Forgiveness Is Macho

Lisa Hickey travels from Germany to the comments on a blog post to discover that forgiveness is an action word.

♦◊♦

I didn’t expect to like Germany. It wasn’t on my itinerary, just an accidental stop on my way to better places. But I love that I can rent a bicycle right there at the train station; and even though the words on the signs are long and look unpronounceable, at least they have letters I recognize. I am immediately at home among the clatter of cycles on the city street. Everyone bikes. The buildings are sweeping expanses of stone, large archways, and red roofs.

I pedal out of Munich, over rolling hills, and past clock towers. I’m looking for a lake 20 miles south, and when I arrive I’m surprised to note everyone is topless.

The only reason I am in Stamberg, the German city-by-the-lake, is that I was in Italy the night before. I had a rail pass and no place to sleep, and a train with a sleeper car was Munich-bound. The lake water is delightful. The people are cheerful and talkative. I feel like I’ve stepped inside an 18th century European painting and I don’t want to leave.

I thought I’d hate Germany. I didn’t want to go because it was a country I couldn’t forgive. I couldn’t forgive the fact that much of the Holocaust happened in Germany. I couldn’t forgive all the nightmares that caused me. The sick feeling in my stomach every time I thought about it. I couldn’t forgive the fact that I would pray in school that teachers wouldn’t make me learn about what happened in concentration camps. Please don’t let that really have happened. I would crinkle my eyes shut in an effort to block out the images formed in my head from the stories I read.

 ♦◊♦

Clouds roll in; there is the smell of thunder. The lake people and I disperse to a shanty that sells waffles and ice cream. People are laughing and running. A couple kisses, their wet t-shirts wrinkling around their skin. A few hailstones fall.

The logical part of my brain knows that I can’t hate an entire country because of some unspeakable acts by a small faction of people some 60 years ago. I am a logical person. Most days I am open-minded and non-judgmental. But when I try to think my way into forgiveness, I can never do it.

Feeling something, and keeping that inside you—that may be a feminine trait. But acts of forgiveness? They are as macho as you can get.

Yet, of course forgiveness is possible. And the key for me came from a mantra that makes its way around recovery rooms: “Act first, feelings will follow.”

The way to forgive is not to think you forgive someone. It’s not to feel forgiveness.

It’s not even to say the words, “I forgive you.”

The way to forgiveness is to act in a way that is different than when you were unforgiving. True forgiveness is an action, not a feeling.

 ♦◊♦

Soon after The Good Men Project launched, there was a comment on a blog post about how “women sit around all day and talk about their feelings.”

I was in a tizzy. How dare someone perpetuate that stereotype! My fight response was classic, “I’LL SHOW HIM…” I swooped into the comment section where I had my first encounter with Aaron Gouveia, aka @daddyfiles.

We battled it out. My rant: “Hey Aaron, the women I know talk about their jobs, the economy, the intricacies of parenting, global warming, politics, sex, and every once in a while, moisturizing cream. But I’ve never once in my life sat around with friends talking about my feelings.”

His rebuttal: “Women may talk about all of those things, but in the course of that discussion, they talk about how they feel about each of those things. It’s a different kind of discussion than men have.”

Arguments in the comments section tend to end badly. Still fuming, I stopped talking and took the only action that made sense to me.

I hired him.

That single act of forgiveness brought countless acts of good. Aaron went on to write the single most viewed article on our site. He humors us when we want to have a “vehement disagreement about porn.” He has run the DadsGood section, getting hundreds of posts from dozens of dad bloggers, professionally, without complaint, for an absolute pittance.

Feeling something, and keeping that inside you—that may be a feminine trait. But acts of forgiveness? They are as macho as you can get.

♦◊♦

Cycling back to Munich from the lake, I ride though what can only be described as an enchanted forest. I pop out into an unfamiliar countryside again, become disoriented, lose my sense of direction. I ride along till I see two German men, hear them arguing back and forth in German. The amount of words I know in German is less than five. Turns out, I only need one.

“Munich?” I say, exaggeratedly shrugging my shoulders, palms to the sky.

“Acth, München” one of them says, and points me in the right direction.

I give a laugh and a casual salute, and am on my way.

Forty years of hidden resentment, and Germany is finally forgiven.

—Photo Flickr/hiddenhistoryhumanity

More by Lisa Hickey

Beauty, Obsession, Men, and Women

Why I’m Social Media Promiscuous

If Gender Is a Performance, I’ll Take the Part of Female, Please

Sponsored Content

NOW TRENDING ON GMP TV

Flight or Fight
Forever Boogies
Are You A Narcissist?

