Recently, there was a long debate in a writers’ group on Facebook about “forgiveness.” One contingent felt that forgiveness wasn’t possible unless the sinner acknowledged his sin. Others felt—and I tended to agree—that forgiveness was more a clearing-away of attachment, that holding adamantly onto it was, in a quote from Anne Lamott, like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.
I avoided taking sides. I was startled—well, no, I kinda expected it—that a writers’ group would be debating a word that no one ever defined: what was the sin, how dire was it, what was the relationship to the supposed sinner? Was this a major crime, or was it an accidental toe-step? Was it a stranger or your beloved? Did repentance demand a casual “I’m sorry” or the refund of a thousand bucks?
Myself, I’ve only held two grudges. One was a guy who hurt a friend of mine, the other was someone who cost me money. I rarely think of either, and we’ve not had contact for decades. On the other hand, I’ve accused myself of many things, none of which can be forgiven to the persons involved. In either case, as sinner or sinned, I understand the character and the reasons for the sin. At least that’s what this writer does.
But I had the privilege, even in high school, of reading several books on general semantics. The basic message: the word is not the thing. What does the sign concretely refer to? Are you talking about the same thing? “Love” can refer to a locust invasion of things: ardent lust, obsessive focus, murderous possessiveness, or Heinlein’s beautiful, demanding definition: a state where the happiness of the beloved is essential to your own. A vast range, meaningful to the individuals involved, but every color of the rainbow.
The same range of meanings form prickly skins on other abstractions: wealth, happiness, patriotism, faith.
Fine to argue about what’s best, but absurd to carry forth the quarrel without knowing you’re speaking of different things. When the talk veers into “You should do it like this,” beware. In the writers’ group, such questions may beg for an answer, e.g. “Is a story in first person better than in third?” I can offer my own experience, but it’s usually in the form of “Depends on the story” or “Try it both ways.” Or “Is ‘Bold Killers’ a good title? Title for what?
Too many people are primed to honk when I slow down to make a turn. Or they may just honk to be heard.