I see you. I see you as a human being. Only after I was truly able to see myself as a human being and forgive my-self for all my mistakes was I able to see others as human beings, too.
I now know that “hurt people hurt people.” Therefore, I know that if you have hurt another human being, it is because YOU have been hurt — probably many times — by authorities, institutions, society, friends, and often by family members who were supposed to love and protect you.
For 13 years I hated my father for taking my mother’s life. She was going to leave him and he simply didn’t know how to handle that. At 18, I came home from work one day to find she had been strangled, raped and left to die on our living room couch.
I vowed never to speak to him again, and I didn’t for 13 years. I wanted him to suffer because that’s what I was doing. Over the years, I wished I could forgive him and move on. But I couldn’t understand how to forgive someone who caused me so much pain. It didn’t make sense to me.
My healing process was unintentionally prompted by a life-altering workshop called the Landmark Forum, which challenged life as I knew it. We aren’t responsible for what happens to us, but we’re responsible for how we respond to it. I learned about myself on a very deep level; I also learned that the way I viewed the world was based on my very specific life experiences.
Growing up, we make definitive statements about ourselves, others, and life around us as a way of assessing life. This happens in an instant. Our minds assign meaning to situations in order to make sense of them. Although, when this happens it doesn’t occur as an assessment; it occurs as facts. While this is a perfectly natural phenomenon, the important thing to distinguish is that not all of our beliefs serve us. Which ones hold us back from peace of mind? What “facts” are we holding on to because of resentment, even though we are the ones who are suffering?
One small example is when I was 6 years old with my mom. As a child, I was pretty goofy and rambunctious. I was trying to be funny, but whatever I said must have come out the wrong way. All I remember is my mom turning to me and saying, “Sam, that really hurt me.” It was the first time in my life I was aware of a world “out there” and that my actions have an impact on people.
I loved my mom very much. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her. In an instant and almost unconsciously, I made that split-second interaction mean that I was a “mean” person, and vowed to be “loving” from that day forward. I didn’t actually think it would work, or that I would even remember, but I had in fact created that belief within me that very moment.
If you ask people what type of person I am, most will say “loving.” And thatʼs no coincidence. Ever since that day, I have been unconsciously trying to make up for the fact that “Iʼm mean.” And no matter how “loving” I am, somewhere in my subconscious the belief that “I am a mean person” is still at play. If I look closely enough, I can see that belief being played out during most situations of self-doubt throughout my life.
Other beliefs I created growing up are: “I’m not that smart,” “Life is hard,” “People don’t understand,” “I’m trying my best.” And I can see these beliefs pop up often whenever I am challenged. This workshop made me realize I wasn’t the only person in the world who was suffering. It wasn’t all about me. We are all simply figuring out life as we go along, and whether it looks like it or not, we really are all doing our best with the tools we have at the time.
These beliefs I had about myself, others, and life kept me locked into certain knee-jerk reactions and emotional states. It wasn’t until I became aware of these “facts” that existed in me, and how I had bought into them, that I was able to see myself as a beautiful creature who is perfect, whole, and complete as my birthright. After that, I was able to see others as perfect, whole, and complete as their birthright. That they too have layered “facts” about themselves, others, and the world around them that dictate who they believe they are and how the world is.
I suddenly had compassion for people I had longstanding resentments towards. I reached out to those I had hurt or deemed “bad,” “stupid” or “hurtful” and apologized for keeping people at arm’s length due to these beliefs. A true sense of personal freedom and peace of mind came to me as I took responsibility for my point of view.
A life-altering day came when I was celebrating the peace I had made with everyone, and I suddenly remembered that I hadn’t spoken to my dad in 13 years. I thought, “Why did I take this stupid workshop?!” I was torn. I didn’t know what to do. Is there a line for what is forgivable and what isn’t? Are some people worthy of compassion and some aren’t? I thought about it for another week or so, but I couldn’t deny the peace in my heart and mind I was getting from being vulnerable and brutally honest with myself about how others, just as myself, are worthy of compassion and understanding — that we are all dealing with pain, anger, resentment, fear, and the need for love and acceptance. I knew that if I was going to have compassion for humanity, then like it or not, my dad was included in that group.