Beyond Polarizing

Jesse and I are not very skilled at aggreeing to disagree. We each entrench our position, stubbornly attached to our version of reality, defending it by emphasizing our differences and deprecating the other’s ideas. How can we get beyond polarizing?


Forgiveness is much harder than compassion for me. I do great at bearing a grudge.

For example, I’ve been holding onto my resentment about Jesse’s reaction to my affairs with other men. When we started our open marriage, we talked about how to handle other relationships. I remember Jesse said that it’s not a question of trading favors so much as each of us doing what we need to do. That sounded right to me.

But when I was distracted by other men, I often failed to pay good attention to how Jesse was doing with the situation. He felt abandoned, and blamed me for that. The blame hurt.

Jesse, forgive me for being inconsiderate when I was in love with other men.
And I need to forgive you for blaming me for it.

Since forgiving is a challenge for me, it helps if I can find compassion for whoever has hurt me, for their actions that caused my distress. I can do that with this old hurt, because I care about Jesse.

Nadia Bolz-Weber has a different approach to forgiveness; she says it’s

nothing less than an act of fidelity to an evil-combating campaign. So it’s not an act of niceness. It’s not being a doormat. It really to me is more badass than that. Maybe retaliation, or holding on to anger, about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil. Maybe it feeds it. Because in the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy, and on some level, even start to become them.

I can understand this: by forgiving someone, we let go of our hurt at their actions. But what she says next is difficult for me:

So what if forgiveness, rather than being like a pansy way of saying, it’s OK, is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters and snapping the chain that links us? Like it is saying, what you did was so not OK that I refuse to be connected to it anymore.[1]

At first I don’t see compassion in this kind of forgiveness. Well… I guess we need this kind too, for letting go of our reactions to atrocities. And maybe once we have snapped that chain, we will understand compassion for the terrible influences that have shaped an evildoer, and the terrible karma they reap.

That puts us in a larger relation to the perpetrator: instead of being linked with a chain, we are earthlings in common, traveling in the same boat.


How do I balance asking and giving…?

Just found a letter I wrote (and didn’t send) to Jesse about ways I’m responsible for difficulties in our relationship.

In it, I took more responibility for his feelings than I’m comfortable with, reading it now all these years later. In fact, I’m feeling quite defensive in reaction.

But as I reflected on my defensiveness, I saw I was focusing on my needs, my neediness, my hungry ghost.

Then I ran across Deborah Anapol’s The Seven Natual Laws of Love: “Focus more on giving than getting and you’ll have much less forgiving to do.”[2] Her accompanying comments make me squirm: I don’t feel I need to be convinced of all that… but on the other hand, haven’t I been complaining here about overemphasis on our own needs, about lack of compassion? Why am I squirming?

A Perfect Pair

Personal Journal
A sense of humor can jumpstart compassion.
May 1, 2011

What were Jesse and I fighting about? Something so painfully familiar that my mind doesn’t want to go there again. But I do remember my feeling of hurt and anger: How can he treat me like that? How can I stand it?

Maybe I remember the distress because I was at least trying to stand back from it, not get carried away by it, just let the feeling run its course. But with not a lot of success: hours later the best I could do was admit to Jesse I was still pissed, grieving, scared. Admit I was holding onto my distress, holding onto my defenses.

Maybe I managed to ask him not to yell at me.

Ah, but what he managed! He calmed down and said “What you need to remember is that you’re not the only one who gets afraid.”

Right on the button! When he’s scrinching his eyes at me — even before he starts yelling — I automatically perceive that as hostility, wanting to get me. I lose compassion, lose track of the insight I have been able to grasp: that he’s defending himself because he feels attacked. I see him as enemy.

We’re both doing it: a perfect pair. He observed as much, and went on to say, with a gentle, ironic smile, “We should both get enlightened.”

My heart melted.

[1] Bolz-Weber, “Forgive Assholes / Have a Little Faith,” published 5/30/2018 by MAKERS, YouTube video, 1:15
[2] Anapol, Laws of Love (Santa Rosa, CA: Elite Books, 2005), 120. (“Borrowing” a book at the Intenet Archive requires registering, which is free.)

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