Because we are all imperfect people, we forgive imperfectly. When we have been deeply hurt, the anger can subside, but at times we are reminded of the person and the incident of injustice which makes us angry again. Please realize that this is typical. As encouragement for you, please note that people tell me that as they practice forgiveness, the anger, when it returns, does so at a milder level than before. As you continually practice forgiveness toward new people and new injustices, you may find that as you re-visit forgiveness toward someone whom you already have forgiven, the process is accomplished more quickly and with more thorough results than before. So, welcome to the club of imperfect people. When anger returns, return to forgiveness. In this way, you will be in control of your anger rather than the anger being in control of you.
We talk about forgiveness as if it has universal meaning, but should we be talking about early 21st Century forgiveness in Western cultures, rather than a generic “forgiveness?” Should we presume that forgiveness is not the same everywhere and across all time of human history?
Although there are wide cultural and religious differences among the Hawaiian family ritual of Ho-O-Pono-Pono, the discipline of forgiveness in the Jewish customs of Yom Kipper, and the sacrament of Penance within Catholicism, this does not mean that each is dissimilar at the core. The behaviors manifested in these three kinds of forgiveness differ, but all three are concerned about confronting injustice with love. All three acknowledge that there is right and wrong; all three acknowledge resentment or some kind of moral response to wrong; and all three see forgiveness as a merciful response of goodness toward the offender(s). At their core, these three seemingly disparate cultures and/or religions share much in common.
Across time, we have ancient stories of forgiveness that do not differ from the present day. In Hebrew writings, there is Joseph forgiving his brothers, and we see an unconditional, merciful response to their injustices against him. In Christian scripture, there is the father of the prodigal son offering him acceptance and love in the face of injustice. In Muslim writings there is a parallel story to Joseph, also showing mercy in the face of wrongdoing. Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, and other ancient literature are more alike than different in describing what forgiveness is. The preserved meaning has not changed to this day.
Might we come across a culture that defines forgiveness very differently than those above? Might we come across a culture that condemns forgiveness as unnecessary or unimportant? Perhaps, but it seems just as likely to find a culture that de-values justice and honors cheating and lying and murder. No such culture to date has been found. While it is true that different cultures might give different examples of what constitutes a just action, all cultures honor just action.
Is forgiveness the same thing in all cultures and times? Despite wide cultural nuances, it appears to be so.
Black Hills Pioneer newspaper, Spearfish, South Dakota – Holocaust survivor, Eva Mozes Kor, addressed a beyond-capacity crowd at Black Hills State University this week. Her message was forgiveness of the Nazi doctor, Josef Mengele, who experimented on her twin sister and her at Auschwitz. She told the audience that she thought, as a young child, everyone lived as she did—without parents, in horrid conditions. Despite the atrocity, she has found it in her heart to forgive him. A central message to the audience was this: Everything we do in daily life touches other people, she said. Do not forget that.
Kor was 10 years old when she and her family were brought to Auschwitz by train in a cattle car in 1944. She and her twin sister Miriam were separated from the rest of their family by a Nazi guard searching for twins for the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele to experiment on. Mengele performed many horrific experiments on inmates at Auschwitz, but he was particularly interested in twins. Kor feels that being selected for Mengele’s twin experimentations contributed greatly to her and Miriam’s survival.
In a March 15, 2012 editorial in the Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald Newspaper, a writer, the Rev. Thomas Tom Camp, said this, “Is our development beyond revenge into forgiveness and reconciliation dangerous? Yes! But staying where we are is unacceptable and even more dangerous.”
The idea of “dangerous” challenged me. Is forgiveness dangerous and if so, for whom? There are two ancient stories that suggest a certain danger for those who see others forgive. Take, for example, Joseph in Hebrew scripture, who forgave his 10 half-brothers and one brother in Genesis 37-45. When Jacob, Joseph’s father, heard of Joseph’s forgiveness toward the half-brothers/brother—and that he was alive—he fainted. The Christian story of the Prodigal Son tells us that when the father forgave the prodigal son for his wanton living in a distant land, the older brother got upset. He could not understand how the father could be so generous to the rebellious son. Forgiveness can be upsetting to those who observe it because the mercy underlying it is so shocking and because the observers are not yet ready to embrace it for themselves.
Perhaps forgiveness is dangerous for the forgiver, who is now faced with an identity change. Upon forgiving, he or she is no longer a victim but a survivor and perhaps even someone who is now thriving.
Forgiveness can be dangerous for the unjust one who now must come to grips with the reality that, indeed, he or she did act unjustly.
Yet, in all of these examples, is there really danger, in the true sense of that word? There is upset, there is challenge, there is development, and there is the facing of reality. I do not see any real danger here.
Is there danger in acting justly? There was for Socrates. His standing in the truth cost him his life, as it did Martin Luther King, Jr., and Thomas More and others who were killed for acting justly.
Can you think of anyone who was actually killed for standing in the truth of forgiveness? I cannot, but I am open to correction on this.
You are in good company when you say that forgiveness is hard work. Aristotle said the same thing about growing in any virtue….and that was about 3,500 years ago. It has not become any easier to persevere in the virtues, especially forgiveness. As I point out in a recent blog (What Is a Good Society?), it becomes even more difficult to persevere when our own local communities and our larger society de-emphasize the practice of forgiveness.
With all of that said, I recommend three things:
1) Be aware that you have a strong will. Put this into practice. If you were engaged in a workout regimen, you would need this kind of will. If you were studying for an exam in school or finishing an important project at work, you would need this kind of will.
2) Find a “workout buddy,” someone with whom you can openly discuss your striving to persevere in the virtue of forgiveness. Mutual support can be very beneficial to enhancing the strong will.
3) Finally, consider establishing a Forgiving Community, a small group that gets together regularly on our??Forum??to discuss the perplexing and challenging questions of forgiveness. Such support can lead to deeper insights and strengthen the will. You can meet together virtually and/or physically to discuss the issues most important to your group.
Detroit Free Press.?? An 86-year-old man, Aaron Brantley, in Detroit was hit from behind and his car stolen. In the attack, his leg was broken.?? The man accused of these actions wrote to to Mr. Brantley from prison and asked for forgiveness.????Brantley forgave the imprisoned man, saying that he still wants to see him serve some time.?? In other words, one can forgive and seek justice at the same time.
The suspect, Paris Gomillion, 20, of Detroit never looked at Aaron Brantley as the elderly man testified from his wheelchair today in 36th District Court in Detroit. Brantley said he was hit from behind before the keys were snatched out of his hand. He then crawled with a broken leg into the gas station when no one came to his aid.
Brantley said he received a letter from Gomillion sent from jail after the Feb. 22 carjacking at the BP on West McNichols at Fairfield.
???The dude wanted me to forgive him,??? Brantley said today. ???The letter said he wanted me to pray for him, and he was sorry for what he had done. But I did pray for him and so forth and forgive him for what he had done.???
I agree that there can be satisfaction when you forgive. I agree that it is not very satisfying if our primary motivation in forgiving is the reinforcement from others. I disagree that the only satisfaction one gets from forgiving is others’ reinforcement. The primary satisfaction in forgiving is exercising love toward others, those in particular who have hurt us. I think it is profoundly satisfying to practice this love and then to realize that our love is stronger than any injustice that can be thrown our way.