The Art – and Soul – of Forgiveness By Peter Alessandria

The Art – and Soul – of Forgiveness By Peter Alessandria

Better Life

“It’s fake! The picture is Photoshopped!” 

“Ugh, here we go again,” I muttered to myself.

This wasn’t the first time someone had dissed my photos on Facebook. I’ve been a professional photographer for more than 15 years, and certain people pride themselves on attacking what they believe to be Photoshopped images online – like they’re protecting the world from fake photos. 

The shot in question is of the Statue of Liberty seemingly right in front of the Empire State Building. I’m an NYC-area photographer and go out of my way to find amazing views and angles of the Big Apple. This was an actual photo taken from Bayonne, NJ, using a telephoto lens. The optical compression of the lens (think how telescopes make distant objects appear closer) erases the five miles that exist between these two NYC icons. The result is a stunning – but entirely real – photograph. There’s no editing or manipulation of any kind in the image. (Most New Yorkers I know have never been to Bayonne, NJ. If they had, they wouldn’t question my shot. ☺ )

My first thought was to attack back: “Get a life, asshole. It’s a real photo. Just because you can’t do, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done!” But I had tried that in the past, and it never went well. Beyond that, I’ve spent the better part of the last 25 years trying to change how I interact with others. Between 12-Step programs, self-help books, and all kinds of workshops and seminars, I’ve really made a shift in how I see myself and how I deal with others.

The vast majority of people on social media are great. I got a tremendous amount of love and support for my pictures. 

But now and then, I have to deal with a disbeliever. 

Like today.

So in the spirit of doing things differently, I sent the person a private message. I thanked him for taking the time to comment on my photo and told him a little bit about myself. Then I assured him the photo was genuine. 

He responded almost immediately: “I don’t care who you are or what you do – the photo’s a fake. I’ve lived in New York for years, and that alignment is not possible.”

Hmmm… now what. I decided to take the high road: “I appreciate your comments. But I assure you it’s a real photo.”

I can’t recall his exact response, but it had a least three expletives in it (New Yorkers can be a tough bunch at times.) So I decided to stop the messages for the night.

I was about to let the whole thing go when something prompted me to look at his profile. It turns out he was also an artist and photographer and owned a business selling his images in NYC’s souvenir shops. 

As I perused his pictures (some of which was quite good, by the way), I saw it – an image that was highly similar to mine. Except it was clearly a composite of several NYC landmarks (including the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building) that were obviously cut and paste together. It was more a piece of pop art – something that would appeal to tourists – than an actual photo.

Psychologists define projection as a defense mechanism whereby an individual attributes unwanted traits within themselves to another person, usually without realizing what they’re doing. I’m not a therapist and can’t say for sure what was going here. But if this person was projecting his own penchant for Photoshopping images on to me, then suddenly this all made sense: his comments were actually about him, not me. Thus I didn’t have to take those comments personally.

The next day I messaged him again. I told him I had checked out his work and was genuinely impressed with some of it. I also asked him about his business. While less antagonistic and no more four-letter words, he still seemed guarded. 

Later I sent him a Friend Request, which he accepted, and I publicly liked and commented on several of his images. He eventually did the same for me. 

As our conversations continued, at one point, I offered to show him the spot where I took my photo. As locations are usually well-guarded secrets amongst photographers, I think this got his attention, and he finally let his guard down. We continued messaging with each other, and the more I got to know him, the more I liked him. He was an immigrant – English was his second language – and a real hustler. He had built a nice little business for himself playing the NYC souvenir trade.

Now here’s where it gets interesting: he eventually became a customer of mine. I was able to turn the tone of our conversations so much that he licensed one of my photos for his souvenir business. Even better, he introduced me to a larger company in the same line of work. While I didn’t do any business with that company, I was able to learn so much about the souvenir business that I went to an even larger, national souvenir company and ended up doing a nice five-figure deal with them for several of my photos. Those pictures are now on all kinds of souvenirs in shops throughout New York City (I am the NYC refrigerator magnet magnate!) 

And none of this would have happened if I had gone to war with him over his comments on my photo.

Looking back, I can see that he was just a really nice guy who was having a bad day. By not taking his actions personally (a big part of forgiveness, by the way), I was able to turn an ugly situation into something positive – and I made some good money to boot!

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been working on myself for nearly 25 years. During that time, I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness. In particular:

1. Forgiveness is something we do by ourselves for ourselves. Forgiving someone else’s unloving behavior is good for us. We can still take care of ourselves (see #2 below.) But overlooking another person’s missteps can often lead to positive results for us. Likewise, telling another person we’re forgiving them is not only not necessary; it may actually make things worse. Most people don’t think what they’re doing is wrong – or else they wouldn’t be doing it. So telling them you forgive them probably won’t help. Keep your forgiveness within your own heart and mind.

2. Forgiveness doesn’t mean we’re letting the other person off the hook. We’re not condoning someone else’s bad behavior. Loving another doesn’t mean we stop loving ourselves. We can still hold the other person accountable – but we find a way to do it with love. 

3. Forgiveness means changing who we are in that situation. We stop seeing ourselves as victims and, instead, focus on our part in the situation. We take responsibility for anything we did that may have contributed to things and then don’t take what the other person is doing or not doing personally. 

4. All forgiveness is ultimately self-forgivenessA Course in Miracles says we see in others all that we have not forgiven in ourselves. For me, I realized some time ago that if I saw the world the way the other person sees the world, and if I saw myself the way they see themselves, then I’d probably be doing the exact same thing they’re doing. And that makes me the same as them. This recognition opens the door to self-forgiveness.

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