I am interested in character development. What would you suggest to me if I want to change my character so that I do not hurt so much from what happened to me? I don’t want to be consumed by the pain.

A paradox is to bear the pain of what happened so that you do not run from it or deny it. It seems like a contradiction to ask you to bear the very same pain that you do not want.  Yet, as you courageously bear that pain, you begin to see that you are able to stand under the weight of that pain.  You begin to see that you are stronger than you might have realized.  As you continue to stand in courage like this, the pain begins to lift and you then have a confidence that you can confront and defeat any future pain that comes your way.

A paradox is to bear the pain of what happened so that you do not run from it or deny it. It seems like a contradiction to ask you to bear the very same pain that you do not want.  Yet, as you courageously bear that pain, you begin to see that you are able to stand under the weight of that pain.  You begin to see that you are stronger than you might have realized.  As you continue to stand in courage like this, the pain begins to lift and you then have a confidence that you can confront and defeat any future pain that comes your way.

Suppose that I do see the two children arguing and I do sense what you call emotional pain because of injustice. I then step in to encourage forgiveness (after a period of anger that is appropriate to the children and the situation). What should I do? I so often hear parents say to the one who acted unfairly, “Say you’re sorry.” The parent then says to the other, “What do you say?” hoping for something like, “It is ok. I forgive you.” This seems a bit superficial to me. What else would you suggest?

I would suggest trying to get the one who did the injuring to see the pain in the other.  Try to get the child to step inside the hurt child’s shoes to understand the pain inside.  I further would try to get the injured child, once he or she has settled down from the pain and anger, to see the injuring child with a wider-angle lens.  You have to be careful not to suggest excusing of the hurtful behavior.  The point is to see the humanity in the other, to see that he or she has strong points.  This is a first step in forgiving.

Children seem to get angry easily and then to get over it just as easily. Since they do get over things so quickly, how do we as parents know when to step in and talk about forgiving and receiving forgiveness between, say, a brother and sister?

The key, I think, is the depth of anger because of a deeper injustice than is typical.  If you sense that a child has been injured (and this can be emotional pain or physical pain), then it may be best to step in.  Be sure to allow a time of anger in the one injured. In other words, you do not want to create a norm that to forgive is to not allow an expression of anger at all.

Forgiveness, the Marathon, and the Inspired Work of Art

marathon4So, then, what do forgiveness, running the marathon, and contemplating a magnificent work of art all have in common?

They are all hard to accomplish, said one.

They are all impossible if we are realistic about the human endeavor, said another.

They are all cruel ideals to make each of us feel inferior, said the third.

And yet, I wonder.  Surely, one can forgive those who offend.  Some can run the marathon.  I know someone who finished the Boston Marathon nine years in a row.  And contemplating great art is feasible as long as we let the beauty speak to us rather than our trying to define it and therefore reduce it.

Michelangelo - The Pieta
Michelangelo – The Pieta

Forgiveness, running the marathon, and contemplating great art all stretch us, ask us to see farther down the road, challenge us to grow beyond our current self.

They all awaken in us the call to greatness.  They all challenge us to see that life is more than going to work, collecting a paycheck, and kicking back on the weekend, only to repeat the cycle seemingly endlessly until we retire.

Forgiveness is a heroic virtue because it asks us to so stretch ourselves that we are good to those who are not good to us.  The marathon shows us that we can go beyond our expected capacity, that we have a reserve that can be discovered by the strong will.  The contemplation of inspired works of art challenges us to see that there is more to this world than we can see and hear and taste and touch in our ordinary surroundings.  There is a greatness awaiting us, if only we have the courage to look.

forgivenesssetsyoufreeWe all can begin by forgiving a loved one for a minor injustice.  We all can start to walk and then run and lift that weight even if it does not translate into over 26 miles of challenge.  We all can create and contemplate what others around us create even if none of these will see its way to a Florentine gallery.  And we can keep raising the bar on whom to forgive, what exercises challenge us, and what magnificent art really is.

We all can start stretching ourselves today.  Forgiveness, the marathon, and inspired great art are all calls to us to move forward, to be better than we are today, to reach and then achieve.


Do forgiveness and reconciliation have to be in person or would accepting an apology by phone, email, or twitter also be acceptable?

If you choose to forgive but cannot reconcile (because the other remains dangerous), then you can offer forgiveness without even saying directly to the other, “I forgive you.”  You can give to a charity in the other’s name, for example.  You also can accept an apology by phone if you cannot trust the other at the moment.  The apology may make the face-to-face meeting in the future more possible.

