"Forgive & Forget": A Terminology Deconstruction
Billions of people, billions of hearts and an unfathomable number of thoughts. They cross us every day on the streets en route towards our go-to coffee shops, during the habitual work commutes as well as inside of our own very minds.
Our heads are filled with essences - essences of people. Recollections of what they said to us yesterday, memories of the picnics held years ago and the longer lasting feelings that seem to have settled in a prominent form within ourselves.
The majority of us will have heard of the expression “forgive and forget”, and I feel that it holds significant value. However, the phrase could possibly benefit from a bit of deconstruction to delve beyond its surface level.
What is “forgiveness” and what does it truly mean to “forget”? Who has the right of place to universally define these things, or do they stand as being rather more relative? According to the online Cambridge Dictionary, to “forgive” is ‘to stop blaming or being angry with someone for something that person has done, or not to punish them for something’, whereas psychologists attempt to define it as ‘a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance towards a person or group [...], regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness’ (S.1).
Here a slight discrepancy can already be noted, with one definition taking on an academic sort of approach in regards to defining, whereas the other appears to bear an increased amount of thought to human details upon undergoing the internal act themselves. Forgiveness, at least in my opinion, is nearly wholly an internal act. The external act of verbalizing to, for instance, a person, that they are forgiven may be the forgiver's desired end result but this physical affirmation isn’t something mandatory.
You can forgive someone internally without having to express it externally, but you can’t truly forgive someone externally if you aren’t settled inside. To do so would be to deny yourself of your feelings, and living in denial is a heavy mountain to carry.
The act of forgiving differs between each person seeking it but for a large number of people forgiving is somewhat synonymic to seeking closure or acceptance. Whether the person being forgiven is someone you know or yourself, forgiveness isn’t always easy, but looking at it through your own personal lens of subjectivity as opposed to something already defined by others may help to make it more approachable. Definitions can provide a good base level of guidance, but when it comes to matters of the mind and heart one can’t so simply place a concrete meaning upon them.
And what about forgetting, what does it mean to “forget”? Do we ever really entirely forget about something? Oxford Languages quite plainly define the term as to ‘fail to remember’(S.2), but if something were to so evidently affect us to the extent that we were to feel it necessary to seek forgiveness, then are we dealing with something that can truly be wiped from our consciousness?
As with forgiveness resembling other terms such as acceptance and closure, I feel that ‘to forget’ between the lines reads less about utter discardation and more about the art of letting go. If forgiving and forgetting were to actually result in wiping past experiences from our minds, then how would we learn to not make the same mistakes again? And if we were able to remove emotions maintaining negative connotations quite so easily, then how would we be able to take the necessary time to listen to what they are trying to communicate to us?
If I were to be given the opportunity to redefine the term “forget” in this context of forgiveness, it would be changed into something to the approximation of ‘to accept that you are allowed to detach yourself from an emotion, person or event, whilst also accepting that it had occurred or has been felt’.
Of course, this deconstruction has come from the perspective of taking the saying including these two words as closer to literal but I appreciate that, dependent on personal factors such as beliefs or lifestyle, this may not always be the case.
What do you think about forgiving and forgetting? What do these words mean to you?
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