Tout Comprendre, C’est Tout Pardonner —

or in English, To understand everything, is to forgive everything.

Toothbrush, toothpaste

It happened like this. I was brushing my teeth this morning when this proverbial phrase flew into my head (don’t ask) and stuck there.  And stayed there. Hmmm, I kept saying to myself as I worked over the right upper quadrant and then the front and on to the left. To understand everything, is to forgive everything. Yes, I’ve always heard that, and I think I always thought it was very profound.

But this morning I found myself asking, Do I really believe it?

How much compassion would understanding stir up in me? And what would be the result? Do I really believe that if, for instance, I understood the background and experiences and feelings and motivations of someone who did something I found unacceptable, I would then forgive that person? All of a sudden, I found that I wasn’t sure.

Where I left off — my teeth being thoroughly clean — was that “Tout comprendre, c’est tout comprendre.” To understand everything is to understand everything, and that might be it. How much beyond that I could go, I’m not at all sure.

So I’m really curious: what do you out there think about this? I would find it both interesting and illuminating to know.

(While I’m on this foreign language kick, segue-ing from German to French, I hope you’ll forgive me —)

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50 Responses to Tout Comprendre, C’est Tout Pardonner —

  1. Madhu says:

    Honest truth? I don’t think I am evolved enough to believe that one, Judith. Long way to go yet :-D
    Loved the German post, so I have no problem forgiving you though!

  2. I believe that forgiveness transforms me, the forgiver. It doesn’t change the error or hurtful act but it changes me. It frees me to move on with love and acceptance. Forgiveness is healing and a way of living/being, 70 x 7 (from the Gospels). It is not a one time act or action; it is an intentional way of life.

  3. Prunella Fiddian-Green says:

    TS Eliot inspires me always

  4. Carl says:

    As with most sayings there is a grain of profound insight, but they are not universally true.
    I once spent a semester searching for one “natural” law. I drew the conclusion that there are none.

  5. Forgiveness

    My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
    Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
    So, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
    One summer Sabbath day I strolled among
    The green mounds of the village burial-place;
    Where, pondering how all human love and hate
    Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
    Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
    And cold hands folded over a still heart,
    Pass the green threshold of our common grave,
    Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
    Awed for myself, and pitying my race,
    Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
    Swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

    John Greenleaf Whittier

    • Touch2Touch says:

      Did you know this poem by John Greenleaf Whittier for a long time? I have never never heard it before.
      So, pity and sorrow can be efficacious. Understanding in general. But in particular?

  6. I’d like to think I can be that forgiving, but I don’t think all that understanding would make everything acceptable and forgivable. People are influenced by circumstances, past and present, but I think making choices is a separate animal. That’s just me.

    • Touch2Touch says:

      Forgivable, perhaps. Acceptable, no! That part’s pretty clear, I think. Making choices is tough, and even tougher for an academic, who tends to see several sides to any question at all! :-(

  7. Frank says:

    Tout Comprendre, c’est tout pardonner! I have always agreed that the French language is characterized by finely honed precision,delicacy, and rigor. After all it was at one time considered to be the language of diplomacy, and in some quarters, still is .Recall that our Department of State until recently issued our passports in French in the initial pages of these documents. I feel that understanding begets forgiveness seems to be overlooking the full complexity of both sides of this equation. Understanding implies the power to make experience intelligible by applying concepts and categories, and a mutual agreement not formally entered into but in some degree binding on both sides with a little bit of sympathy thrown in to the bargain. And forgiveness usually demands foregoing revenge, the opportunity for getting satisfaction and retribution. We know that in many cases, the act of forgiveness lifts an even heavier burden from the shoulders of the forgiver than the forgiven. And then there are the degrees of seriousness of the act in question. Both forgiveness and understanding are quite complex, and in light of this, may i offer a compromise. The inherent complexity of the issues particularly if they are insoluble in theory could be at least softened by the following amendment to the French Instruction, Tout Comprendre, mais n’oublie pas. Never forget!

    • Touch2Touch says:

      I pretty much agree all the way to the last sentence — but there we part, at least temporarily. I feel that never forgetting is still holding on to the burden that was thankfully put down in the act of forgiveness.
      But there, you didn’t want a yes-woman, did you? ;-)

    • tms says:

      …so our proverbial “vergeben und vergessen” takes it a step further (if I may stay on the course of Judith’s last post for a moment) – I never really thought about that!

