You’ve been wronged. Someone let you down. Something didn’t go your way. This person stole from you. That one lied to you. She betrayed you. He insulted you right to your face. The surefire deal fell through. Your most lucrative client decided to go with another vendor. Your dream girl found somebody else.
Each of us has, in our hearts, a list of slights that we carry. About things that were done to us in childhood, about how we were treated early in our careers, about the things people thought about us that were unfair or undeserved. We tell ourselves that these grudges fuel us, that they have driven our accomplishments, and we may be right. But they also make us deeply sad, and if we think about them too much, profoundly angry.
The Stoics want you to know that this is no way to live. That even the productive use of that anger and pain is corrosive and dangerous. They held as maxim, the idea so beautifully expressed in the epigram of the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez:
“Forgetting is a virtue; memory a vice.”
In his eighty-first letter to Lucilius, Seneca writes at length about how we must always be moving forward, adapting rather than reacting. “Even after a poor crop,” Seneca illustrates, “one should sow again; for often losses due to continued barrenness of an unproductive soil have been made good by one year’s fertility.” So, he instructs, “forget the injury and remember the accommodation.”
You cannot go through life hanging on to hurt. You cannot let what has gone wrong give way to anger—in the moment or on a permanent basis. Because the damages from that emotion, Seneca said, will always outlast the damage from the original infraction. We have to learn how to forgive. We have to constantly be letting go, shedding off these ordinary and extraordinary things that have been done to us like dead skin.
To hold onto them is not a virtue. It is a vice.
Forgive. Forget. Move onward.
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P.S. This was originally sent on April 12, 2021. Sign up today for the Daily Stoic’s email and get our popular free 7-day course on Stoicism.