I consider myself a reasonably grateful person. When someone does something nice or helpful, I always want them to know how much I appreciate it, especially if they were at all inconvenienced. I don’t want them to feel disgruntled from wasting their time, or discouraged from being kind again in the future.
At the same time, I have always been one to hold a grudge forever. I say sorry when I wrong others, so I expect reciprocal treatment. When someone apologizes, I forgive pretty easily (though not necessarily forget). But when someone does not apologize, then I never forgive—even if I eventually do forget what happened. I figure, as long as you’re not repenting something bad you did, then you’re holding a grudge in a sense, too. Why should I forgive someone too stubborn to make amends?
Even today, I still think this is logical. When someone keeps silent despite knowing they’ve done something wrong, they are choosing to maintain the status quo: to continue bearing me ill will. And isn’t that what it means to hold a grudge? If you’re the one who messed up, the ball is in your court.
I am finally starting to see, however, that this mentality is not very gracious. Most of my life, I’ve been more preoccupied with being “right” than good. I have to remind myself that:
- Being right isn’t everything
- The vast majority of the time, people are oblivious, not malicious
- Others don’t think about you as much as you would imagine.
Yes, as hard as it may be to believe—because I always feel so self-conscious and paranoid—maybe some people genuinely do not remember being jerks. So when someone has slighted me and still not acknowledged it after a long time, I am slowly becoming more inclined to believe they may have simply forgotten.
I am also trying to stop being locked into modes of expression. Sometimes people don’t explicitly say, “I’m sorry,” but they do feel bad, and they extend an olive branch through a hug or meal. Historically, I have struggled to accept these “alternative” apologies. I would not consider them genuine enough, and I would still hold a little grudge. No matter how warm they were before or after committing an offense, part of me would still be cold until I heard a literal “sorry.” I believed it was pride holding them back from saying the word, and if they truly cared or were conscientious, they would swallow that pride.
But maybe some people simply don’t value verbal apologies, or realize how much others do. If we accept that individuals have different love languages, then it makes sense that we would have different ways of showing remorse, too. Waiting for everyone who has ever hurt you to state the word is as futile and disappointing as expecting all your romantic interests to use “words of affirmation.”
And I think this ties into gratitude, because if your forgiveness has conditions, then you’re not really grateful for others’ seeking grace or redemption. If apologies have to be on your terms, then you’re making the situation about you, whereas gratitude should be about others and appreciating their positive traits. It isn’t enough to be grateful only when people are being awesome; that’s easy and says little. You also have to be accepting and appreciative when they make mistakes but still do good things at other times. People are flawed and not always self-aware. That doesn’t make them horrible and undeserving of your kindness.
I often have negative thoughts about people that I know are petty and unwarranted. After upsetting me, they could buy me a bunch of shiny new gadgets and I would still carry this bitterness (could you guess that gifts are not my love language?) until I either told them off or managed to crush it myself. By the latter, I mean that sometimes I can’t get over a thought until I’ve sort of pressed it over and over in my mind, like a rolling pin flattening dough. I think I need to do this more, and get better at it. In many cases these thoughts are so trivial and vindictive that, if voiced, they would hurt more than heal. And I believe the more I can let these things go, the more I can legitimately call myself a grateful person.