Life Imitates Art Imitates Life
Hi everyone! Finally found some time to blog! Hope you enjoy!
Something I try to stay aware of in my acting is what I can learn from the parts I play. Some of the stories I’ve been involved with have proven to have valuable lessons for me. This is especially true with projects that are based on true events. Real life history offers a significant chance to glean something from what others have gone through. Acting can offer a unique perspective in this area because you not only have the facts that history provides but it is your job to delve into the emotional realities—to try to find out why people did what they did. As an actor, you can never be sure that your choice for the character’s motivations are historically true, but it does offer the chance for you to really put yourself in their shoes. And in the end what better perspective to learn from than that?
The Hatfields and McCoys offered just this opportunity for me. Historically based on the most famous blood feud in American history, it is the story of two men, returning home from the Civil War, whose friendship turned to such unbridled hatred and murder that it almost lead to a second civil war.
For me, the story of the Hatfields and the McCoys provides a very clear look at something I think we all understand first-hand: the importance of forgiveness. We have all been hurt, we have all been the subject of lies, and we have all placed trust in people that turned out to be unworthy of it. Misunderstandings and deep hurts are a part of life. But this project reminded me that the most important thing is not the cause of the hurt; it is rather one’s reaction to it.
The more I read on the Hatfield/McCoy feud and the more I looked into my own life, the more I found myself thinking about this idea of forgiving the other person. So I looked it up; the definition of “forgive” is to “give up resentment of or claim to requital.” The first thing that struck me about this definition is that it doesn’t really have much to do with the other person. It seems to be about ME giving up resentment. It is ME giving up my claim to retribution.
The more I thought about that idea the more another question started pressing on my mind. What if the entire way we look at forgiveness is backwards? What if forgiveness has absolutely nothing to do with the other person or even the incident that caused whatever hurt has happened? What if the person I need to forgive is me?
“Now hold on a minute,” I thought to myself. When those situations have arisen in my life I have not felt that I was the one who needed forgiveness. I hadn’t done anything! I could even PROVE that I hadn’t done anything. They wronged me, they hurt me, they are the ones that need to be forgiven because it is their fault. But if I decide to go down that road and spend my energy proving the other person wrong or seeking revenge the whole idea of forgiveness seems to get lost and I end up in a nasty cycle of revenge. The very definition of forgiveness demands the relinquishing of these responses.
Fine. So in order to forgive I can’t go around trying to prove myself right. Fault, in that sense, is moot. But where does that leave me? I don’t feel any better and the injustice of the whole situation is still driving me crazy! I am responsible for my own happiness right? So what do I do with these thoughts?
This question brings me to another important idea; it’s the thoughts that hurt me most, not the person or even the situation that caused them. It’s the thoughts that shape my reality. It’s these thoughts that make me angry, sad or unhappy. Since I am responsible for my own happiness and my thoughts are the things that are interfering with that happiness it seems to make sense that the person I would need to forgive is…me. Forgive myself for having these thoughts that are hurting me, forgive myself for not being able to let those thoughts go, and forgive myself for perhaps not being the person I wish to be in those moments.
I am not suggesting we should judge ourselves for having these thoughts or even that these thoughts are “wrong” or “bad”. To the contrary, I am suggesting that we simply allow ourselves the space to have whatever thoughts, but with a new perspective; my thoughts control my reality and no one controls my thoughts but me. With that notion in mind, the question is no longer “How do I forgive this person for what they have done to me?” but rather “How long will I punish myself by choosing to hold onto the thoughts that hurt me?”
And with this, forgiveness takes on a new meaning. It is not some high ideal that one strives for, or some far off state of nirvana attained only by the Gandhi’s and Mother Theresa’s of the world. It is rather a simple decision to help oneself move on when the time is right. It is the understanding that the hurt we carry from others only serves to hurt ourselves further. And that is a far deeper hurt than any other person could inflict on us. So there is really only one question left to ask; is that what I want for myself?
“Holding on to your anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.” - Buddha