I would not say that the root cause is unforgiveness. The root cause is deeply unfair treatment by others, acts of injustice. I would say that as people fail to find a solution to their initial shock and anger, then unforgiveness eventually does play a part in a person continuing to live with deep anger, pessimism, and bitterness. Forgiveness offers a way out of these consequences of being treated deeply unfairly.
I do not expect people to readily want to forgive those who have done horrible things. Some people say that once such horrible acts occur, then forgiveness is never possible. Yet, there are those who have forgiven people for such atrocities. It is a matter of public record: Corrie Ten Boom in her book, The Hiding Place, is just one example as she forgave Nazis for killing her family members.
I use the term “forgivingly fit” to describe how it is possible for people to forgive where others would never even consider it. As people continually practice forgiveness in the little things of life, they build up an insight and a practice of forgiving that helps them when tragedy strikes. This does not at all mean that those who refuse to forgive in these contexts are bad people, not at all. We all have a choice of forgiving or not and to refuse should not lead to other people condemning them for this.
Yes, people can genuinely forgive even if they are not able to reconcile with another because of the other’s continual hurtful behavior. When one forgives in this way, he or she commits to doing no harm to the other, works at reducing resentment, and strives to offer goodness. In the latter case that might mean, for example, giving a donation to charity in that person’s name, without interacting with the person because of the possibility of further injury.
In January of this year, we posted a reflection here in which we encouraged you to grow in love as your legacy of 2016.
One way to start is by looking backward at one incident of 2015. 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?
It is now about seven months later. Can you list some specific, concrete ways in which you have chosen love over indifference? Love over annoyance? If so, what are those specifics and how are they loving? We ask because 2016 will be 75% over soon. Have you engaged in 75% of all the loving responses that you will leave in this world this year?
Tempus fugit. If you have not yet deliberately left love in the world this year, there is time…..and the clock is ticking.
Thompson Reuters Foundation, Bogota, Colombia – Alan Jara, a native of Colombia who was kidnapped and kept in chains in a jungle camp for more than 7 years, now is the head of the governmental reparation body that is giving compensation to approximately 8 million victims of the country’s five-decade war. Despite his grave suffering, he has decided to forgive his captors.
“Not to forgive would keep me captive and not allow me to get rid of the anger and move on,” he said. “For peace to exist, Colombians have no option but to forgive.”
After nearly four years of peace talks, President Juan Manuel Santos’ government and the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) announced late on Wednesday they had reached a final peace accord to end the country’s war. The half-century guerrilla war, one of the world’s longest-running armed conflicts, has killed at least 220,000 people and driven millions of others from their homes. The accord must still be approved by voters.
The one who was hurt may have trust issues with the one who did the injuring. In other words, this could be the 25th incident of hurt. Try to discern how often the person has been hurt by the other. If there is a pattern, then it is understandable why the injured person is hesitant to reconcile.
In this kind of case, I recommend being aware of small steps, done by the injuring person, to truly change and be trustworthy. If the one who acted unfairly does not characteristically engage in hurtful actions, then perhaps there is a trust issue (in the one who refuses to forgive) that goes back a long way, even to childhood. Those who are mistreated by parents, for example, have difficulty establishing trust in their later relationships with others. If this is the case, then practicing forgiving of parents may help the person to more easily trust people in the present and move toward a healthy reconciliation.
First, it is the child’s choice to forgive or not. If you hover over the child and demand forgiving, this could do more harm than good. Let the child be drawn to forgiveness. Perhaps you can watch a film in which a character forgives. Let the child see that and then ask such questions as these:
“Did you see what that character in the film did?
Why do you think the character forgave, even though so hurt and angry?
What happened after the forgiving, what was the consequence of the forgiving?
When we are really angry, one thing to think about is forgiving the other. It can do you a lot of good.
What do you think?”
If you do not mind, Nihilism, forgiveness has a challenge for you. It is this:
Forgiveness is quite interested in whether or not you still hold to your view under the following circumstance [Warning! Graphic content…to make an important point]:
An 8-year-old girl was brutally kidnapped and repeatedly raped by 5 men who kept her hostage for one year. When she finally escaped, her right arm was so damaged from physical abuse that the arm had to be amputated at the elbow. She now is blind in her left eye and she is afraid to go out of her home.
Is there any person in the world who looks at this truthfully who would say, “She deserved this”? Or, would say, “There is nothing wrong in these men’s actions”? Or, “These actions are wrong only for certain cultures and historical epochs, but not for others”?
I know, I know. Your rebuttal is this: You can show us at least one ideology in the world that would tell you that the men had a right to this.
I am not talking about ideologies, if you do not mind.
I am talking about looking this situation straight in its face and then looking within to one’s own conscience and then asking, “It this wrong? Is this wrong today and yesterday and 1,000 years ago and 1,000 years in the future…..across all cultures everywhere?”
Does the morality of this scenario “inherently exist” in you and in all people of conscience? If you say no, then are you willing to keep the above image in your mind…..for the rest of your life? Can you do it and survive? If not, then are you willing to reconsider your nihilistic view?
Forgiveness, by confronting horrendous actions of others and doing so day after day across so many cultures, sees that some things indeed are inherently wrong, even if some people continue to deny as wrong what happened to that dear girl above. If you cannot answer—truly answer—forgiveness’ challenge in this example, then your philosophy needs to push the restart button.
Forgiveness disagrees with you. Forgiveness says that even when enduring the worst of suffering, we have the capacity to love and to show the world that our love is stronger than any suffering thrown our way. To love in the face of grave suffering gives profound meaning to human existence.
I know, I know. You say in response that to love is temporary and so it is an illusion. Life remains meaningless in the face of even love’s illusion.
Yet, for those who have struggled to love, they have an interior proof that this kind of love is real, not an illusion, that can stay with a person. The subjective experience is very affirming that there is meaning to life.
What was that? You are saying that there is no purpose to life? You say that even if a person finds meaning, yet there is no direction to life. You say that all we have left is this passive feeling of love inside that means nothing to anyone else. It is a drug, you say, only for the drugged one.
Forgiveness says otherwise. Forgiveness not only says, but shows that love can be in service to others who are hurting. Once a person experiences the love of forgiveness, then he or she often is highly motivated to share that love with others. This is purpose. This is getting it done. This is no illusion.
Nihilism, I would like you to meet the love that is forgiveness. Love confirms that there is meaning and purpose to life. A definition of nihilism is to negate or to destroy. Perhaps forgiveness has just destroyed nihilism.
We deliberately use stories so that the child or adolescent is placed into a safe environment. It is not the student, then, who first has to confront wrongdoing. The student gets to quietly observe others who experience injustices and find a way to work out of the pain by forgiving. The story characters, then, serve as role-models in a non-threatening context. Once the students learn what forgiveness is (and is not) and sees how story characters forgive, and the consequences of doing so, then they might be interested in trying to forgive. It is their choice.