post written by: Marc Chernoff

Why We Must Forgive Ourselves


Why We Must Forgive Ourselves

To forgive is to set a prisoner free
and discover the prisoner was you.

Healing

Once upon a time there lived a woman who had a bad temper.  She screamed at and scolded everyone around her.  For most of her life she believed the fiery rage inside her was everyone else’s fault.  But one morning she woke up and realized she had isolated herself from all the people in her life who she cared about.  She had no friends, and even her family wanted nothing to do with her.  She knew in that moment that she needed to make a change.

She went to see a well respected Buddhist monk to ask for advice.  The monk told her to take a large clay jug from his kitchen, fill it with water, and stand outside on the sidewalk in front of his house.  “It’s hot outside, and that’s a busy sidewalk with lots of pedestrians,” the monk told her as he pointed out the front window of his house.  “When a pedestrian passes, you must offer them a glass of water.  Do this until there is no rage left inside you.”

The woman with the bad temper was confused – she didn’t understand how this would help her.  But she had heard that this monk was known for his unconventional wisdom and avant-garde methods of healing, and she was willing to do anything to heal herself and rebuild her relationships with those she cared about.

The Rage

So she stood outside with a water jug and served water to pedestrians every day for the next several weeks.  And every morning she asked herself if rage still pulsed through her veins.  And every morning the answer was, “yes.”  So she continued serving water.  Until this afternoon when a burly man walked up, snatched the water jug out of her hand, drank directly out of it, and then tossed the jug on the ground as he continued on his way.

The rage within the woman skyrocketed into an irrepressible fit.  Unable to contain herself, she picked-up the clay jug off the ground and, with all her might, threw it at the burly man as he walked away.  It was a direct hit.  The jug shattered into pieces over the back of his head and he fell to the ground, unconscious and bleeding.

As the woman’s rage subsided, she realized the magnitude of what she had done and began to cry.  She used a payphone to call 911 and report the incident.  An ambulance and two police cars arrived at the scene moments later.  As the EMTs strapped the burly man into a stretcher, the police handcuffed his arms and legs to the stretcher.  Then one of the police officers walked over to the woman, who was still crying, and said, “The city owes you a big ‘thank you.’  That man has been on our most wanted list for over a year now.  He is a primary suspect in multiple murder cases and violent robberies.”

The Moral

The moral of the story is that we simply don’t know.  We want to believe that if we completely rid ourselves of our inner darkness then we will always make the right choices, and be of service to ourselves and those around us.  But life isn’t so linear and predicable.  Sometimes our darkness inadvertently leads us to do things that impact the world in a positive way, just as our unconditional love sometimes forces us to overlook the criminal standing before us.

I tell you this story not to encourage you to let your anger get the best of you, but rather to provide you with an opening to forgive yourself for your own humanity – your own moments of rage and darkness.  Because, even in our darkest moments, there is a light that shines within us that has the potential to be of service to ourselves and others in ways we may never fully comprehend.

Photo by: Picture This / Patty

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24 Comments

  • Great story! I love the surprise twist. I think that the biggest mistake that we make is when we try to wish away all of our pain. Sometimes pain is needed for us to become who we are supposed to be.

  • Powerful and thought provoking story. I really enjoyed this one : )

  • Inspiring story. Life is as it is: always unpredictable.

    Although forgiving is great - in the first for ourselves, but accepting our own darkness and reacting on our anger, is also great sometimes.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • That was a wonderful story. I was a little confused at the end until I realized the story was about forgivness.

  • Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is oneself. If we can’t forgive ourselves how can we move on and grow wonderfully? Blessings to you for the wisdom shared. The twist made the story remarkable! :)

  • Really unexpected end… And although I don’t believe in violence, I agree that we all make mistakes. We all have moments of darkness and we must learn to not give up on ourselves and forgive.

  • The truth is the 3 most powerful words ever put together in one sentence that will change our life is, “I don’t know”. It allows all things to happen and for us to stop the fight with life so life itself can support us. Brilliant story, even stronger message Marc, don’t know (!) how you keep coming up with them.