Premium Membership, The Good Men Project

About Lisa Hickey

Lisa Hickey is CEO of Good Men Media Inc. and publisher of the Good Men Project. "I like to create things that capture the imagination of the general public and become part of the popular culture for years to come." Connect with her on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Lisa, I don’t know if forgiveness is macho, but I do know it is harder than hell to do – forgive. I’m not very good at it. Forgiveness intimidates me, or something – because to forgive requires me to let go of my anger – and sometimes anger is all I have left of the injustice done to me by the person I won’t forgive. Of course, the rational part of me knows that if I will let go of that anger, I can make room for more positive and productive emotions. Still, I can’t seem to make myself do the hard work of forgiveness in some circumstances. Thanks for giving me reason to look at this again.

  2. Lisa Hickey says:

    Thanks Roger. This was very insightful of you: “to forgive requires me to let go of my anger – and sometimes anger is all I have left of the injustice done to me by the person I won’t forgive.” And I know I as guilty as the next person of “self-justified” anger — If someone has done harm than I am “justified” in my anger, and it even gives me a feeling of superiority. It just doesn’t seem like a particularly good way of living.

    I also think that — again, for me personally — in order to forgive someone who has caused harm, it is much easier if *that* person has taken actions that demonstrate a willingness to make amends. Just like the words “I forgive you” don’t mean much, the words “I’m sorry” often mean even less. But if someone has taken actions towards redemption, then, to me, it makes sense to take actions towards forgiveness.

  3. David Wise says:

    I haven’t been to Germany yet, but I’ve heard a lot of nice things about it from friends of mine. And I had a girlfriend born and raised there, who also told me informed me of the German culture. Despite its sad, tragic history, I’m planning to visit it one day. To forgive is divine. Shanti

  4. I grew up in England in the fifties,and the presence of “the War” loomed large,as did the Germans.These days the people who fought us are called Nazis, but….The Germans were responsible for the war,ergo,they were responsible for the world that followed it. But if it hadn’t been for them, I might not exist, because my Polish father probably wouldn’t have met my English mother. And I have to hand it to Germany,they have done and keep doing, their level best to make sure that their children remember what happened and never let it happen again.

  5. Ron Ron Ron says:

    “Female chimpanzees have been found to bear grudges against other chimps for as long as 30 years. Male chimps, however, seem to forget in a very short space of time.” (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors – Carl Sagan)

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Interesting tidbit. I wonder how big an event precipitates a grudge held that long? I’ve let go of pretty much all my grudges, my momentary fire at perceived injustices notwithstanding.

  6. Nice read. I have three little boys and I teach them constantly to “ask for forgiveness” and “extend forgiveness to each other”. If u can’t give forgiveness and receive forgiveness, u can’t move forward. Be it personally or as a nation. Thx for sharing. J

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Literally speaking, forgiveness is for the victim. Non-victims do not forgive. Literally, they have nothing to forgive. They may indicate no hard feelings, but not forgiveness.
    Try, as a thought experiment, being the bad guy, being forgiven by a non-victim. Doesn’t work, does it?
    As to Germany, they started two of the most devastating wars in the last couple of centuries. Forgiving does not mean forgetting, nor quitting various prudent views and actions.
    It’s conceivable that Germany’s culture was changed by WW II. The place was pounded flat. Five million of their young men were killed, in addition to huge numbers of civilians. The Russians raped every woman they could find during the occupation, “from eight to eighty” and killed whichever men thought to resist.
    The country was occupied until NATO came along and….the country was occupied. Still is, as the NATO troops wander about the country on manuvers or on leave. Those fearing a Russian assault prior to the end of the Cold War could recall that the Russians were on the Elbe and not on the other side of Poland because of the war which the Germans started.
    So maybe watchfulness regarding the Germans isn’t as necessary as it should have been between the wars.
    Still, the Germans ought to have the grace not to instruct others on foreign policy for a century or so.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      What’s interesting here is that I saw myself as a victim — to me, actual harm was done by visions of the Holocaust — almost of the post traumatic stress disorder variety (of course, just a drop in the bucket compared to people who were there). But — recurring nightmares, feeling physically sick when thinking about it, replaying the scenes over and over in my head, being unable to concentrate or learn in school, hiding in fear when talk of it started, being afraid of an “enemy” regardless of whether they intended harm in the present or future — all of those are signs of trauma.

      But by “taking action” — setting foot on German soil, interacting with people in the present who were only seen as friendly, helpful *humans* — that alleviated much of what I was feeling so that I can see it for what it was — a singular act of terrorism not representative of a country as a whole in the here and now.

