Place No Blame

a detail of my painting, "John's Secret."

a detail of my painting, “John’s Secret.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness. Earlier today, Kerri read an article to me and the author, someone with terminal cancer, wrote that blame is a waste of energy. Life is too precious to waste on blaming. Forgive and move on.

My meditation on forgiveness has inadvertently become a meditation on blame. As it turns out, forgiveness and blame are often dance partners.

My favorite phrase of this week: Blame, no matter where you place it, does no good. To me, the crucial concept within the phrase is this: blame requires placement. Although it might feel otherwise, blame is not a passive act. We place it. We aim it. It is a way of making meaning of things that don’t feel good. I’ve written that blame is like sugar; it is addictive. It is choice wearing the mask of it-happened-to-me. Oddly, as an active choice, blame actually inhibits action and as an inhibitor it does no good either for the placer-of-the–blame or the recipient. It stops motion. It is an energy eddy. It is destructive both ways.

Forgiveness is also not a passive act. Forgiveness takes more effort because forgiveness is an unmasked choice. It, too, requires placement and aim. It is also a way of making meaning of something that doesn’t feel good. But, unlike blame, forgiveness does great good for both the giver-of-forgiveness and the recipient. It creates motion. It is generative both ways.

3 Responses

  1. I’m curious what your thoughts are about asking for forgiveness. There are things in my life that happened to me – it’s not a mask or a choice of how I see things. How do I begin to forgive someone who hurt me when I was vulnerable? (A child.) Someone who is still in my life but has never acknowledged the physical & emotional pain he inflicted, nor asked for forgiveness.

    Also, in an abusive relationship in my adult life, I’ve forgiven my abuser. But there’s been no request for forgiveness. At what point is forgiveness a free pass for bad behavior? Where is the balance of accountability between two people who have a power/control issue in their relationship?

    • There is so much in your question and as a caveat to what I’m about to write, let me start with this: some things cannot be addressed in a reply box or a text or an email….

      I have two thoughts to offer: one is mine, the other is advice I sought from someone who experienced abuse. First, mine: forgiveness never means making an abuse – no matter how close or distant in time – okay. Forgiveness is never a free pass. People do awful things to other people and, despite what we want to think, there is never a “reason,” (power-over is not reasonable – it can never be explained or justified. There is no way to make sense of it – It comes from a darker place than reason can reach). Forgiveness is also often not reasonable. Often, it makes no sense. It is, however, self-loving. The real beneficiary of forgiveness is not the abuser, but the abused. It (as I wrote in the post) creates motion, a reorienting to life. It does, oddly, serve as a boundary. In my life I’ve found that my capacity to forgive is directly related to my capacity to say, “You can’t cross that line.” It initiates a reclamation of boundaries crossed and pieces of self that may have been lost. Forgiveness is never a free pass for bad behavior; people often confuse forgiveness with enabling. Forgiveness stops the enabling.

      Second: as I said, your comment required me to ask the question of someone who has experienced something similar to what you’ve experienced. Her words: Forgiveness helps you dwell in a different place. It is important to grant yourself grace for having to suffer the abuse. When someone has done the unforgivable to you, their power over you goes on and on until you grant yourself the grace to set it free (not something that happens overnight). She assured me that the abuser would (probably) never ask for forgiveness. Ever. And, that is not something you can control. What you can control is where you dwell – in the pain of it, in the healing of it, or beyond it. Forgiveness doesn’t release the abuser; forgiveness releases you from the constraints the abuse put on you. She told me she realized her suffering and wrestling with forgiveness has created a deep level of empathy with others who suffer (and, therein lies a gift of the grace).

      Here’s a quote (as I remember it…) that I’m finding useful these days. It’s from Carlos Castaneda: The oppressors and the oppressed end up in the same place and come to the same recognition, that their lives were too short, that they didn’t have enough time. I think my point in writing the post was to ask myself a question: to what am I giving my precious time?

      I miss our chats. Someday perhaps we can meet at the beach and drink a beer or two.

  2. And on a related theme…I’ve heard it said:

    Hatred is poisoning yourself while hoping your enemy will die.

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