It’s so great to know that this website can help some people, whether it be helping someone discover Buddhism or helping someone with anger or even helping someone feel emotionally validated.
One of the most popular posts on this website is “Buddha on Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Right & Wrong.”
When I wrote this post, I was definitely deep in the middle of trying to figure out my actions vs. the actions of someone else. It was a hot emotional storm, I needed answers. I looked to Buddhism because it’s what I practice.
Anyhow, I think it’s time to revisit the Forgiveness and Reconciliation text. One reason is because it’s been awhile since I’ve read the text and even as I re-read it now, the text has great points that should be kept in mind when faced with dealing with forgiveness or reconciliation. Another reason is because, “why not?”
The Buddha says forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things
Forgiveness is finding a way to be non-reactive and unperturbed by what has happened to you.
That’s the goal and as simple as it sounds, it can be a hard goal to achieve. It means deciding not to retaliate or seek revenge. It also means that you -even- forgive the other person for harming you.
And the thing with forgiveness is that it’s something that can be just for you. Like treating yourself to ice cream. You don’t have to explain to the other person why you are at this state. You don’t even have to tell them. Forgiveness is ultimately for you.
Reconciliation means “a return to amicability.” A return to amicability requires trust being reestablished. Trust is established when respect is shown by both parties for the “mutual standards of what is and what is not acceptable behavior.”
However, if you or the other person do the things below, a return to amicability (and trust) may not be possible at all.
a)Deny responsibility for your actions or maintain you did nothing wrong.
b)Insist that the other person’s feelings don’t matter or that they have no right to hold you to their standards of right and wrong.
c)Do not admit that you hurt the other person and were wrong to do so.
d)Do not promise to show restraint in the future.
Doing any of these things hurts the ability of the other person to trust that you will not hurt them again in the future and this makes a return to amicability mighty mighty hard to do.
FYI: If you are the person who was hurt, you aren’t scott-free from duties either. You need to conduct the process of reconciliation in a respectful manner.
The values of the culture matter
Sometimes, you’ll find out that it’s not just one person out of whack in your situation. Sometimes it’s the entire fucking culture that’s out of fucking whack. An example of this can be like the following:
“some people have recommended living by a non-dual vision that transcends attachment to right and wrong. This vision, however, is open to abuse as well. In communities where it is espoused, irresponsible members can use the rhetoric of non-duality and non-attachment to excuse genuinely harmful behavior; their victims are left adrift, with no commonly accepted standards on which to base their appeals for redress. Even the act of forgiveness is suspect in such a context, for what right do the victims have to judge actions as requiring forgiveness or not? All too often, the victims are the ones held at fault for imposing their standards on others and not being able to rise above dualistic views.
This means that right and wrong have not really been transcended in such a community. They’ve simply been realigned: If you can claim a non-dual perspective, you’re in the right no matter what you’ve done. If you complain about another person’s behavior, you’re in the wrong. And because this realignment is not openly acknowledged as such, it creates an atmosphere of hypocrisy in which genuine reconciliation is impossible.”
It may be impossible to avoid running into communities like this but you can still do the work it takes to have values in yourself that can contribute to you being able to create future peaceful reconciliations.
If you are in the right, reflect on your own actions before you accuse another of wrongdoing. Ask yourself the following:
Am I free from unreconciled offenses of my own?
Am I motivated by kindness, rather than vengeance?
Am I really clear on our mutual standards?
If you can answer yes to all these questions then bring up whatever issue you have. Again, this may be easier to write on paper than to practice in life; and that’s okay.
Frame the acceptance of blame as honorable
This tip goes hand-in-hand with the ideas of conducting the process of reconciliation in a respectful way and creating values in yourself that can contribute to a peaceful reconciliation.
Encourage the thought that the honest acceptance of blame is a honorable act without shame. The Buddha says, this is the way to make progress in your spiritual development.
“the ability to recognize one’s mistakes and admit them to others is the essential factor in achieving purity in thought, word, and deed”
Psychology too says the same about apologizing being a means to mature development.
Ground rules matter
Communication is most likely the most important part of reconciliation. One thing to find out is the “root intention” of the people or parties involved. “If those intentions were irredeemably malicious or dishonest, reconciliation is impossible.”
Try to stick to the major wrongdoings that caused the dispute. Promise not to dig up and use the other parties “minor offenses.” If both of the parties have committed wrongdoings, then both parties need to confess to their wrongdoing.
Ultimately the goal of all of this is to help both parties gain a mutual understanding of what actions created the disharmony and then the goal after that will hopefully be a promise to try and avoid those actions in the future.
“Even if the parties to a reconciliation agree to disagree, their agreement needs to distinguish between right and wrong ways of handling their differences.”
Not all disputes will be resolved
How sad my face gets when I read this tip, but it is unfortunately true.
“There are times when one or both parties are unwilling to exercise the honesty and restraint that true reconciliation requires.”
And there you go, a quick review on the great Bu-tastic way Buddha has framed forgiveness and reconciliation.