The truly personal piece – even as obviously anything written here is from the writer’s own worldview – is rare for me. My hope is that in banging this out it will help not only me come to grips with a situation, but other culers who are struggling in the same way.
During yesterday’s Classic, I had an awful moment. During the screaming and exultation over what ultimately turned out to be the winning goal, what entered my mind amid the din was, “Why did it have to be him?”
I felt awful for having that thought, for so many reasons, not least of which is my Buddhist belief system which has a very clear view about forgiveness, summed up in this excellent piece at the Dharma Wisdom site.
Its context is essentially, how to forgive the unforgiveable, what is forgiveness and how do we reconcile an unspeakable act with the act of forgiveness. True forgiveness. Here is the best, and most pertinent excerpt from the piece, which is really worth reading no matter your belief system:
Forgiveness can be understood as a spiritual practice and has been taught as such by Jesus, the Buddha, and many other spiritual teachers. Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines forgiveness in this manner: “To cease to feel resentment against on account of a wrong committed.” This definition is poignantly illustrated in a well-known Tibetan Buddhist story about two monks who encounter each other some years after being released from prison where they had been tortured by their captors. “Have you forgiven them?” asks the first. “I will never forgive them! Never!” replies the second. “Well, I guess they still have you in prison, don’t they?” the first says.
Forgiveness practice is about liberating your own feelings and finding meaning in the worst of life’s events. You practice forgiveness to be free of the inner violence of your rage, and you do not abandon the pursuit of right action. In fact, you gain clear seeing that allows you to use skillful means in bringing sustainable peace.
There is a misguided idea that to forgive is to accept, that by forgiving an act we somehow condone that it happened, but that isn’t the case. Everyone has done things in their life for which they had to beg, and hope for forgiveness. I have. I know you have. We all have. When forgiveness comes, through direct or indirect action, most of what the person who is being forgiven feels is relief. But shouldn’t the person who is doing the forgiving also feel relief? You release this thing from your heart, letting a wound heal, in effect.
When the club bought Luis Suarez, it was a player with a history: biting, and being found guilty of racist action. I stomped my feet and penned a screed about a board that would do anything to win, even signing an unrepentant bit of skeeze such as this. Obviously, I was against it. Over time, and it’s important to note that this was true even when Suarez was struggling to hit the broad side of a barn with a football, I was struggling with a hard heart because that hardness is essentially against everything that I believe in.
Two years ago at the national track cycling championships, I was the fastest guy there in my age division. In the semi-finals I won the first ride easily. In the second ride my opponent pulled a move that was illegal. I backed off rather than crashing. I protested, and was denied. The feelings that arose in me were intensely negative, to the effect of “We’ll see in this third ride. Somebody is going down!” I felt terrible for that emotion, and withdrew from the competition. It felt like the best action in keeping with my beliefs, and still does because not only is the sport in which I participate supposed to be about joy and fun, but nothing good ever comes from a negative emotion.
So here I sit with Suarez, yesterday’s hard heart and awful feeling rooted in the question, “Why did it have to be him?” On Twitter this morning I noted the existence of that feeling, and someone for whom I have the deepest respect and admiration sent me a message about that situation, a message that made me think and make an effort to come to terms with me and my feelings, rooted in a debate I was having about Neymar. People in Barca Twitter commented that perhaps if Neymar wasn’t so obsessed with his hair and Instagram, he would be playing better.
Now the obvious absurdity in such a worldview is that he was doing the same hair and Instagram stuff when he was banging in goals for fun, so why would it be different now? Further, an excellent point was made about the expectation of a Barca player, which is to come to the match and give his all for the team, that demanding that a player adhere to some sort of behavioral standard was madness and prima facie unfair because of the malleability of said standards. My defense of Neymar was automatic, based in my own sense of fairness. The struggle to come to grips with the Suarez thoughts came hot on the heels of that and have, frankly, left me more than a little ashamed.
I don’t like what this board has done to the football club that I love. Suarez is for me, part of that sense of “anything” that seems to motivate so many actions perpetrated by the board. So Suarez has links to the board in my head and in my heart, links that hinder that act of forgiveness. So many say that Suarez is a good man, a loving father who is good to his children, but that isn’t the point. The point is that he performed acts on a football pitch that are rather reprehensible, and the reactions to those acts.
Forgiveness isn’t easy. It’s different than an apology, an act of contrition which in this day and age too often means “Sorry I got caught.” True contrition exists in the acts after the apology, rather than in the apology itself. Apology is really single-sided. One person apologizes, and it’s up to the other person whether they accept said apology, but the acceptance doesn’t have any effect on the apology, no matter its sincerity. Forgiveness is usually considered to be two-sided. One has to forgive, and the other has to be forgiven. But that perception of the symbiotic act is incorrect. Forgiveness is in its purest form, just as one-sided as an apology. If someone forgives, the other person doesn’t matter because what the act of forgiveness does is removes that little bit of negative energy not only from your heart, but from the world.
Hard-heartedness is, like many emotions, fear-based. As people, we spend so much of our lives in fear. Fear drives a lot of what we do. Fear of being wrong, fear of what someone might say if we deviate from a hard and fast position, fear that someone might laugh at us. Fear is a thing that also hinders so much of what we do, including altering the capacity to forgive.
Sporting joy is pure. It reduces us to canines, essentially, as a dog’s love is unconditional. “This is the best bone ever!” We love our teams. When our teams do well, the joy is complete and glorious in an ideal world. We sometimes weep, sometimes cheer, but there is that rawness that is so unspeakably wonderful. My “why him?” moment intruded, sullied that purity in a way that was tough to deal with, a moment that is now gone. And as we build forts around positions that are meaningless – Suarez doesn’t care what I think – it’s easy to wonder about our stake in them. What’s the emotional investment in denying forgiveness, for me?
Comfort is an odd thing that soothes us at times when we need it. If I had to actually accept that I needed to forgive Suarez, where would that lead? What would happen if he bit someone again, or stood accused of racially abusing another player? Does that mean that I was stupid, and my forgiveness was misguided, that I should have stuck to my guns so that I could then say “See? Told you he would.” That’s all fear-based, and it’s long past time to be unafraid.
You can forgive someone who doesn’t care about your forgiveness except in the abstract. Does the act of forgiving Suarez free my heart to become a fuller, more complete culer, more vested in unconditional love for the club? Good question. It certainly removes a barrier to my fullest immersion in the pure emotion of sporting joy and it also, honestly, makes me less of a prat.
Suarez did what he did. Forgiveness doesn’t eradicate those actions or imply that you accept those actions. But it does mean that you have become, in a small but significant way, just a little bit more human.