“As we continually live with love withdrawn from us and a resulting resentment (with the short-term consequences of thinking with a negative pattern, thinking specific condemning thoughts, and acting poorly), we can settle into a kind of long-term distortion of who the love-withdrawing person is, who we ourselves are, and who people are in general. The basic issue here is that once love is withdrawn from us, we can begin to withdraw a sense of worth toward the one who hurt us. The conclusion is that he or she is worth-less. Over time, we can drift into the dangerous conclusion, ‘I, too, am worthless. ’After all, others have withdrawn love from me and have concluded that I lack worth, therefore I do lack worth. Even later, we can drift into the unhealthy conclusion that there is no love in the world and so no one really has any worth, thus everyone is worth-less.”
Think about one time in your childhood when you had what seemed to be a serious disagreement with a friend. At the time, did it seem like this breach would last forever? Did it? How long did it take to either reconcile or to find a new friend? Time has a way of changing our circumstances. This is not to advocate a kind of passive approach to life here—such as, “Oh, I’ll just wait it out and not bother to exert any effort.” That is not the point. The point is to take a long perspective so that you can see beyond the next hill to a place that is more settled and the pain is not so great. You already saw in your childhood that conflicts end. And the consequences of those conflicts (feeling sad or angry) also end. Why should that same process of change not also apply now? Try to see your circumstance, as realistically as you can, one month from now. Try to see your circumstance six months from now. Try to see yourself two years from now. Will you be the same person? Will you respond to injustices in the exact same way as you did three months ago? Probably not. You will likely be able to meet challenges with greater strength and wisdom as you continue on the forgiveness journey.
Enright, Robert. 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) . W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
The point is to show that if we are to forgive well, we have to set aside our pride, our sense of self-righteousness, and realize that the one(s) who hurt us share a common humanity with us. We all have inherent or built-in worth. When we are humble, following Aristotle’s analysis of all moral virtues, we do not move toward the extremes of seeing ourselves as moral worms or as better than others because we are engaging in the practice of such an exalted virtue as humility.
Recently, I made a new friend, Kari Konkola, who holds a doctoral degree in history from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He specializes in the history of religion. As I discussed my interest in forgiveness, he responded that it would be hard to forgive if excessive pride is getting in the way. With a dominance of pride, self-righteous anger can push away the motivation to forgive.
Dr. Konkola further instructed me that humility, as a complement to forgiveness, was a central moral virtue in the Medieval period. The point during these Middle Ages was to realize that each of us is no better than others precisely because we all fall short of moral perfection. He went on to say that there has been a trend since the Medieval period in which humility as a valued moral virtue is in decline. He sees humility as the ignored moral virtue in the modern West.
So, with this challenge in mind, that humility is in decline, I decided to do a little psychological experiment. I wrote an essay centered on humility on the Psychology Today website, where I have been blogging since September, 2017. I posted the essay entitled, “Humility: What Can It Do for You” on April 27, 2020. That was over three weeks ago and the number of views for this essay as of this writing on May 20 is 477. In contrast, I posted an essay on the nine purposes of forgiveness less than a week ago and already the number of views is 2,027. It is typical to see between 5,000 and 10,000 views for some of these essays focused on forgiveness, and yet the one on humility is languishing, as Dr. Konkola may have predicted.
Humility seems to be the set-aside moral virtue. If so, then how can people forgive deeply if humility does not accompany the forgiving? How will people even gravitate toward forgiving if pride blocks all consideration of forgiving?
What has happened in the West that has led to either a disinterest in humility or even an aversion to it? Who had it right, those in the Medieval period or the modern West? I’m not sure of the precise answers here, but I am convinced that we somehow have managed to de-value an important moral virtue, one that might need to team with forgiveness if forgiving others is to be achieved well.
As I write this, the world is shut down. People are at home. I just talked by email with a student in Iran. He referred to what is happening as “chaos.” I have communicated with a professor in Israel and much of that country is now having the people work from home. I was going to present a series of lectures in Southeast Asia, but the people are prohibited from gathering in an auditorium. The doors to my own office building at the university in the United States now are locked.
