It’s always been amazing to me how adults often behave quite a lot like children. We’re always told to ‘grow up’, to be more mature, to start acting our age… But what does that actually even mean?
As human beings, we follow by example, not by what we’re told. We’ll replicate the behaviours of others, not just what they tell us to do. This is something a lot of us know already, but don’t internalize enough.
Today’s topic will be linked to a specific aspect of childishness, but more so to do with forgiveness and moving on. I’ve come to realize that adults have a lot to learn from children in this regard, especially when it comes to putting your ego aside and letting go.
Let’s talk about what forgiveness actually means, why it only harms us to hold onto resentment/grudges, an Islamic perspective, and what children have to teach us about letting go.
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is about letting go of resentment. It’s the process of voluntarily changing your attitude towards someone or something that has done you harm (in any form). It’s not about forgetting the wrong that has been done unto you, but it’s about understanding that we’re all flawed and make mistakes.
“To err is human and to forgive is divine.”
This is an important concept to grasp, because we’ll only be able to forgive if we actually know what it means to forgive. So all that is great in theory, but what does it mean in practice? Do we just allow people to step over us and endlessly forgive them?
The obvious answer is no. Practically speaking, there are two aspects of forgiveness to consider; internal and external healing.
Internally, it involves letting go of your ill feelings towards the other person. Externally, it’s about confronting them, setting new boundaries, and ensuring it doesn’t happen again. It’s a tough process that requires you to put your ego aside, to create the space for justification, and to make a logical decision about the relationship when you’re not overwhelmed.
You have to be aware of the underlying assumptions that you created in your mind and how they shape your current view of the situation. Give people the benefit of the doubt and always think of reasons around why they could have made that mistake.
Why does it harm us to hold onto grudges?
It harms us to hold onto grudges because we are the ones who sit with that negative energy. We end up using up a lot of time and energy trying to deal with those thoughts. We end up feeling resentment towards other people. It may affect our relationship with other people as well.
In essence, there’s a lot more to gain from the process of letting go, than holding on. Even if we don’t get the other person to apologize or justify their actions, we still need that inner peace and contentment. Kids do this quite well. They sulk for a bit but find it easy to let go rather quickly.
Islamic perspective on forgiveness
Islam emphasizes forgiveness on a daily basis. When it comes to our own sins and mistakes, we are obligated to seek forgiveness from God and repent. When it comes to other people, we are also obligated to have mercy on them and be forgiving.
One of the core teachings of the Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him) is that we should forgive others as well. We should live out the values of patience, mercy and compassion, as this is what would ultimately lead us to be closer to God.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Do not harbour a grudge against one another, nor jealousy, nor enmity, and do not show your backs to one another and become as fellow brothers and slaves of Allah. It is not lawful for a Muslim to avoid speaking with his brother beyond three days.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
What can children teach us about this?
Children are quick to move on. Yes, they get upset and make a fuss about trivial matters, but it doesn’t tend to last very long. They forgive as quickly as they get upset, which helps them maintain their relationships in a strange way.
Children also don’t have a very future-oriented way of seeing things. They’re incredibly present and perceive time in shorter intervals than we do. The advantage of that? They don’t think about the future as objectively as us, allowing them to make amends for mistakes sooner rather than later.
The point I’m trying to make with all this is that we’re all human at the end of the day. We all make mistakes, we all mess up, we all falter and hurt each other (knowingly or unknowingly). When we incorporate forgiveness as a core value and act upon it, we live with a lot more ease.
We forge stronger relationships. We don’t allow trivial matters to ruminate in our minds and cause us to have ill feelings. We get closer to God in the process as well.
The next time someone messes up (even if it’s you!) forgive them. Not just for them, but for yourself.