      • Touch2Touch says:

        Yes, the German proverb adds another layer. The second step, forgetting, is, as you see from the comments, controversial in our family. I believe in letting go of both burdens, but for Frank the two are separate actions. And perhaps the not-forgetting makes it more possible (in his view) to forgive?

        • tms says:

          That last one is a good point for me to remember, Judith: It might to point into the direction of “we won’t forget you are the one responsible for what was done, but we can forgive…” – yes, I can see the sense that makes.

  8. franhunne4u says:

    Non, je ne suis pas d’accord. Sorry, but I think, even if I can understand what makes somebody hurt somebody else I cannot forgive him or her for doing so.
    Just think of unspeakable crimes, like pedophilia. Desire is understandable – even if most of us will not share THIS desire we all know forbidden desires – but can you forgive somebody that he gave in where he should not have and hurt somebody else for life? Pas du tout.

    • Touch2Touch says:

      Fran, your comment reminds me of a very important “fact” (?) in this whole matter that I’ve thought about it before, but forgotten. The further question is, Who forgives? Who is called upon to forgive? Who has the right to forgive? Not so simple as it seems, I think.
      Tentatively I think I have concluded that the only person who ultimately has the right to forgive is the person who was hurt or harmed or injured in some way. The rest of us are bystanders. Let’s take your example. A pedophile molests a child. The child, in this example probably the grown-up child, can choose to forgive or not. His/hers was the injury. The child’s parents might also have the right to forgive or not, because it is their child and their responsibility and by extension may be considered their injury. Society at large may sit in judgement because it is a social crime, harming the social fabric. But I think society does not have the right or power to forgive. Forgiveness is another matter.
      Provisional thinking, how I feel right now.

    • Prunella Fiddian-Green says:

      I was once a scapegoat in an experience which was impossible for family and life friends to understand. It wasn’t possible to understand it even while experiencing its full force. I was wounded and abandoned. Intuitively I was drawn to forgiveness. I consulted my parish priest, telling him I needed help with forgiveness. He asked about the experience and whom I needed to forgive. I replied, “myself first then a host of others.” …”And that has made all the difference … “Thank you, Robert Frost

  9. tms says:

    Judith, I agree with you: Being trained in this field, I often feel like I can understand almost everything. Maybe understanding something somehow “mellows” our stance, even in the face of atrocities. Hence we might not always want to understand…
    I think I do not even want to forgive everything I do understand.
    On the other hand, there might be forgiving without understanding, possibly a true “acte gratuit” (and now, with André Gide, I am back to French).

    • Touch2Touch says:

      Tobias, what you say about understanding resonates with me. It’s true, I do not always want to understand — perhaps because I am refusing already forgiveness. Do see Fran’s comment and my response for going further with this. It was especially in regard to atrocities that I first wondered about who had the right to forgive.
      I’m sure there is such a thing as forgiving without understanding, in fact, that may be the majority of cases of true forgiveness. Was it André Gide who was credited with saying on his deathbed that God would forgive him, “C’est son métier.” The “acte gratuit” is possible for God, and perhaps for some few among us, by grace or whatever you wish to call it. For most of us, perhaps not. (It may not have been Gide, but the story is well known.)

  10. To forget everything is to understand everything I think makes more sense. As long as you’ve forgotten that you’ve forgotten, that is.

  11. Jen Payne says:

    I suspect there may be an issue of semantics here. “To understand” means more than “to know.” If you simply “know” the motivation behind an unacceptable act, then no – forgiveness does not naturally follow. But if you “understand” – dictionary definition includes “perceive the intention” and “be sympathetically aware of” – does that then imply a different level of integration? If one is sympathetic, can one then more easily forgive?

    • Touch2Touch says:

      Good question.
      At first I lean to, Well, yes —
      But then I’m more inclined to the Zen response, Perhaps.
      Because I can imagine a case where I could actually see something with real understanding, truly from someone else’s point of view — and then still not be willing to forgive. Maybe “willingness” is an important concept needing to be considered.

      • I feel that my intention to forgive is the essential starting point. It doesn’t mean forgetting or even forgiving all right away. It is a slow process and a daily, even hourly, discipline.

        • Touch2Touch says:

          Absolutely. A work of great effort, surely.