  8. Feeling something, and keeping that inside you—that may be a feminine trait. But acts of forgiveness? They are as macho as you can get.
    I really do appreciate you reaching out with this however in my own experience in the script of being a man (or at least embracing the macho) forgiveness is a sign of weakness. Revenge on the other hand… You see the thought process is that forgiving (or performing acts of forgiveness) is to “let them get away with it and basically tell them they are welcome to do it again” whereas revenge tells them “they may have hurt you but with what you did they’ll never even think about doing it to you again”. There’s a good bit of might makes right, survival of the fittest, and whole lot of “real man” in there. The script of being a man says that to performing as act of forgivness is to give up on the exchange rather than really solving it.

    Looking at what Roger said above:
    Of course, the rational part of me knows that if I will let go of that anger, I can make room for more positive and productive emotions.

    To me when rage takes over the rational part decides that the only thing that will fill the void of anger is revenge, knowing that you got them back for what they did to you. (I do a fair bit of pondering on revenge.) It even reaches the point where one believes that revenge and justice are the same thing (when in an idea world they are not). As in they hurt me so justice isn’t punishing them by the law of the land but by punishing them by my law.

    This is why I’m so glad no one has ever done anything to me that would cause me to invoke such rage. I’m not sure I’d ever be able to move on from it. And I think the trick lies here:

    I also think that — again, for me personally — in order to forgive someone who has caused harm, it is much easier if *that* person has taken actions that demonstrate a willingness to make amends. Just like the words “I forgive you” don’t mean much, the words “I’m sorry” often mean even less. But if someone has taken actions towards redemption, then, to me, it makes sense to take actions towards forgiveness.
    To me such actions would ring hollow to my rage. I would interpret that as, “Oh so you did this to me and you think that (said actions) are just going to make it go away?”. Once my rage takes over I would literally hold that person to the condition that unless they can literally undo what they did to me (and lets face it once it gets to this point its almost certain that that would be impossible) they best be ready to never have forgiveness from me.

    Perhaps you are saying that since forgiveness is tough and men are supposed to be tough that’s how it should go. I’m thinking that by the script of being a “real” man forgiveness is not tough but weak, and weakness is the antithesis of being a man.

    Maybe the idea of forgiveness would gain more traction if it were presented of terms of not being weak rather than being tough. (I know it is tough but I don’t think many people can admit that. Baby steps.)

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      I guess that’s exactly what I was trying to do with “Forgiveness is Macho” — presenting it as not being weak. The place where we part ways in thinking is that you think the actions taken after the fact need to be negative (revenge, or some sort of “justice”), whereas I believe that taking positive — but still potentially aggressive — actions is actually a better way to get around what you said here: “forgiveness is to give up on the exchange rather than really solving it.” I’m all about solving it. I just don’t believe revenge is the answer.

      Also — I don’t really care about emotions, per se. Someone can be as angry with me as they want — as long as that anger doesn’t lead to aggressive actions on their part. But it seems to me that once someone gets to a certain level of rage, it’s almost impossible for them not to act in a way that’s harmful.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    E.E. Evans-Pritchard wrote a monograph about the Nuer of the upper Nile. They’re an acephalous society, which means no chiefs or whatever. Clans must revenge trespasses on them. As E.P says, the older guys don’t want to have to fight…again, so they keep tight reins on the young studs always looking for trouble.
    Thus, says E.P, the violence could be a lot worse if it were not for the reluctance of the older warriors to have to turn out when one of their young punks starts something.
    Forgiveness is for the forgiving. It probably doesn’t reduce the sincerely held guilt felt by the perp. But maybe it does. Whether it can reduce the chance of repetiion is dicey. Sometimes the other party doesn’t feel guilty at all, and forgiveness is about as impressive as Danegeld, and you know how that works out.
    If you want to make sure the Danes–metaphor alert, here–don’t come back, forgiving them is probably not something you want to put the mortgage on. In fact, historically, killing them is the way to go. Or, having killed sufficient, be obviously prepared to kill even more if they come back. Sure, it’s the “cycle of violence”, but the alternative is not a cycle, but of violence going only one way. I suppose, once they kill you, you won’t be subject to any more violence. So there’s that.

  10. The place where we part ways in thinking is that you think the actions taken after the fact need to be negative (revenge, or some sort of “justice”), whereas I believe that taking positive — but still potentially aggressive — actions is actually a better way to get around what you said here: “forgiveness is to give up on the exchange rather than really solving it.” I’m all about solving it. I just don’t believe revenge is the answer.
    That’s the thing. In my (and I’ll bet others) enraged mind those actions aren’t negative. If I were to be badly wrong my revenge would be the most positive, right, justified, and correct thing I could possibly do. I’m saying that rage will do a wonderful job of altering one’s perception of positive and negative. It wouldn’t even be revenge, it would suddenly become justice.