The coronavirus has altered everyday life……all across the globe.
So many are wondering: How did this happen? When will this end? Will there be a mutated resurgence of this virus, as happened with the flu pandemic of 1918-1919? Will people continue to die? Will the economy die?
Prior to this pandemic, people were gathering, going about their lives, thinking that all they have to do to get the next cheeseburger is drive or walk to the nearest fast-food chain and there it will be. Now I hear that gun sales are skyrocketing and it is difficult to buy ammunition because people are awaiting food shortages and so others may break into their homes looking for sustenance.
The world is fragile, more fragile than we had thought. In reflecting on this, I think the collective ideas in so many areas of the world were centered on a logical fallacy that I will call modern-protection-through-science. Here is what I mean: As we look back on some of the pandemics throughout history, we see them occurring in the pre-scientific, pre-technological age. For example, consider:
The Plague of Justinian which occurred between 541 and 542 AD. The claim is that about 100 million people died in China, parts of Africa, and Europe.
The Leprosy pandemic of the 11th century spread throughout Europe.
The Black Plague emerged between 1346 and 1351. An estimated 50 – 200 million people perished, wiping out about 60% of the European population.
The First Cholera Pandemic of 1817 started in Russia, killing 100 million people, and spread to Great Britain, Spain, India, Africa, Asia, and the United States.
We now know through science that leprosy is a bacterial infection treated with antibiotics. Cholera, we know through science, is treated with rehydration and electrolytes. We are protected for the most part because of scientific knowledge. Yet, I wonder……have people become so reliant on science that they overdo it, thinking that pandemics are tragedies of the past and could never, ever visit us now?
It is this kind of thinking that I am calling the modern-protection-through-science logical fallacy. We go about our business as if the world is a rock-steady, protected place and we are the ones in control. If anything, this new pandemic, which continues to intensify as I write this, may be sufficient to teach us that, indeed, this planet is fragile, perhaps more fragile than we had thought. “Chaos” as the student from Iran put it in the email to me, is now present and throughout the world.
I further wonder if this modern-protection-through-science fallacy has led to yet another fallacy which is this: the-all-people-are-fine fallacy. If we break an arm, science and technology have a way of mending it. Yet, what about the broken heart? Does science have a cure-all for that? Have we been walking around not seeing the inner wounds in others? Have we ignored these wounds, thinking that all is fine and even if someone is not doing so well emotionally, well then, at least we have the science of medicines to assist. Perhaps, as is the case with Mother Earth, we might begin to see that people are fragile. People can break; people might be walking around with big wounds in them and they need more than science to aid them. Maybe they need real human contact, love, forgiving and being forgiven to be healed and to then aid others in their healing.
The COVID-19 pandemic, if anything, might be our teacher: The world is more fragile than we thought. People are more fragile than we thought. Our scientific age does not offer protection, at least in the short-term, from mutated viruses. Our scientific age does not offer protection from betrayals, insensitivities and insults, and bullying from others..…that can break our heart. Yet, our knowing this just might motivate many of us to see with new eyes, as the late Lewis Smedes used to put it, and to see how precious each person is.
Science itself will not lead the way to this conclusion of how delicate and worthwhile each person is, but perhaps the pain caused by the most recent pandemic might lead the way to such a conclusion.
As I look out the window of the hotel in downtown London, awaiting a flight soon to the Middle East, I see a bustling populace moving quickly……except for one man who is shuffling along slowly, quite in contrast to the others. As I watch, he stops, faces a passerby, and obviously is asking for funds. He is ignored. He shuffles a few more steps, approaches another, and is met with the same non-response.
His pattern is repeated over and over. I counted at least 15 approaches and 15 rejections. He then disappeared from view. I think he was invisible to many that day, even to those who were within view of him.
How we bristle when rejected by a co-worker who is not showing respect today or by others who do not share our goals. The man, refused by others over and over, probably felt wounded by the rejections.
