Three Reasons Why “Quick Forgiveness” Is Not Phony

An observant reader asked me recently if our Forgiveness News section might be comprised of many stories in which people are “faking forgiveness” so that they get national and international recognition from the media. After all, the person reasoned, for a few moments their images, words, and actions are in front of thousands or even millions, depending on which media sources carry the story.

While quick pronouncements of forgiveness might lead some to doubt the sincerity of the act, we have three counter-arguments in the debate.

Taking care of your heart1) We must realize that some people are “forgivingly fit,” in that they practice forgiveness regularly in the smaller injustices of life. Such practice readies them for when the tragic injustices come. In other words, years of practice accumulate and aid the forgiver now in the new, gargantuan challenge to forgive, say, the murderer of a loved one. As we watch the person forgive, we do not see the years of practice underlying the act and so we wonder about the sincerity, which is very real because of the practice.

2) Sometimes, our psychological defenses come to our aid when tragedy strikes. These defenses shield us from the intense anger which could emerge now. Yet, after a while, as the defenses begin to weaken, the anger arises afresh and so the initial pronouncement of forgiveness, when the angers subside, is not the final word on the matter. In other words, there still is forgiveness work to do, and this is not dishonorable. Forgiveness is hard work and requires re-visiting from time to time regarding situations we thought we had long-ago forgiven.

True Forgiveness vs False Forgiveness3) For reasons that are unclear to the social scientific community, some people, despite not having practiced forgiveness over and over, do forgive seemingly spontaneously. Their psychological defenses are not masking deep anger. They forgive in a thorough way on the first try. This seems rare, but it does happen.

Phony forgiveness??  No, not necessarily. What might appear on the surface as phony could be heroic forgiveness forged in the daily struggle to overcome the effects of injustice.

Robert

A Mother’s Journey of Hope and Forgiveness

NBC Bay Area – KNTV, San Francisco, CA – Scarlett Lewis lost her six-year-old son Jesse during the Sandy Hook school shooting. In the face of that tragedy, Lewis said she learned to forgive the shooter, in part due to the final message Jesse wrote on their kitchen chalkboard: the words “nurturing,” “healing” and “love.”

Lewis
Scarlett Lewis
Photo: Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation

Lewis is sharing the story of her son’s final act of bravery as  well as how she learned forgiveness in a book, “Nurturing    Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope & Forgiveness.” Jesse Lewis had urged his classmates to flee the school after seeing his teacher shot, investigators learned after gathering accounts from survivors. Six children escaped before 20-year-old Adam Lanza reloaded and shot Jesse.

“I knew that forgiveness was possible… It’s taking your power back. Not forgiving doesn’t feel good,” Lewis said.

Lewis’ book isn’t a story about a massacre. It’s a story about love and survival. It’s about how to face the impossible, how to find courage when you think you have none, and how to choose love instead of anger, fear, or hatred.

“I believe that Jesse was put on this earth to do what he  did… I’m proud of him. I Sandy Hookbelieve he left a message for me: nurturing,  healing, love.” Lewis added. “We understand these final words as a calling from Jesse that says, ‘I have something for you to do for us. That’s to consciously change an angry thought into a loving one’ because it is a choice.”

In addition to the book, Scarlett recently began the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, which promotes ways for communities  to “choose love over anger, gratitude over entitlement, and forgiveness  and compassion over bitterness.”

Read the full story: “Newtown Mom Describes Struggle for Forgiveness, Peace After Son’s Death.”

Helpful Forgiveness Hint: Struggle and Rest

When you begin to do the work of forgiveness, you should realize that you are practicing a moral virtue.  As Aristotle reminded us 2,350 years ago, to grow in any moral virtue takes effort and is a struggle.  So, please be prepared for some hard work as you proceed.
Gandhi Quote2At the same time, it is important that you not drive at this without rest.  Suppose you are starting an exercise program.  You would not want to put such effort into this that you are spending 8 hours a day, neglecting other aspects of your life.

What you need is balance (or the virtue of temperance).  Yes, work at forgiving and give it your attention, time, and energy.  And yes, rest and refresh.  This latter point is too little emphasized in high-achievement cultures.

Try to enjoy the journey and please do so in such a way that the forgiveness journey itself does not exhaust you, but instead eventually refreshes you.

