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  • Writer's pictureMC Mendez

I beg your pardon?

At a time where we're supposed to keep a certain Zen attitude, no matter what's going on, we hear a lot of talk about acceptance and forgiveness in a way that the two should somehow be the same. However they are very different things.

What is the difference between acceptance and forgiveness?

Let's imagine a scenario where someone lies to you about something important. The lie feels like a betrayal and you cannot accept it, let alone forgive it. However the fact remains that the person has lied to you. It's a reality. Paradoxically not accepting it would be like lying to yourself. Acceptance could therefore be useful, not necessarily to lead to forgiveness, but to help you see the situation for what it really is and therefore deal it.

“People might tell you that time heals all and that eventually you will be able to forgive or that you must forgive otherwise it will be bad for your Karma. But what if you are not ready to do so? What then?”

While you wait for forgiveness to come, you might spend a lot of time and energy, being angry, deflated or upset, going over and over the wrong that has been done to you, unable to move on. That's because at that stage you still can't accept that you've been lied to. And that may be because acceptance is often linked to endorsement or forgiveness, and at that moment the mere notion of accepting or forgiving would be like betraying your values and everything you ever stood for. So sometimes, we avoid accepting something for fear of giving into the perpetrator or worse, for fear of forgiving him or her in the process. The problem with that, is that without acceptance we’re as good as stuck.

The key to that predicament is making a clear distinction between acceptance and endorsement. It's not because you accept something that you agree with it or are happy about it. If it's raining today, I accept it as a reality even if it does not fit my plans of going sunbathing but taking that into account allows me to make other plans.

Acceptance allows you to take stock of reality and act in your best interest accordingly. This enables you to accept things you disagree with. In our earlier case it would mean that you would agree with the fact that you've been lied to even if you don't approve of lying as a general rule. Knowing that, you might realise that you have been a little too trusting on this occasion, or you might decide to change the relationship you have with that person etc...

Acceptance of a fact gives you room to position yourself and act according to the situation even if you're not ok with what has happened to you. In a way it is an agreement with yourself about an event, it has nothing to do with the other party. You may not agree with the morality of the event, but you take into consideration that it has happened and you can then ask yourself what you want to do about it for yourself. You're therefore in a position to make a choice.

Forgiveness also involves acceptance of an action or event, with the added element of having come to terms with it. When you forgive, you also accept the other person's behaviour, you may even understand it and feel compassion for that person. It's a great outcome but not one that should come systematically with acceptance.

So don't get stuck on acceptance because you can't even consider the thought of forgiveness. They're not the same thing. Maybe one day you'll be able to forgive and that's great but acceptance only concerns you and no one else, and that seems like a useful place to start!

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