Am I too forgiving?
February 9, 2016 10:39 PM   Subscribe

I know this is not an easy question to answer, but: people ask me for things, including people who have not been super nice to me in the past. When it doesn't cost me much, I generally try to help. But am I being too forgiving?

I usually am a person who tends to hold grudges and never forget or forgive. But in the past few years I've changed as a person to one where I've let go and see things that they have done to me not as a personal attack, but rather as a result of their own personalities and histories. I've been a lot happier as a result, and for the first time I've truly not spent most of my waking hours angry.

Recently two events happened:

1. Someone I was no contact for a while reached out to me through creative means and asked to say an apology and to have dinner. Usually I would have been livid and/or ignore. But that person had been on my mind lately, and I realized that I overreacted in some ways. My expectations are still low and I still don't 100% trust this person, but I want to accept and I want to go to dinner because I want to hear this person out. Am I being too accommodating?

2. A family friend that also was no contact reached out to me randomly because he wants his friend to get a job. We haven't talked in years - there was no dramatic blowup between us personally, just awkwardness because our families didn't get along recently. But he didn't really ask how I was in the email - just straight up asked me. My sister is enraged and think it's very inappropriate and that he is "using me." But I say, why not help. This person may be a good candidate, and it's low cost to me. Am I being too accommodating?

It's strange because I used to be the opposite person - lots of pride. But am I going too far in the other direction?
posted by pando11 to Human Relations (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
#1 - to allow someone to apologize and, if the apology is sincere, to accept it is a good thing. Accepting this dinner invitation will allow you the chance to see if the person is able to offer a genuine apology and perhaps to repair the relationship. I think this is entirely appropriate.

#2 - yes the person is "using" you. It is entirely your choice if you want to be generous or not. In this case, where it costs very little, I might consider it an act of adding to the goodness of universe by being generous just because you can. Would you do this favor for a random stranger you met on a bus? Probably yes. So do it just because it is a way to practice being a kind and generous person, even to those who haven't earned it. On the other hand, it would be entirely reasonable to say "no" as well - your choice.
posted by metahawk at 10:50 PM on February 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I suspect that people who don't hold grudges, are generous for the sake of it and trust other people are probably pretty happy. But me, personally, for #1 if in retrospect I felt I was in the wrong, I would hear the other person out but generally keep my guard up and then #2 I would ignore and (in my head) tell him to fuck off because I wouldn't want to be in a position of vouching for someone I don't even know at my job as a favor to someone who clearly doesn't give a crap about me. I think you should do what makes you comfortable and not question whether it's what someone else would do. I don't see either of these as definite "yes, do it" or "no, don't" situations.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:00 PM on February 9, 2016 [6 favorites]

It depends on why you went no-contact in the first place: if you stopped talking to someone because they're a bit flaky or your families didn't get along, that's a very different situation from one in which you stopped talking to them because you realized being around them was emotionally unhealthy for you. For me personally, I make a point of not holding grudges and always being open to second chances and contact with people unless they've seriously hurt me. This is because I know I'm generally cautious and protective and need to work against those tendencies to stay open and keep people in my life. It's been a good change for me, this move toward openness and forgiveness, but YMMV.
posted by thetortoise at 11:12 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do what you want. I try to be kind to people, and they are mostly kind in return. Talk to a therapist to work through heavy things.

I usually am a person who tends to hold grudges and never forget or forgive.

Sounds rough. I often think of the logical fallacy people commit in regards to themselves versus others. Imagine:
You trip over a rock. Wow! I didn't see that rock, oops.
You see someone trip over a rock. Haha, what a clumsy idiot.

Do you see the fundamental difference? Consider this in relation to someone asking for your help with a job (A SUPER IMPORTANT THING IN RELATION TO EATING AND LIVING AND SELF WORTH) and they didn't ask how you were.

That fallacy is pernicious and evil. Do be aware that assuming the best or forgiving past wrongs is not a call to be a doormat. The strongest people in this regard have excellent boundaries.

Helping people is excellent. Why would you hoard your ability to help at no cost? These calculations in and of themselves will drain you of your happiness with doubt and worry. Basically, Yoda said it best, "Do. Or do not."
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:26 PM on February 9, 2016 [10 favorites]

1) impossible to answer as you phrase it and potentially has very little to do with forgiveness even. It all depends why you went no contact
2) also seems to have little to do with forgiveness and is more about generosity. I believe this is pretty much the basis of most networking, though perhaps ppl often make more effort to grease the wheels, so to speak. But whether you do it or not...just depends on how much hassle it is and whether you want to be generous. Your sisters blanket-outrage is the skewed response here, if you ask me. Why get so wound up about a favour?
posted by jojobobo at 11:29 PM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you do have dinner with #1, I think it would be best to have it in a restaurant rather than 1's home.
posted by brujita at 11:30 PM on February 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

1) I'm unfortunately a grudge holder and I would still accept an apology that was offered if it seemed genuine and give someone a chance to mend bridges.
2) I think you're absolutely being used and I wouldn't do it. Not because you're being used but because you're being asked to stick your neck out at work for a total stranger. You don't know anything about them and if it blows up, it could reflect badly on you. (This happened with someone I know when they got a friend of a friend a job at my office, who got a job in the mailroom and then went around and stole thousands of dollars over many weeks from employee's handbags. Not good.)