  • @All:

    Thanks for the positive feedback, everyone.

    And to the few who sent me emails stating that “the woman in this story is still in the wrong,” I agree. There are many ways to look at every story. My point here is that we all make mistakes – we all have our moments of darkness. We need to know that there can be no light without these moments of darkness. And we must never give up on ourselves for being human – even when we make tragic mistakes.

    Because regardless of the poor decisions we once made or the severity of the dark moment we’re currently in, the situation is rarely as bad as it seems. There’s always a small glimmer of hope.

  • perfect timing
    i am so harsh on myself these days
    i needed this post
    thank you Marc :)

  • A great lesson in the real meaning of forgiveness and wonderful take on the comments that followed your post Marc. Thank you.

  • Such a profound lesson in such few words. You are so right there is no light without darkness. Thank you.

  • This story touched a part of me that has been struggling in the darkness. Thanks for that ray of light enabling me to see that my imperfection is a part of my humanity.

  • Forgiveness is my theme this month on my blog, so I especially liked this post. Great story.

  • Hey Marc!

    I love the idea of self-forgiveness. It is necessary, especially once we have done what we can reasonably do to make amends for things we may have said or done to others in our moments of weakness.

    Thank you so much for addressing it here!

    But I think those pesky areas of personal darkness are unstable hooks to hang our self-forgiveness on.

    That the woman happened to hit a most-wanted criminal is happenstance. Given how few multiple murderers there are as a percentage of the population, or even as a percentage of the rude population, as the burly man certainly was, there was a greater likelihood of hitting someone who wasn’t a murderer.

    I think the reason we should forgive ourselves is less for the good our dark sides may inadvertently someday possibly serve, and more for the fact that we are humans learning and growing and discovering the steps in life to take to become the people we were meant to be.

    It is unreasonable to expect personal moral perfection. Patience with ourselves as we learn the lessons we need to learn will help us reserve condemnation for those truly deserving it, and less often directed at ourselves for weaknesses common to us all.

    Thanks for making us all think, Marc! And thanks for addressing an issue that plagues so many of us as we place high standards of excellence on ourselves and then become too harsh in our self-critique of our shortcomings.

  • Beautiful and beautifully written post - thank you!

  • Great story, I have found anger to be a very big burden and very heavy to carry around. I am working at not reacting to situations where anger is present. I’m finding much better results by removing myself and waiting it out.

    In the end I wind up much clearer therefore a more positive outcome which is a reward in itself. FYI-GRATITUDE (much lighter ) is a great antidote for anger and self pity.

  • A really good post. So true, forgiveness leads to healing.

  • This was the most powerful part:

    even in our darkest moments, there is a light that shines within us that has the potential to be of service to ourselves and others in ways we may never fully comprehend.

    Amen and right on!

  • I must echo the sentiment that the twist in the story is wonderful!
    I also love that the moral is not about right or wrong, but the ability to be both/and. I have never met anyone who was really EITHER all good OR all bad. If they appeared to be either, they were wearing a mask to cover who they really were, and masks will eventually fail. My experience is “that which we resist will persist” (an Al-Anon quote) and whatever we hide will consume us. Whatever I accept has no power over me.
    Blessings to you for your understanding of the both/and. I deeply appreciate the healing that you share.

  • Ask and you shall receive, and I’ve been asking for a path to forgiveness. This blog just came to me today by a friend. Another perfect timing moment!

    Thank you!

  • A wonderful post.

  • What a wonderful post! This would be a good one for people who are struggling with rage from betrayal. It’s so true that the darkness does have light. Getting through that darkness is the only way to find the light. I believe this wholeheartedly. There is just no way to get to the light and if you don’t ever get to that light, you’ll carry that darkness with you forever.

  • Wonderful post… Forgiveness is difficult but letting hate live in your heart is like letting someone live in your home rent free.

  • A wonderful story. God’s ways are mysterious. When we are in total despair and wonder if we will ever be out of the mess, simply follow what comes. It is called a divine design.

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