          • suitablefish says:

            I thought I’d look up the etymology of the word forgive and found something interesting : Old English forgiefan, from for- “completely” + giefan “give”. I think that’s before the connotation of pardon enters in. I like “completely give.” Can I truly see something from someone else’s pov? Everything I do see . . . is filtered through my pov. I think, (without having the words to express my thoughts better) that understanding pov is elemental to the giant step from not forgiving to forgiving. Do you know the poem by Thich Nhat Hanh “Call Me by My True Name?” It helps me with the big stuff. Forgiveness is such a great challenge, and it arises for me everyday. A good tooth-brushing exercise :)

          • Touch2Touch says:

            I don’t know the poem, Susan, but will look it up right away. A very fine man, Thich Nhat Hanh. :-)
            (I like “completely give” also.)

  12. Lucid Gypsy says:

    Wouldn’t life be wonderful if only . . .

    • Touch2Touch says:

      Living into the 70′s (almost 80′s!), with an awareness of how little time is left —
      I think that had better shift to: Life is wonderful! Today I just need to …
      (Thanks so much for visiting and commenting, Gilly.)

  13. Prunella Fiddian-Green says:

    Live in the moment, the here and now, for this is the one reality we can experience, love especially. All else is an illusion

  14. Angelia Sims says:

    I think it is easier to understand that which we may never understand. But it is a profound statement. I watched the Ender’s Game the other night. And the ending had me a bit perplexed. My husband pointed out the quote of the movie.

    “‘In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”

    And maybe this poses the same kind of question. Makes you think for sure.

    • Touch2Touch says:

      That IS quite a quote, Angelia. I’ll be thinking about it when I check out Ender’s Game, which I don’t know of at all.
      Just offhand my quick association is with the last line from Baudelaire’s poem Au Lecteur:
      “Hypocrite lecteur! — mon semblable — mon frère!”
      The idea that the “other” is also one’s self — for good, for ill.

  15. I try to understand why someone might behave in a destructive or hurtful way. I know it’s not good to hold grudges and that anger eats away at you from the inside out. But knowing why someone might behave in a certain way wouldn’t prevent me from protecting myself from such a person. I also believe that not every cruel act can be excused, however clear an understanding one might have of it.
    Mostly, I dislike generalizing, and really think I would need to make my decisions on a case by case basis.

    • Touch2Touch says:

      That’s the problem with proverbs and adages — by nature, they are generalizations. Like you, I would need to decide case by case, Naomi. Your mentioning protecting oneself brings in another important aspect also.
      Thank you so much by coming by! (How does your daughter like college?)

  16. Pauline says:

    If the act of forgiveness (of giving your pardon) benefits the forgiver, I say, try to forgive as often as you can, even if you don’t understand. But it can also benefit the receiver – when I feel I’ve been forgiven for some transgression, the guilt I suffer is lessened. Another aspect of ‘the other’ also being me, perhaps.

    I find it hard to forgive what I don’t understand (mankind’s deliberate cruelty, for example). I also find it hard to understand what I don’t identify with (i.e. mankind’s deliberate cruelty). Perhaps then, part of our dilemma is that we forgive in others what we’d most like forgiven in ourselves, and find it difficult to forgive (or forget) what we feel we, ourselves, would never do.

    • Touch2Touch says:

      This warrants a lot of thinking about. Not for understanding; it’s very clear what you mean. I think I even agree.
      It’s the implications that catch me up — they may be calling me to a step I’m reluctant to take.
      As usual, you provide food for thought!

      • Pauline says:

        To a great extent, forgiveness is a choice. There may be a state of grace (though I can’t explain exactly what that means) that allows forgiveness without understanding or perceived deliberation. If there is, I wish I could attain that state more often…

  17. Perhaps understanding means going beyond knowing (at a head level) and carries with it empathy for the other person which then allows the heart to forgive.

    • Touch2Touch says:

      Yes, I can see that when, for instance, someone loves someone else. Then empathy can carry one beyond the head level.
      But if there is no love, no empathy to begin with?
      (As you can tell, I am no saint!)

      • Me neither! I think there can be empathy without love but there cannot be without understanding. In the same way, when there’s love, forgiveness can come without understanding. Haha not sure if that makes sense. I’m lucky that I have a terrible memory which allows me to forgive without having to understand! :)

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