Think before you react
There are times when we are upset with others, or when someone has hurt us and we feel spiteful or we seek retribution. What purpose does it serve to feel this way? Does it help you? In many such situations time will pass, be it minutes, days, months or years, and then we find room in our heart to forgive the person for what they have done.
Often we have heard that we should think before we act, this is especially true when teaching our children how to behave. The case I am making here is that we also have the time to think before we react. When faced with a specific situation where a person has hurt us, take the time before you react to find a way to forgive. The way I use is to measure the event that took place as compared to the entirety of my lifetime. Is what just happened going to be remembered ten or twenty years down the road? Will it have a lasting impact that I will not be able to adapt to? Is there anything that can be done about what has happened, or since it is already done, can it just be left in the past?
Another way to look at it is to equate what happened five minutes ago, with something that has happened five or more years ago. Something that has already happened, in what way is it different from something that happened a long time ago? It is fresher in our memory and we are still reeling from the effects of it, yes, but really both events are in the past. Why not learn to treat something that has just happened with the same strength of reaction to something that happened five or more years go?
Let me give you a few examples.
My friend Doug was going to pick me up to take me to an NHL game, I had the tickets but he was driving us there. He was supposed to pick me up at 5:30PM but he lost track of time playing video games and only came to pick me up at 6:45PM. We only got to the arena halfway through the first period and by the time we got to our seats the first period was almost over.
My immediate reaction when he arrived to pick me up could have been this: "Doug!! I'm so upset!! We're going to miss the first period, there's going to be traffic now to make us even later!! This is the last time I ever go to a game with you!"
Or, when he arrived, I could think before I react. I could choose how I would respond. Being late for this game, how does it compare to any other serious event in the past? Is there a way to go back in time and have Doug arrive promptly? Does it serve a purpose to get angry at Doug? The moment he arrived to pick me up he was already late, but that moment, once it passed, how is it any different from an event like eating breakfast that morning, or learning how to ride a bike as a kid - it's all in the past.
So this is how I reacted: "Doug! Great, you're here, let's get going!" Doug is instantly forgiven, we can move on and though we were late, we enjoyed what was left of the game.
Here is another example. It is a cold winter night when I am driving my kids home from a party they had gone to. The roads are slippery and the driving is tricky. I'm keeping my distance and driving safely but then as I am going through an intersection another car hits us hard and the back passenger door that is the only protection one of my children has gets dented severely. Fortunately she only gets bruised; things could have been much worse.
My immediate reaction could be: "Oh My God! You could have killed my child!! You maniac driver, can't you see the road conditions are terrible!" Add a bunch of expletives and you get the idea.
Or, after the accident I could choose to react with calm and instant forgiveness. Relegate the event that really just happened moments ago to a plane of all past events that have happened before this moment in time. Realize that what has happened has already happened, there is nothing that can be done to undo it or to make it such that it didn't happen. We can't go back and change it, this is now the reality that we have to deal with and adapt to.
This idea of instant forgiveness is not something that can just be turned on or activated. It takes time to learn how to work and think this way. I have been practicing this philosophy for many years now and still I don't quite always get it right. I think the key is to really pay attention to how you react to all situations as they happen. Figure out which of those situations would eventually require you to forgive someone for something they have done, then decide to forgive them immediately.
There are some questions about this that even I have that I do not know how to answer. Can instant forgiveness be applied in all circumstances? What if in that car crash my child was killed? It can be argued that if it was an accident due to the road conditions one may not feel as angry as if your child was murdered, but then that begs the question - do you instantly forgive, or do you even forgive at all someone who outright murders a child or loved one? I believe that the answer to these questions is a personal one that only each of us alone can answer.