of my mind, but rather this is how I feel. I suspect that I have not let go of the object of my anger and so the anger is pervasive, in all of my thoughts like antibodies reacting to my grudges. My thought process is entirely gummed up. I have devolved from a functional human being to a useless pile of flesh struggling to articulate thoughts of use to others. Maybe I was not so great before, but this is unacceptable.

   What this suggests to me is that I am holding grudges. I should probably answer the first question I asked at the top of the post: should I forgive those who have wronged me? And the answer is "yes". That is the easy part. Doing so is something else entirely.

   I happen to have three grudges eating away inside. One of them is against myself. Another person is someone who has never admitted their fault at stirring up conflict. And there is another as well. So anyway clearly I am not dealing with war veteran level issues here or PTSD from abuse. I am simply a person with anger issues who also happens to have three grudges. These are small things, but I am a small man and they have gotten the better of me. And that is the limit of the dirty laundry I am likely ever to air publicly. More interesting to me are the questions I have about this and what it says about flaws in my understanding of forgiveness.

  • How do you forgive someone who never apologizes?
  • Is it possible to forgive someone who does not apologize? Why is it so much harder to do?
  • What do I achieve by defensively refusing to forgive or apologize? This does not seem to generate a positive benefit for me so why am I doing it?
  • Why is forgiving myself so different than forgiving someone else? Am I trying to force myself to correct my mistakes?

   I do not have any answers, and I will probably come up with some better questions in the coming weeks, but this post has run its course. I wrote this in media res. This is something I am in the middle of, and it was an exercise to see if I could manage it despite that congealed lake of bad blood I am drowning in. I am not impressed with my writing or thought process here let alone the fact that I hold grudges at all. I have a lot of swimming to do to reach shore. When I was in my teens and twenties, I wrote extensively like this to work through ideas or whatever "big issue" seemed difficult at the time. Between then and now, I lost the habit. I am out of practice, and should maybe make a point of doing this in private on my own. Would be much better than talking to myself in the dark when consumed by anger. As dangerous and as stupid as it is to post something like this on the internet, I feel like doing it anyway. This is the privilege of being someone of no interest to anyone else, and I feel like exercising it just because I can. If this turns out to be a mistake, I'll gladly learn the lesson. Better to make rash mistakes than to do nothing out of fear.

  1. I have been called an atheist when I explain what I do believe, and that is fine, I accept that in the narrow, technical definition of the term for now, although agnostic may come closer to what it is I think, and I am certainly not a member of the almost religious "Atheist" cult accepting uncritically the positions of Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or the late Christopher Hitchens. I think that their bullshit is little more than intellectual cover for the marginalization of others. And even if that is not the intent, the fact that the idiocy of these "Atheists" is used to justify expansion of the security state, and for waging war makes it clear what uses others think their ideology is good for. If Sam Harris has completely walked back his views and criticized the war on terror, I apologize for my error. But that said I am consciously and firmly in the camp that will most likely never forgive him for the harm he has obviously caused, which should hopefully lead you back to the topic of my post.

  2. I qualify this bit about Christianity at the top because I know that others will assume that I intend to or they will themselves project a Christian framework for forgiveness on to my post. I can not help this, but let me assure you doing so will lead you astray here. I am definitely not a Christian, nor do I play one on TV. Despite that I admit that I have been influenced by Christianity. This footnote is intended to explain that a little bit. I respect the core Christian ethic of the Golden Rule, to treat others as you would want to be treated, or however you wish to rephrase the same basic concept. Furthermore I must admit that Christian morals sunk in to my emotional core despite my rejection of the religion for all but ironically my teen years. I grew up surrounded by Christians and the echoes of Christians in a culture in which Christians tend to receive the most lip service on moral matters, so I share their assumptions about what the Golden Rule means without even meaning or wanting to. I just do. What I feel about the Golden Rule is not all that different than what the average Christian feels. I feel that it is wrong to inflict anything on another that you would not accept for yourself. If I describe my reasons for this beyond vague notions of hypocrisy, I will probably muddle those reasons with feelings because I feel this more than intellectualize it. And even were I able to articulate a rational castle of logic, I would have to admit that my reasons were mortared with feelings steeped in Christian metaphor. That this might be because there are profoundly rational underpinnings to justify the Golden Rule itself rather than simply because I am a product of my environment ... well lets just say that I find that to be an absurdly simplistic line of reasoning best left to the delusional ramblings of aspirationally hyper-rational people. Reductive logic is a lie by omission when you intend your reasoning to meaningfully describe living, thinking, and feeling. There is a whole heap of culture that I inherited and accepted merely because I find it impossible and tedious and weird to try to rationally reconstruct everything on my own terms to serve as perfect ethics. Christian morals are in there too. Better that I admit to them than pretend all my thoughts, feelings, and ideas are entirely my own.

  3. If you are obsessed or even just curious about the RPGNet versus Zak Sabbath conflagration, you might want to consider my questions in light of White Wolf's latest statement, titled appropriately Breathing the Same Shadow. There is a great deal of content resting comfortably between the lines of that blog post. I thought every word was well chosen, obviously corporate stuff, but still each word directs you to the truth between the lines. It could be said that I am reading too much into it, because you could probably read this and reach different conclusions than I did and still agree with it, but read it anyway. Make up your own mind.