We woke up to a winter wonderland in my neighbourhood this morning. As I type right now, big, fluffy snowflakes are continuing to fall. It’s the last day of class before winter break for my kids, so this morning I thanked my lucky stars that we’re able to walk to school.
Driving in the snow in Vancouver is a real nightmare. Very few people have snow tires, let alone any other equipment to make driving in the snow easier. There are very few snowplows so if you’re not travelling on a major route (and sometimes even if you are) you can expect that the streets won’t be cleared. The temperature hovers around freezing, so the snow melts during the day and freezes into slick sheets of ice overnight. Add in the fact that few of us have any real experience driving in the snow and you can see why it’s best to stay out of your car if you can avoid it.
My children’s school is at the top of a hill on the side of a mountain. While my street is flat, the ground starts to rise steeply a couple of blocks from my house. In front of the school the street is slightly curved and very steep. On snowy days in the past I have seen some pretty scary things, like cars sliding backwards on to the sidewalk as they attempted to climb the hill. This morning, with fresh snow on the ground and no snowplows in sight I saw a car sliding slowly down the hill, horn blaring, as the driver attempted to stop and failed. He eventually managed it, however as I made my way home I saw evidence that another driver wasn’t so lucky. The result was a four car collision at the bottom of the hill.
While I picked my way carefully down the sidewalk, I heard somebody talking to a friend about the accident. I don’t know if he was involved himself or not, however he was relaying an argument he’d had with someone else. He said that he’d told this other person that there was no point in lying, as he had his phone and he could just snap a picture of exactly what had happened. He knew he was in the right, and he had the evidence to prove it.
I myself have been involved in a couple of minor car accidents, from both sides of the equation. Fortunately, when my car was hit while I was stopped at a stop sign one snowy day years ago, the person who hit me was honest and upfront and took responsibility. When I tapped the back of another car at an intersection I took responsibility, as well. I can’t speak for the other parties, but for myself, I felt the outcome was fair and reasonable in both cases. I’m glad, because I know it isn’t always so, as the conversation I overheard this morning shows.
As I left the accident behind me and walked home through the beautiful-yet-treacherous streets, I started to think about fairness and forgiveness. It’s timely, since as I explained last week I’m launching a new “Forgiveness Fridays” blog series. As I thought, it occurred to me that one of the big reasons that people aren’t able to forgive is that they don’t feel a situation has been resolved fairly. They don’t feel as if they’ve been heard. They haven’t had the chance to make their case clearly. Their needs and emotions haven’t been honoured.
We’ve all been there. We all know how bad that feels. We also know, as adults, that life isn’t always fair. In fact, it’s very frequently unfair.
I will never have a chance to speak with the man who swore at me and gave me the finger in a bank parking lot when my son Jacob was three months old and crying in the back of my car, and his big sister Hannah was asking me question after question after question about what happens when you die. I will never be able to explain how frazzled and stressed out I was, how long I had been putting off running that errand because I was frankly afraid to leave the house with my kids, how what I needed most in the world at that moment was a little bit of understanding, how I still remember how badly my hands shook as I pulled up to the automatic teller.
At the same time, that man will never have the chance to tell me about the terrible day he’d been having. How late he was running. How the fact that I didn’t pull up far enough for him to pass me when he clearly felt I could have impacted him. We will never be able to have a reasonable conversation, explain our feelings, or apologize for our respective infractions.
This leaves the question: when we’ve been wronged in some way, and life is unfair, what do we do with that? While I pondered this, I came across an interview with Robert D. Enright, author of The Forgiving Life. This quote from the interview stood out for me:
People … think that when they forgive they are excusing what the other person did, saying, “It’s okay.” Forgiveness is stronger than that. Forgiveness stands on the truth that what happened to me was unfair, it is unfair, and it will always be unfair, but I will have a new response to it.
This actually ties in to what I found last week in the Wikipedia article on forgiveness, which distinguishes between forgiveness and excusing, as well as forgiveness and condoning, pardoning, forgetting and reconciling. Dr. Enright says that forgiveness is about practicing goodness towards others who have been unfair to us, even as we seek justice. So, if we go back to the car accident this morning, I think it means being kind, and extending courtesy towards the other party, even as you advocate for yourself and your view of the events that happened. When we practice goodness towards ourselves and others we feel better, even if nothing else has really changed.
It’s not easy, though.
I’m going to be thinking about this a lot more, and I’m also going to be making up a reading list for myself. I’d like to check out some books on forgiveness. I’ll be adding The Forgiving Life to that list, but if you have any other recommendations, please pass them along. I’d also like to hear your thoughts on forgiveness and fairness. How do you let go of anger when life has been unfair? How do you forgive and move on, without excusing? Please share!