I respect that you're trying to change your attitude but I think it has to be on a case by case basis.
posted by Jubey at 1:34 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

1) Have dinner with them, go with an open mind but a cautious heart.
2) Sounds like they just did it because their friend asked them to. If they were serious they would have made more of an effort. I wouldn't worry about responding at all.
posted by like_neon at 1:35 AM on February 10, 2016

You've given us very little details to go on. You say you went no contact with #1 and maybe you had a really good reason but you also said you went no contact with #2 just because it was a bit awkward that your families don't get along so maybe you have a different definition of "no contact" that I do (just not speaking to someone isn't the same as deliberately no contact - I have friends that I haven't spoken to in years but they're not "no contact" if they messaged me I'd be pleased to hear from them), or you go no contact on someone a lot easier than I do.

#1 - it really depends what they did. Some things are unforgivable. But at face value I don't think accepting an apology and dinner is too forgiving.

#2 - getting a job isn't easy and knowing someone who knows someone is often how it works. My only concern would be if it doesn't go well it could reflect badly on you.
posted by missmagenta at 2:25 AM on February 10, 2016

In both cases the answer is what are you hoping to gain. A restart of the friendships? An opportunity to look like a good/generous person? A chance to tell your side of the story? Be honest with yourself about your expectations.

I'd skip the dinner in lieu of a phone call or a walk through the park together while talking. I like my meals/social events to be pleasant, not emotionally heavy.

As for the jobseeker, (1) there's nothing wrong with relationships being transactional in nature, or professional/networking only. But those relationships aren't friendships. If you see the former family friend as a potentially valuable person to have in your professional network, then go for it. And (2) do you know the person who wants the job?Are they qualified/would you recommend them independently? If not then think twice about your cost.
posted by headnsouth at 3:27 AM on February 10, 2016

You don't specify what kind of job-getting favor your old family friend asked of you. There is a wide range, from saying, "sure, I'll walk the resume over to the hiring manager," to "sorry, no, I can't pull strings to set up an interview." I think favors that allow you to be honest about your part in them make sense, "Oh, hey, Joe Interviewer, someone passed me this resume last week. I haven't worked with them before, but it looks like their last three jobs were in Widget Counting, and I remembered you were looking for a new Widger Counter. I thought you might be interested in taking a look."
posted by instamatic at 3:39 AM on February 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

It really depends on your state of mind and your motives.

In the first case, if you have absolutely no feelings about it one way or another, if you are well and truly over it and this is just a case of burying the ashes of a long dead fire...sure, why not? You forgive for yourself, not the other person. It's a blessing to allow someone to atone and make amends for their prior bad actions, especially if they are truly repentant. It doesn't mean you have to have an on-going relationship, it just lets you both set to rest bad feelings. If this ends in the both of you never seeing each other again, you're doing it right.

As for the second, if this person never did anything to you or injured you, if it's just family bullshit, even if he was inelegant, there's no harm in passing on a resume. Certainly you're not required to give a reference for someone you've never met, and I'm sure you wouldn't do so. All you're doing is helping A connect with B. If it works out, you've done two people (or more) a solid, if it doesn't, you're not hurting anyone, least of all yourself.

Sounds to me like you're a perfectly lovely and mature person. Not a doormat.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:01 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

so, you're asking if you have become too forgiving, but also say that you have been happier, and you're not spending all your time angry. Why would you even consider becoming less forgiving? like, you aren't miserable anymore, time to fire up some old grudges? Enjoy your newfound peace, help people if you think it will be a nice thing to do, politely bow out of anything that you're not comfortable with.

This little story seems apropos.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:02 AM on February 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

Holding a grudge and staying angry is like drinking poison hoping the other guy will die. Having said that, if someone harms you, there is a vast difference between forgiving them and giving them the opportunity to hurt you again.
posted by rudd135 at 5:09 AM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

My expectations are still low and I still don't 100% trust this person, but I want to accept and I want to go to dinner because I want to hear this person out. Am I being too accommodating?

You don't need to trust this person. You are only giving them room to make an apology. You can accept the apology without becoming besties. Why is this a big deal?

But he didn't really ask how I was in the email - just straight up asked me. My sister is enraged and think it's very inappropriate and that he is "using me."