    Right now in my calm mood I fully agree with you on how forgiveness is the positive thing to do. I just don’t think it will be easy (if possible) to keep that in mind once the hate sets in.

  11. If it’s hard to forgive countries with a history of genocide, then there are LOTS of countries in the world where you should not go. Visiting the United States, for instance…. Somehow Italy was okay to visit, as if it were a bystander in wartime atrocities? If you restrict your travel to areas that have never seen genocide, you have a very limited menu from which to choose!

    I think there is a difference between individual and collective guilt. Collective guilt is really simplistic and counterproductive. You can’t hold millions of people accountable for what some of their members did in the past. You can’t hold people responsible for things that their ancestors did before they were born. In fact, a lot of acts of genocide are powered by that same kind of collective guilt argument – “THEY did this bad thing to US centuries ago, so now THEY must pay.” The inability to see individual difference is what powers things like the Holocaust.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      I agree with you 100% — and that was my point — that of course I shouldn’t hold anyone accountable. That logically I knew it was simplistic and counterproductive. But there was still that sick feeling every time I thought about it — and that affected my actions. My point was just that the only way I could change that sick feeling I got about the Holocaust (and therefore Germany by proxy) was to change my actions. I think it’s a lot easier to actually act differently than it is to feel or even think differently when you are stuck on something. Agree agree agree that “You can’t hold millions of people accountable for what some of their members did in the past.” Not logically, not intellectually, not morally. But sometimes people need an actual solution besides “you shouldn’t do something.”

  12. Anonymous Male says:

    Wow. DaddyFiles disagreed with you, and that’s like the Holocaust? I’m not sure it’s very gracious to forgive someone who didn’t actually do anything wrong. You experienced anger based on something someone wrote, and you got over it. That’s big, and that’s very important to be able to do, and many people can’t do that. But, that’s not the same thing as graciously rising above it and forgiving. You forgave him for disagreeing with you?

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Is there some immutable list of things we should be able to forgive someone for or not? People often don’t forgive others for perceived slights much smaller. Not sure if there’s some immutable list of things that are absolutely “wrong” and are worthy of forgiveness, and others that aren’t. Plus, I think it’s a pretty common occurrence to justify one’s anger, right or wrong, and then after you are mad to have the only way to stop being mad to forgive someone. But I could be wrong, perhaps that’s not a universal trait.

      Of course I wasn’t saying the two events were similar in any ways other than that I took a positive action after a negative feeling. The complete disparity in the two stories was intentional, to make a point — on how that one way through to forgiveness worked for me — no matter how large or how small the matter.

  13. Transhuman says:

    Lisa, I think your revellation of your behaviour when you first encountered @daddyfiles is telling; men and women do not discuss the same topics in the same manner. Also, your withdrawal from the argument when you felt you could not make @daddyfiles change his mind is also something I’m familiar with when I debate with women. I am pleasantly surprised you decided to hire him, very few women would have been able to get past the man’s disobedience to your point of view; I speak from experience here so it is anecdotal. In my experience women enter into debates with men expecting to “win”, and they have a hard time dealing with “loss”. I put these words in quotes as their meaning varies from person to person and debate to debate. For some reason, men in relationships learn to give in during arguments even when the women is wrong, or at very least mistaken. Just for some peace and quiet.

    Concerning Germany and forgiveness; I believe people have such difficulty with this aspect of human history because they know that given the right circumstances they will act in a similar fashion. Genocides, invasions, torture and war propaganda have not stopped since WWII, if anything the self-described good guys have become better at it. There, but for grace, go I indeed.

    There may be hope for GMP after all.

    • Lisa Hickey says:

      Thanks for the comment. I have to say, I used to withdraw from arguments with men all the time. One rebuttal, and I was out of there. So part of what we’re trying to do with GMP is to get people who don’t usually talk to each other to actually talk to each other. Help eliminate marginalization through conversation. And, yes, show women and men both that there’s not a “right” way of talking about things. Even on the most polarizing of topics there needn’t be both winners and losers.

      We need to find a way into even the conversations of genocide, and maybe it is through a “there but for the grace, go I” pov.

      Appreciate your stopping by.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Forgiveness is Macho Filed Under: A&E, Best of A&E, Best of Good Men Project Magazine, Editors' Picks, Social Media and Men Tagged With: Eric Proulx, facebook, LinkedIn, Lisa Hickey, Malcolm Gladwell, Mark St. Amant, social media, social networking, The Tipping Point, Tom Matlack, Twitter About Lisa HickeyLisa Hickey is CEO of Good Men Media Inc. and publisher of the Good Men Project. "I like to create things that capture the imagination of the general public and become part of the popular culture for years to come." Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter. […]

Speak Your Mind

*