The dear man in London was continuously rebuffed, and he kept trying……until after awhile he simply stopped asking. This sequence of approach-and-avoidance reminds me of Ralph McTell’s now classic song, Streets of London (originally released in 1969 and re-released in 2017):
Have you seen the old man In the closed-down market Kicking up the paper, With his worn out shoes? In his eyes you see no pride Hand held loosely at his side Yesterday’s paper telling yesterday’s news…..
In the all-night cafe
At a quarter past eleven, Same old man sitting there on his own Looking at the world Over the rim of his teacup, Each tea lasts an hour Then he wanders home alone……
In our winter city, The rain cries a little pity For one more forgotten hero And a world that doesn’t care.
The word “forgotten” catches my attention. That was the exact word used by imprisoned people serving life sentences with whom we spoke over a month ago. “Once you are here [in a maximum-security prison],” one gentleman explained to me, “you are forgotten.”
The forgotten people……
Yet, our forgiveness studies have taught me this: All people, regardless of circumstance, have inherent or built-in worth. The man, so continually rejected today on the street in London, has as much worth as the royalty in the palace. The one in maximum security prison for life has as much worth as the warden.
And in all likelihood, many of “the forgotten people” have stories to tell us of how they, themselves, were mistreated prior to their current plight. They have stories that include their own particular kind of pain, heartache, feelings that are part of the human condition. We need to hear those stories, to acknowledge their unique pain, their responses to that pain, and offer those suffering injustices from the past a chance to forgive. The forgiveness, for some, might be life changing as our science over the past three decades has shown for others.
We must not let forgiveness be the forgotten virtue.
We must not let the homeless and the imprisoned be the forgotten people.
In March of 2014, we posted a reflection here in which we encouraged you to grow in love as your legacy of 2014.
The challenge was this: Give love away as your legacy of 2014.
We challenged you again in 2015…..and 2016……and we kept going.
Our challenge to you now is this: Give love away as your legacy of 2020.
One way to start is by looking backward at one incident of 2019. 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?
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 2020 is just beginning. When it is January 1, 2021, and you look back on the year 2020, what will you see? Now is your chance to put more love in the world.
Tempus fugit. Your good will, free will, and strong will can point to a year of more love…..and the clock is ticking.
Viktor Frankl,a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find meaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.
In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.
I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.
How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind up their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.
As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person; and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.
When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.
A close friend asked one of us yesterday, “What is a good heart?” We never had been asked this before. Our response is below. What is your response?
A good heart first has suffered. In the suffering, the person knows that all on this planet are subjected to suffering and so his heart is compassionate, patient,supportive, and loving as best he can in this fallen world. The good heart is forgiving, ever forgiving, vigilant in forgiving. The good heart tries to be in service to others. The good heart is no longer afraid of suffering and has joy because of the suffering, not in spite of it. Having suffered and having passed through suffering, the good heart dances. Others do not understand the good, joyous heart. Yet, the one with the good heart does not compromise the goodness and the joy. It is like a valuable gift received and she knows it.
We have begun introducing Forgiveness Therapy in prisons because our research shows this: People in prison who fill out our survey tend to show that they have been treated badly by others prior to their arrest and imprisonment. In fact, about 90% of those filling out our surveys report that they have been treated moderately to severely unjustly in childhood or adolescence. We control for what is called social desirability or “faking good.”
Traditional rehabilitation for those in prison does not focus deeply and extensively on the wounds the person suffered early in life. One man was thrown out of his home when he was 8 years old. His dining room table for years was garbage cans. His bed at night was under cars for protection. He grew up angry and took this out on others.
I visited those who had voluntarily gone through Forgiveness Therapy with my book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness. It gave them the chance to confront and overcome their anger, even rage, toward those who abused them as they were growing up.
Here are two testimonies of those who experienced this program of anger reduction through forgiveness:
Person 1:“I have been imprisoned now 6 different times. I am convinced that on my first arrest, had I read your book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, I never would have experienced the other 5.”
Person 2:“My first imprisonment occurred when I was 12 years old. If you can find a way to give 12-year-olds Forgiveness Therapy, they will not end up as I have in maximum security prison.”
It is time to add Forgiveness Therapy to prison rehabilitation so that the anger, held for many years by some, can diminish. This then should decrease motivation to displace this unhealthy anger onto others.