A business acquaintance has made a business connection to you. There's nothing wrong here. I mean, you could prefer he pile "Hi how are you?" bullshit into the front of the email but speaking only for myself, I ignore that part of any email and just deal with the "what is it you need and how fast can I get it off my To Do list." It's business, not a coffee break, you know?
posted by DarlingBri at 5:10 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Opener: I am a card-carrying grudge-holder with fluctuating maturity.

Scenario 1: I think you're doing the right thing. Make sure you're not overlooking what the other person did. Your acknowledgement of the part you played should genuine and not you downplaying what the other person did just to have them back in your life. I'd give the person a chance but be wary and definitely see how they respond. Be careful not to just carry on with this, thinking 'if s/he does ONE more thing - that's it' because sometimes you just have to cut someone loose.

Scenario 2: NO. Give them nothing. I'm quite 'la cosa nostra' over family disputes so this is hard to ignore but my reaction is not about the family-friend feud. It's the no 'hello how are you?' thing. That was my initial reaction. It's rude. Very bad manners. If you are going to reply, though, my feeling is that you should reply with nothing but the following:

Give them my email address.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:16 AM on February 10, 2016

1. It depends why you're no contact with them, doesn't it? If they were stalking you, of course you shouldn't respond. If you don't think they're a danger to you, then, what others said about how you're only giving yourself a chance to hear them out. Forgiveness doesn't imply trust, though you may end up repairing your trust as a result of the conversation.

2. Again, it depends why you're no contact with that person. Also, they haven't asked you for forgiveness, they've asked you for a favor, apparently without knowing they've done something they need to seek forgiveness for. (Whatever that was.)

I can see the case for keeping business messages terse, and certainly opening a request with a bunch of small talk can seem like they were just buttering you up. But I wouldn't ever end a request email to a non-regular contact without expressing some human interest in them at the *end* of it. Reappearing out of the blue just to make a bald-faced demand is a bit crass.

If you don't trust this person, you don't trust the person they're asking you to recommend (assuming you don't know that third person). In which case I'd just say I'm not comfortable recommending someone I don't know. But whether and how you should do this favor is somewhat independent of the whole "being a forgiving person" thing.

In general, I don't think one can ever be "too forgiving". It is written that if your brother comes to you and asks your forgiveness, you have to forgive them even if they do it seven times, or if they do it seventy times seven. This doesn't mean you have to keep bending over for it; I wouldn't lend someone my car after they wrapped the other 76 cars around a tree. But refusing to hand over my car keys wouldn't be holding a grudge, it would just be setting boundaries, which doesn't preclude forgiveness in any way.
posted by tel3path at 6:12 AM on February 10, 2016

And I should clarify: not just if they do it 7 or 77 times, but if they ask forgiveness each time.

If your business contact did something that requires your forgiveness in order to maintain a relationship with you, and they're not even trying to apologize but are just going "gimme", then that affects what you should be doing. But if you think they don't know they did anything then this could be a chance for you to explain that. And if they personally didn't do anything then forgiveness doesn't seem to enter into it.
posted by tel3path at 6:23 AM on February 10, 2016

You don't have any obligation to the net justice of the world, wherein you are doing some blanket disservice to all of us by being a kind and generous person to the undeserving. If you don't feel like you're being exploited, then what's the problem? You feel what you feel, and you should act accordingly.
posted by Andrhia at 7:32 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

A rule of thumb that I was told once with regard to spoiling children - if you're only doing things you want to do, it's OK. The problem is when you start letting them manipulate, berate, throw tantrums and *force* you to do what they want. But there's nothing inherently bad about deciding to be nice as long as you are comfortable with what you are doing and feel like it's consistent with your own values/wishes.
posted by Lady Li at 7:46 AM on February 10, 2016

1. Forgiveness and trust are not remotely the same thing. Just have the dinner at a restaurant, not at your place or their place.

2. My sister is enraged and think it's very inappropriate and that he is "using me." But I say, why not help. This person may be a good candidate, and it's low cost to me. Am I being too accommodating?

Maybe you should go no contact with your sister. She seems to have the same issues you used to have. Your judgment in this case seems very sound and if sis were not livid for no real reason, you probably would not be second guessing yourself.

You are not being too accommodating. "Too accommodating" means you let people hurt you and crap all over you while you remain conciliatory and fail to protect yourself. Being helpful at low cost to yourself and accepting an attempt at an apology are not in that category.
posted by Michele in California at 11:07 AM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Forgiving is much more about who you want to be in this world, less so about the other person. If you are happier this way, be happy.

I do not hold grudges. It seems a waste of time and energy for me. I am busy living my amazing life, and have better things to do. Really. I know no one is perfect, no one writes perfectly polite emails, no one is not in need of forgiveness, and I'm fine with that. Humans are a messy, weird species. No way around that.

Boundaries are important, though. If these situations cross those for you, then I would rethink them.
posted by Vaike at 12:32 PM on February 10, 2016

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