What We Talk About When We Talk About Forgiveness
It’s been a banner few weeks for redemption stories. We started with the announcement that Louis CK did a surprise stand-up set at New York’s Comedy Cellar, which was greeted with a standing ovation, and an passionate insistence by fellow comedian Norm MacDonald that he’s lost everything and endured enough.
Last weekend’s New York Review of Books featured a lengthy essay by Canadian radio host Jian Ghomeshi, who lost his job after accusations that he hit and/or bit numerous female sexual partners without their consent. It was the usual blather written by someone who doesn’t really think he did anything wrong, but fine, if you say so, then he did. The real meat and potatoes can be found in an interview Review of Books editor Ian Buruma gave to Slate. Though the interviewer makes a yeoman’s effort at trying to corner the squirrelly Buruma, he mostly gives a lot of dismissive non-answers about his decision to run Ghomeshi’s essay, claiming that what Ghomeshi supposedly did or didn’t do “isn’t my concern.” Buruma has since lost his job, but the message remains clear: the interesting story in the #metoo movement is not the women who started it, but the men who have been “punished” by it.
Not to be outdone, New York ran a discomfiting profile this week on the marriage of Woody Allen and Soon-Yi Previn, written by one of Allen’s friends, that portrays Previn as Allen’s co-dependent “we’ve never spent a night apart since we got married” caregiver, and suggests that Allen, even after more than six decades of therapy, is utterly lacking in insight and self-awareness. If its intention was to change public opinion on the nature of their relationship, it probably didn’t work, particularly when Previn claims that their first kiss happened while watching The Seventh Seal, which is something so perfectly on brand for Woody Allen that it comes off like a Family Guy gag.
That’s probably not what the point of the article was anyway. Author Daphne Merkin has been an outspoken opponent of #metoo, so it’s not surprising that fully half the piece is devoted to how hard it’s been for Allen since his adopted daughter accused him of child molestation, a claim she has not wavered on in more than 20 years. Granted, Allen has always seemed more annoyed than distraught over such heinous accusations, but surely we can still see that he’s really the victim here, and not tragic, misguided, coached by the evil Mia Dylan.
The common thread in these stories is “Haven’t these men suffered enough? What more do we want?” #Metoo has run rough-shod over these poor fellows who just made a simple mistake, and must be forced to pay for it again and again. It doesn’t matter if exactly none of them made any real amends towards their victims. It doesn’t matter that, if any apology was given at all, it came steeped in a warm broth of self-pity. Isn’t it time to forgive them and move on?
When we try to push someone into forgiving an individual who wronged them, we rely on the modern psychobabble of forgiveness being a gift you give yourself. Just let all that anger and negativity go, and you’ll feel so much better. But what we really mean is that we don’t want them to talk about it anymore. We want them to let things return to normal. “Moving on” means they’ll stop making other people uncomfortable with their pain. The victim is silent once more, just as everyone wishes they had stayed in the first place.
It’s not at all surprising to note that the onus of forgiving lies mostly on women. There’s something classically masculine about holding grudges. Vengeance is the fuel that powers most action movies, but when it’s a woman in the lead, unless she’s wearing skintight leather forget it. We’re expected to gracefully put the needs of the person who wronged us ahead of our own, not only so they can return to their normal lives, but so that other people can feel better about still liking and supporting them.
I have someone in my life whom I’ve yet to forgive. The situation doesn’t involve sexual assault (that’s a whole separate story altogether), but when it comes to the issue of forgiveness there are similar elements: “it was a long time ago,” “they’ve changed,” “it would make you feel better if you let it go.” I don’t want to let it go. I feel fine about my anger. It doesn’t consume me, as people like to assume, and it doesn’t impact my ability to relate to other people in a healthy manner. I don’t wish bad things for this person. I don’t wish anything at all for them, nor do I feel obligated to tell them something that simply isn’t true just so they’ll feel better about themselves.
Maybe I will someday, but it won’t be until I feel it’s the right time, and no amount of badgering or guilt-tripping about how much this other person is suffering will make a difference. I don’t think they’re suffering, just like I don’t think Louis CK, or Jian Ghomeshi, or Woody Allen, or Devin Faraci, or Matt Lauer, or Les Moonves, or Harvey Weinstein are suffering. They all just want to be told that they don’t have to be reminded of what they did, and the pain they caused anymore. They all just want to be told that nothing’s really changed.