Guy de Maupassant, the popular 19 th Century French author who is considered the father of the modern short story, tells of a peasant named Hauchecome who was known for his craftiness. One autumn day Hauchecome spotted a piece of string on the ground. He picked it up and put it quickly in his pocket and continued on his way. His actions were observed by the village harness maker. These two men were at odds with each other over a matter that had never been resolved. Later that day a wallet was reported missing. The harness maker mentioned that he had seen Hauchecome pick up something off the street, “It must have been the wallet!” Immediately Hauchecome was arrested. Hauchecome declared his innocence to the mayor, showing the piece of string as evidence, but instead of acquittal he received laughter from the court. The following day the wallet was found and the charges against Hauchecome were dropped. Resentment for the indignity he had received led to embitterment. Unable to forgive, he became obsessed with the telling and re-telling of his story and how he was wronged. All else was neglected in his desperate attempts at justification, redemption and retaliation. Day and night he brooded over his grievance until he became dreadfully ill. His last words uttered became his epitaph, “A piece of string, a little bit of string.”
Aside from variations with character and setting, this story is repeated worldwide on a daily basis. How difficult it is for us to forgive those who have injured us. The gnawing destructive cancer of resentment can only be overcome through personal humility: forgiving and forgetting. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness as the popular media suggests, but rather one of strength and maturity.
There is a strong relationship between humility and pride. This is based in part on our attitudes toward other people. The importance of others varies by circumstance as well as by age. The older we get the greater our relative concern and attention to others becomes. The pivotal moment in the humility/pride relationship is when we choose to see others’ importance, not just as a means to promoting self. Accepting responsibility for them and their needs increases in direct proportion as our concern for them grows. Humility is honest recognition of self and the significance of people. Pride is self-absorption resulting in lower levels of service to those around us. Forgiveness demonstrates a high degree of ownership for relationships.
Humility is an attitude of appreciation and forgiveness to self and others as opposed to pride- driven vanity and blame. Pride begins as confidence and is about self-esteem taken to the extreme. It becomes a selfish attitude. It is believing that you are essentially better than another. It is failing to acknowledge and accept personal responsibility for negative behavior, resulting in blame. It is excessive personal admiration, love of self, and self-superiority, placing you out of proper perspective and position with your fellow beings.
Humility is the healthy acceptance of personal strengths and weaknesses. It is a state of self-awareness, and an honest recognition of situations, conditions, and circumstances. Humility is based upon the degree of acknowledgement of personal liability for a given incident or set of circumstances. Blame is a rejection of all responsibility for a mishap. At the other extreme is forgiveness, which demonstrates ownership of the current condition. The strength of a relationship is measured when insult or incident surfaces. Misunderstanding, hurt, and offense either festers or is forgiven.
Forgiveness is showing response control when wronged, misunderstood, persecuted, betrayed, offended, or victimized. Blame, on the other hand, is an effort to reject all ownership for the current situation. It is the personal perspective of pointing the finger by rationalizing, justifying, denying, and deflecting. Lies, fabrication, deceit, hypocrisy, and fraud arise out of this non-acceptance of personal liability. Forgiveness is a positive determination to move on. It is taking charge of the situation and choosing to leave the insult or incident in the past.
In response to Abraham Lincoln being elected as the sixteenth president of the United States, eleven Southern slave-owning states declared succession, forming the Confederate States of America. President Lincoln’s platform wasn’t complete emancipation, but merely to limit the expansion of slavery beyond the states where it already existed. The ensuing Civil War remains the deadliest war in American history resulting in over one million deaths, a quarter of which were civilian. Two thirds of the 750,000 military casualties died from the anguish of disease. Of the 31 million surviving Americans, no one was unaffected personally, deeply and brutally. The war engaged brother against brother, family against family, and neighbor against neighbor.
In the first public attempt at healing this broken, tortured nation, President Lincoln pleaded in his second inaugural address, “With malice towards none, with charity for all…let us…bind up the…wounds.”
Like the survivors of the American Civil War, forgiveness for past offenses must be given. This begins by giving up stubbornly-cultivated grievances, eliminating cutting words, and rising above revenge. By letting go of painful memories and moving out of the darkness of the past, brighter days can emerge. Forgiveness is not condoning hurtful actions, but rather it is an act of personal cleansing. Removing the negative emotions of anger, hurt, resentment, and retaliation is critical in moving on and leaving the past behind. A life of vindictiveness and retribution is a life void of peace. Forgiveness is an act of personal cleansing.
So how am I doing with forgiveness? Have I forgiven friends and loved ones who supposedly wronged me? Have I forgiven myself for the shortsightedness I demonstrated so many times? Have I been forgiven for my acts of aggressiveness and immaturity shown to others, many of whom I don’t even know? I’ll tell you one thing I’m working on it! What I’ve discovered is that forgiveness is not a onetime event or act. It is an ongoing process. It is an attitude I begin to take on as I approach other relationships, new as well as old. It is becoming more about seeking forgiveness for my shortcomings toward others rather than requesting others to apologize to me for perceived insults. It is a spirit of “karma” where I choose to not be offended and to give others some slack; in return I become the beneficiary of tolerance for my thoughtless acts.
By nature we are self-centered, prideful, and prone to carnal appetites and passions. In order to regulate these appetites and passions, a change of nature is required. This can be attained through training and self-discipline, but often it is a byproduct of the humbling process. As with the Civil War, it is often through a series of challenging circumstances or trials that we come to see ourselves as human and imperfect. Humility simply requires us to think of our abilities and our actions as no greater, and no lesser, than they really are. True humility requires that each of us becomes acutely aware of ourselves: our abilities and flaws. It demands an honest appraisal of ourselves. When such a sincere assessment occurs, pride diminishes. Greater humility fosters greater forgiveness which in turn leads to lingering humility. True humility is strength, confidence, and courage.
Peace is only possible when built on this foundation of humility. Positive reinforcement; such as accepting accurate feedback, providing service, and seeking forgiveness fosters humility. The goal is to feel safe and secure enough with yourself to non-defensively acknowledge personal strengths and weaknesses, what we call leveling here. Honest motives are required to succeed with this type of virtue training. Attaining proper humility will not come if motivated solely by parental pressure or some other source. One must be personally committed to the goal of inner peace and the prudent life.
The question that surfaces is, “How do I practice humility?” The simple answer is to give credit where credit is due and forgive everyone. Do you take as much credit for a success as possible, or do you seek to shine the spotlight on others and acknowledge the strokes of luck that came together to make things successful? Do you selectively forgive when justified, or do you forgive without condition knowing that this is the only way to free yourself from the all-consuming darkness of resentment and revenge? No one ever succeeds on the strength of his/her own merits alone. Always along the path of success there are supportive family members, friends, teachers, coaches, and mentors. Humble people show restraint when promoting personal strengths. They understand that others have equally important and interesting successes to share. Humble people go about doing what is expected without making a big deal about it. If the skills of success are built firmly on the footing of humility, peace will naturally grow from success. Without proper humility, fear of loss stimulates envy, greed, gluttony, and wrath.