Robert

Father Forgives Daughter’s Killer; Asks Others to do the Same

The Christian Science Monitor, Denver, CO — The father of a 17-year-old girl who was fatally shot at her suburban Denver high school told mourners at the girl’s memorial service that he and his wife have forgiven the killer, and he asked others to do the same.

Investigators say Karl Pierson shot Claire Davis at Arapahoe County High School on Dec. 13. She died eight days later. Pierson, 18, who was also a student at ArapahoeAnger-Rage-etc-Forgiveness High, killed himself after shooting Davis.

“My wife and I forgive Karl Pierson for what he did,” Michael Davis said. “We would ask all of you here and all of you watching to forgive Karl Pierson. He didn’t know what he was doing.”

Davis said Pierson “allowed himself to become filled with anger, rage and hatred. … The fact is that Karl was so blinded by his emotions he didn’t know what he was doing.”

Here is an excerpt from The Christian Science Monitor article:

Forgiveness is often misunderstood – and some people may even condemn Mr. Davis’s remarks, believing that they excuse Mr. Pierson’s actions or are an attempt at a “quick fix” – but forgiveness “does not cast justice aside [and] when it comes to a tragedy like this, forgiveness is a long journey,” says Robert Enright, an educational psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of “The Forgiving Life.”

Davis “is not all of a sudden wrapping up all of his negative emotions in a little box … and all is well,” Professor Enright says. “He’s going to be going through a process of forgiveness…. Rage might come into the picture for him” after this initial stage where “psychological Forgiveness-Excuse the crimedefenses” are kicking in, he speculates. “Forgiveness doesn’t wipe away pain; it helps us go through the pain in a healthy way to get to a healthy resolution.”

“Forgiveness simply means that the victim … on their own, irrespective of anything related to the offender, lets go of bitterness and resentment,” Enright says, and lets go of “the right to revenge,” by refusing to retaliate. Victims who forgive can still hold the offender accountable, but they are declaring their freedom – that they won’t be held hostage by the past or by anger, he says.


Read the full article
“Father of slain girl forgives Colorado shooter. Is that helpful?” and watch a video from the memorial service.

Your Unfolding Love Story for 2014

Oprah quote2We have reached a new year. Let us gently move forward one year from now to January 1, 2015. Let us do a mental exercise and pretend that 2014 is now over—gone forever. What you have said and done has now gone out to others for good or for ill. Regrets? Guilt? Remorse? These could be part of the package as you reflect back on 2014 on the first day of 2015. How have you lived in 2014? What could you have done to make the world a more loving place?

Back to present-day January 2014…now is your chance to open the door of opportunity to this New Year. An opportunity to fulfill your January 1st, 2015 hopes and dreams that you just reflected on—to make them whole, peaceful, joyous and a reality. Despite the unforeseen trials and hardships, regardless of others’ injustices and unfairness, you have the power to make the year 2014 a triumph of love worth remembering and celebrating next January 1st of 2015.

You are not the master of your fate in that you can prevent the unwanted. You, however, do have a strong influence on all of this if you make a commitment with me now to love. 2014 will be the year that you grow in love, give love to others, give love to those whom you do not think necessarily deserve it. The kind of love connected to forgiveness is that which serves–out of concern for the other. You have within you now the capacity to give this love freely, without cost, without anyone earning it. Go ahead, try it.      Give love away as your legacy of 2014.

GiftsHow can you start? I recommend starting by looking backward at one incident of 2013. Please think of one incident with one person in which you were loved unconditionally, perhaps even surprised by a partner or a parent or a caring colleague. Think of your reaction when you felt love coming from the other and you felt love in your heart and the other saw it in your eyes. What was said? How were you affirmed for whom you are, not necessarily for something you did? What was the other’s heart like, and yours?

This kind of love will not necessarily be a two-way street in 2014. You may have to extend the love through forgiveness, a hard but joyous road. Forgiveness is part of your unfolding love story. Forgiveness, which serves the other through compassion and gentleness, is not always reciprocated.

Yet, one thing is certain: When others reflect upon 2014 in early January, 2015, they will remember your kindness, your unconditional love, your forgiveness. They will see who you really are. And as for you? Well, you will have added a chapter to your unfolding love story. How do you think that will feel?

Welcome to 2014. The International Forgiveness Institute is here to support you as you add a new chapter to your book of life.

Robert