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The new year: A dance of promises and forgiveness

Dłonie dwojga ludzi w średnim wieku

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Daniel Esparza - published on 01/01/24

As we stand at the threshold of the new year, laden with the promises made and broken in the year gone by, forgiveness becomes necessary.
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As the old year wanes and the new one rises on the horizon, we find ourselves at a crossroads. The past year is a closed door behind us, while the future is wide open – indeed, a bit too “open.” The expectation of a new year is laden with the weight of the irreversible on the one hand, and that of the unpredictable on the other.

In this liminal space, Hannah Arendt’s insights on promising and forgiving offer a compelling lens through which to navigate the complexities of time, while trying to forge a path into the unknown.

For Arendt (deeply influenced by Augustine) time was an active arena where we, through the acts of promising and forgiving, shape our own destinies. Each promise, she argued, was a leap into the unforeseen, a daring act of carving out a future different from the present. It’s a declaration of faith in our own agency, a commitment to act and to bind ourselves to something beyond the immediate.

At the New Year, the human power of promising takes on a special significance. Resolutions, whispered wishes, and unspoken pacts with ourselves are common. And still, in every promise (common as they might be) there is an inherent tension. We pledge to become different, to do better, to step onto uncharted paths. But the future, by its very nature, is shrouded in uncertainty. Will we keep our promises? Will the year ahead fulfill our hopes or reveal cracks in our carefully laid plans?

Forgiveness steps in

This is where forgiveness steps in. For Arendt, forgiving is radically different from passive forgetting. It is an active release. And, as expected from any activity, it is demanding. To forgive, for Arendt, wasn’t about condoning past transgressions; it was about freeing ourselves and others from the shackles of the past. It is an act of acknowledging the harm done, the broken promises, the unmet expectations, and then choosing to move forward, unburdened by the weight of resentment.

As we stand at the threshold of the new year, laden with the promises made and broken in the year gone by, forgiveness becomes necessary. It allows us to let go of the regrets that threaten our peace, and to release the bitterness that can poison our future. By forgiving ourselves and others, we clear the slate, creating space for new beginnings and renewed commitments.

Ultimately, the New Year becomes a potent microcosm of Arendt’s philosophy. She constantly referred to the figure of Janus, the Roman pagan god of endings and beginnings – from whose name we get our January. Like Janus, we constantly stand at the crossroads of time, juggling the weight of the irreversible past with the promise of the unpredictable future. It’s a moment where the power of promising compels us to chart a new course, while the necessity of forgiveness allows us to shed the baggage of the past and embrace the possibilities that lie ahead.

So, as we embark on this new beginning, let us remember that the new year is not just a calendar change, but a responsibility. Let us promise with courage and hope, and forgive with resolution, so that we can make way for a future richer and brighter than the promises we leave behind.

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