December 19, 2005

Willow: Oz! Wow. Look at us, running into each other, as two people who go to the same school are so likely to do now and then.
Oz: Hey.
Willow: Oz, wait. Please? What I did ... When I think that I hurt you ...
Oz: Yeah. You said all this stuff already.
Willow: Right, but ... I wanna make it up to you. I mean, if you let me, I wanna try.
Oz: Just ... You can leave me alone. I need to figure things out.
Willow: But maybe if we talk about it, we could ...
Oz: Look ... I'm sorry this is hard for you. But I told you what I need. So I can't help feeling like the reason you want to talk is so you can feel better about yourself. That's not my problem.

- "Lover's Lane", Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 3

Every life holds very personal hot-button experiences that just keep surfacing and resurfacing: and sometimes, one or another (even, often and obliviously, of those who brought it up again this time) will request, "We have put it behind us. Can't you let it go?"

But I tend to ask: Have you? Have you released it, completely and utterly? Or are you just trying to forget it ever happened? If you have in fact released it, why this resentment which arises each and every time it is brought up? Why this active aversion to the very mention of its name? To truly release, to truly let go, is to not have to avoid, or avert, or mock, or even request the reference not be brought up. One would be able to mention, without any sense of mockery or raid or paternising: and one would be able to allow others to do so without any specific emotional reaction.

And, thus: one tends even, sometimes, to forget.

(Not "I am much too busy to keep track of every grudge". One tends to remember every small slight much, much better than every generosity. We tend to cling to that which grants us justification, the unspoken inner cry: "I was wronged!" Perhaps the need for personal justification may suggest one reason why it is next to impossible to see oneself as evil, or indeed to see any other as evil of whom one has gained understanding of the reasons behind the actions.)

Release, and the unspoken inner cry falls silent: and one does tend to forget the specifics. There remains nothing which requires personal justice, personal revenge. Another apologises for a verbal fight, and you are trying to remember why an apology was even necessary. Then, belatedly, you remember, and say the words to lift the burden from the other's shoulders: but the words at this point are superfluous.

To release something is to set it aside, completely. It no longer holds any emotional claws in you whatsoever. I once burned my hand on a stove when I was very young. I learned, presumably, not to touch it again (at least while hot). But I don't resent the stove. I honestly don't even remember the incident.

Yet unlike the stovetop, human beings do not have a single "on/off" button which makes them trustable or not: nor can a new encounter be judged by a previous experience. I find that such generalised judging tends rather to create what it would avert: moulding a person into someone who cannot be trusted simply because no one has ever seen reason to allow trust. An administrator who holds a light but firm hand, showing faith that others will accept certain implicit rules for themselves out of mutual respect (but willing to step in should the need truly arise) may well ultimately have fewer problems in the long run than one who believes in "ruling". Assume three premises, then:
  1. Accepting each person as unique, without reference to what others might have done previously.
  2. A basic willingness to trust.
  3. A basic willingness to take a chance on a human being.
Add to this a part of my own experience, which suggests that:
  1. Far, far fewer people are out to "burn" you than the popular urban legend would suggest. (I have yet to find one.)
  2. "Breaks", apparently, are difficult to find: perhaps precisely because most do judge by experience -- and it is the negative experience which sticks, never mind the actual ratio of negative to positive.
  3. Interestingly, in the realm of apology, I have found that forgiveness tends also to be sought based upon previous experience. A person will proffer an apology, not so much when it is sensed that one is required, as when that person's previous experience suggests (often belatedly) that what was said/done/about to be said/done might offend/have offended.
In effect, experience, here, has created shackles of expectation: niching both sides into expected patterns of reaction. This is what I mean by forgetting: for when the eventual (belated) apology (request for forgiveness) follows an action that the other's previous experience suggests might have been ill-received -- but which I had not noticed in this sense at all -- there was, literally, nothing to forgive: although the other cannot see it so, and requires that forgiveness for their own peace.
Oz: I didn't have a choice.
Willow: But you did. You could've told somebody. ...
Oz: I'm sorry. I know.
Willow: I knew, you jerk. And you sat there, and you told me everything was fine? And that's as bad as ... As ...
Oz: I know how it feels. I remember.
Willow: Oh. So what, this is payback? I had this coming?
Oz: No. It's not --
Willow: Because I thought that was behind us. And you know, what happened with Xander, it doesn't compare. Not with what you and I had. Not with whatever you've been doing with her.

- "Wild At Heart", Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4

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