If you choose to forgive and to reconcile, and if you have a measure of trust, then it is better to forgive and to apologize in person because you want to re-start the dialogue and establish trust.  The process certainly can start by phone or email or some other social media, but ultimately, if you truly want a relationship with the other, then the best way is to do that is in person.

Reflections from Prison: “Forgiveness Saved my Life”

Security was tight.  Oh that….I had forgotten that I had the New York subway schedule in the winter jacket.  Sorry about that.  No paper allowed.

After going through two secured doors, we went into the courtyard.  It razor-wire8was night and so the floodlights were bouncing off the razor wire that wrapped each fence.  That wire looked almost festive as it gleamed and sparkled.  But, of course, it represented a darker reality than the dance with the floodlights let on.

A little farther on we met Jonah (not his real name), who was coming to attend the talk on forgiveness.

“Hey, do you remember me?” Jonah asked as he extended a big warm hug.

“Yes, of course.  How are you?” I said.  It had been a while and I was very glad to see him.

Jonah’s is one of the many success stories we hear once those in prison go through forgiveness therapy.  He went from max to medium because his constant anger diminished.  Forgiveness has a way of doing that.  As a person, as Jonah puts it, “gives the gift of forgiveness” to those who abused him, his inner world becomes healthier.

“Forgiveness saved my life,” he said with earnest and serious eyes.  He knows of what he speaks.  Anger landed him in medical facilities and eventually contributed to serious crime and long prison terms.  Yet, his anger was cured by understanding, through forgiveness therapy, that the abuse he experienced as a young man turned to a anger-1462088poisonous anger which was destroying him.

“No one cares how angry you are.  It’s yours and yours alone when someone gets to you in a big way.”  He had to confront that anger, struggle to forgive the one who was so unfair, and now Jonah can meet me with a warm, wonderful smile, a hug, and a vitality for life that is so unexpected in juxtaposition to the floodlights and the officers and the dancing razor wire.

Jonah is set free inside even though his body is imprisoned and for many years to come.  The past pain will not destroy him and any insensitivities, frustrations, and challenges that are part of max and medium security prisons will not crush him because he has an antidote to the build-up of toxic anger: forgiveness.

Forgiveness therapy is beginning to gain traction in prisons because counselors are beginning to see that it is one of the few approaches to corrections that actually works.  To forgive is to take the floodlight of analysis off of the self and place it, paradoxically, on the one who did the harm.  It is to tell a wider story of whom that other is.  Forgiveness therapy allows the person to see the abusing person’s vulnerability, woundedness, and anger that “put me on the hook” as one of my friends in prison describes it.  As the heart softens toward those who are cruel, one’s own inner poisons find an antidote in growing compassion. And it works.

One of the main insights I now see is this:  As those in prison realize that womenthey are capable of giving the heroic virtue of forgiveness to others, they understand that they, themselves, are stronger than they had thought.  They realize that they are givers, human givers, men.  “I am a man” not a number, is a common new and growth-producing insight, one that helps those in prison to stand tall in the face of grave challenges.  “I am a woman” will be next as we move soon toward a max facility for females.

Long live forgiveness therapy in prisons.  Oh,bird and by the way, did you notice that throughout this little essay, I never once used the word “prisoner”?  You see, the word “prisoner” is a sweeping term, encompassing a person’s entire being by their address, by where they reside.  Jonah knows he is more than “a prisoner.”  He is a man, one who  forgives.


If forgiveness is intended to quell my anger toward other persons, then what am I supposed to do when I find myself angry with circumstances or “fate”? For example, suppose a hurricane destroys my home. How do I get rid of that anger if I am not supposed to forgive? And why not forgive a hurricane?

Forgiveness is the offer of goodness toward people who have acted unfairly.  You cannot be good to a hurricane and so forgiveness is not the appropriate response in this case.  Instead, I recommend working on acceptance of what happened.  It did happen, you cannot change that, and so fighting internally against the situation would seem to get you nowhere in terms of a rebuilt house.  It is certain that your anger will not stop the next hurricane from barreling though your community.  This is why I suggest acceptance which is a kind of surrender which can relax the muscles and calm the nerves so that anger does not take a toll on you.  Further, you can take positive steps such as making plans to rebuild the home and making it, as best you can, strong enough to withstand at least some of the hurricanes that may occur in the future.