They say that unforgiveness is like a poison you take hoping that the other person will die! I hope that’s not you.
Let’s start with the easy stuff. The science of forgiveness. Medical experts say that forgiving those who have wronged us helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart rate. The benefits aren’t just limited to the physical, though. Letting go of old grudges is known to reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and anger. People who forgive tend to have better relationships, be more optimistic, and overall, enjoy better psychological well-being.
So why is it so hard for us to do what is good for us to do? Well, forgiveness is about the hardest thing any one of us ever has to do. But the heart is a muscle and every muscle needs to be exercised. Forgiveness exercises the heart muscle, but not without the help of the head (and the hands for that matter), because forgiveness is above all, a CHOICE. So before moving onto the art of forgiveness, let’s try to define the word.
“Forgiveness is a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity and even love toward him or her.”
See. . . Forgiveness involves the head, the hands, and the heart (the intellect, the will, AND the emotions). Let’s take a minute to look at each of these components:
1st – THE EMOTIONS….where it all starts, in the ANGER. In forgiveness, we strive to abandon our right to resentment, that “re-feeling” of the sting of injustice. Resentment is a feeling, a passion, a movement we feel in a painful way as we strive to abandon the desires for revenge, retaliation, desires of getting even, settling the accounts, the wallowing in self-pity.
2nd – THE INTELLECT. By channeling our emotions through the intellect, we invite our reason to have a say and we work toward abandoning our negative judgments (the critical spirit, the condemnation, the name calling, the depressing self-talk).
3rd – THE BEHAVIOR. Our actions that sometimes speak louder than words. We try to abandon negative behavior in our gestures, attitudes and treatment of the other (the sourpuss, the cold shoulder, the bad-mouthing, the finger, the backbiting). By integrating these three dimensions of ourselves, forgiveness makes us WHOLE. Forgiveness makes us more human.
What forgiveness is NOT is: a four-letter word, excusing, condoning (suggesting that something bad is really something good), forgetting (it doesn’t produce amnesia of the event or the hurt; forgiving and the memory of the event can coexist), or pretending that nothing happened.
So if forgiveness is a choice; it is also a process that is multi-layered and cyclical and that is where the art of forgiveness comes in. It places no conditions such as an apology or remorse or even justice for that matter.
The art of forgiveness looks something like this:
We stop dancing around denial and acknowledge the injustice in order to uncover the anger.
We wiggle and wobble around the need to decide to forgive. To make a tough choice. To try to end the resentment. To try to be a loving person even to the one who was unfair to us. We try to learn what Mahatma Gandhi meant when he said: “Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”
Then we dig into the hard work of taking as wide a perspective as possible to re-frame the event, the anger and the pain. Can we consider the humanity in the person; can we see his/her woundedness, stress? Can we see that we both share a common humanity? That this person is not evil incarnate? Can we begin to feel any empathy? A softening of our heart toward understanding?
Finally, we unearth the peace and freedom of letting go of resentment and bitterness; we release the pent-up anger; lessening the emotional anguish. We discover a freer heart; meaning in our suffering. We come to realize that, in the words of Walt Disney’s Winnie the Pooh:“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” We learn the great paradox of forgiveness: as you reach out to others in love, you yourself experience emotional healing.
So the secret art and science of forgiveness suggests that the best medicine we can possibly take to improve our physical, psychological, social and spiritual health is forgiveness. Forgiveness is like the pill that offers the deepest healing of the wounds that fester in the human heart.
If you want to be happy for a moment, take revenge. But if you want to be happy forever, forgive. ~ Rosemary Kite
Rosemary Kite and Forgive4Peace have been long-time supporters and financial contributors to the International Forgiveness Institute. Its mission is “to promote forgiveness education at home, at school and at work for the sake of world peace. Forgiveness fills the gap between our world’s unrest and world peace. All education fosters peace. Forgiveness education brings peace.” In addition to rewarding achievements in forgiveness, Forgive4Peace raises awareness of the importance and value of forgiveness in one’s everyday life. Visit the Forgive4Peace website here.