6 Questions to Help You Come to Terms with Forgiving
Imagine learning you had a tumor that’s not life-threatening but needs to be removed right away. You’re relieved that the surgery will end the unexplained symptoms of dizziness and lethargy you’ve been having, and you’re looking forward to getting back to your usual self. But after the operation, your doctor confesses he’s made a horrible mistake that will leave you with a lifetime of medical issues.
Given the choice between vengefully suing the surgeon or forgiving him then letting go, what would you do?
Unfortunately, I’ve had to answer that exact question.
When I was diagnosed with a tumor on my adrenal gland, my surgeon removed my left gland when in fact the tumor was on the right. This mistake destroyed my health and left me with a lifetime of medical issues that can never be fully resolved and will likely take years off my life.
My family’s immediate reaction was: “Let’s get revenge. Let’s sue the surgeon for everything he’s worth.” My friends agreed. But this thought brought me no comfort. On the contrary, the idea of devoting my precious energy to pursuing the negative force of revenge made me feel even more bitter and exhausted. I realized it wouldn’t mend my broken body or soul.
After months of soul searching, I decided to do the one thing that felt right for my own future. I decided to embark on a quest for peace and healing, beginning by seeking space in my heart to forgive. Only by forgiving the surgeon and moving on, I realized, could I reclaim my emotional health—which in turn impacts my physical wellbeing.
Along the way I was forced to consider what forgiveness would mean to me, and why I would choose it at all. This process helped me come to terms with, and ultimately go through with, the decision to forgive the surgeon whose mistake altered my life so profoundly.
Here are the questions that helped me make—and live with—my decision.
1. What outcome do you want and need, and will revenge help you get it?
It is important to ask yourself this as a first step. Often once somebody wrongs us, our gut reaction is to get even. But is that really the end result you’re seeking? And will it really make things right? You might not be able to achieve the exact result you want. In my case, I will never get my health back. But you can ask yourself what would be the next best outcome. For me, that was peace and emotional healing, which revenge would not help me achieve.
2. What would be the upside of revenge, and how would it make a positive impact?
The only potential upside I saw in my situation was for some good to come out of it—some new understanding, some change in the status quo that contributed to this situation. After much reflection, I realized that revenge would not have this effect. Considering whether your own situation might be turned around to make a broader, positive impact can weigh revenge versus forgiveness more clearly.
3. Would revenge help change the status quo that contributed to this situation in any way?
If you’re unable to fix the harm that was done to you, perhaps you can help fix the system that led to it. That was important to me. Ask yourself whether (and how) getting even and causing the person who wronged you to suffer will help change the system or structures that led to the wrongdoing.
4. Is this about justice, and if so, what does justice look like to you?
I spent a long time contemplating how justice could be achieved. I had been robbed of my adrenal gland. You can’t attach a dollar value to that. And I wondered: What does justice look like? An eye for an eye? A scale in perfect balance? No reparations or apologies could right this wrong. Getting even, I realized, was not justice. If I was ever to make peace with what happened to me, I’d have to find that balance within myself. Food for thought.
5. How genuine will the satisfaction be of knowing that you’ve made the person who wronged you suffer?
I knew that by suing and seeking revenge I could make the surgeon suffer. But I realized that if there’s any satisfaction to be found in the suffering of another person, it’s a hollow satisfaction—a void within the soul. It felt toxic to me. How would that satisfaction feel to you?
6. Who is this decision about: you—or the person who wronged you?
While contemplating revenge, I understood that whether I decided to go through with suing the doctor or not, the decision had to be about me—not him. What did I want for my future? What did I need in order to heal? The doctor’s future was of no significance in this equation.
After considering these questions and my answers for many months, I began to see that this tragedy—while it was not a gift in itself—opened doors to a host of hidden blessings that have enriched my life in many ways. And I have come to believe that forgiveness is always the best choice, and reaching that conclusion is half the journey.