“Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere . . . Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind, spare us to our friends, soften us to our enemies” (Robert Louis Stevenson).
TO FORBEAR IS TO RESTRAIN OURSELVES. It is to exercise self-control in the face of provocation. When we are impacted by someone else’s failing, there is a tendency for us to strike back. Either we retaliate and “do unto them as they have done unto us,” or we pursue “justice,” hoping they’ll be punished. To forbear, however, means that we hold back. Because we judge that lashing out would be counterproductive, we pursue a greater good by keeping our temper in check. If necessary, we even forgo the execution of our rights, because we understand the good that can often come from enduring a wrong.
Of course, a point may be reached at which forbearance would cease to be a virtue. It takes wisdom to know when to forbear and when to take action against an unfairness. But in the population at large, there are probably more folks who act too quickly than there are those who act too slowly. If your trouble is that you have an excess of forbearance, then you have a problem that puts you in a minority. Most of us have the opposite problem: an excess of irritability.
Showing mercy. The primary motive for forbearance is usually mercy. There are times when we should refrain from meting out justice to someone because we have compassion on them. In such a case, our heart should move us to tenderness, rather than toughness.
Making allowance. People don’t grow and they don’t learn to overcome their faults if they’re not given a little space for trial and error. So sometimes we forbear the failings of others because we see that making allowance for them is conducive to their growth.
A failure of forbearance often comes down to a failure of gratitude. To be less than forbearing with others is to fail to appreciate the extent to which they have been patient with our faults. And not only that, we set ourselves up for a very strict accounting. If we’ve not been merciful, mercy will not be shown to us when we need it the most.
“Endeavor to be always patient of the faults and imperfections of others, for you have many faults and imperfections of your own that require forbearance. If you are not able to make yourself that which you wish, how can you expect to mold another in conformity to your will?” (Thomas à Kempis).