A Reflection on Forgiveness and the Forgotten People

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):

(c) The Bowes Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

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
A
t 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.

Robert

Your Unfolding Love Story for 2020

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.

Robert

Finding Meaning in Suffering: I Am Someone Who Can Love Despite Hardship

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 Holocaust survivors found meaning in their sufferingmeaning 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 To live is to suffer, to survive, is to fin meaning in the suffering. Viktor E. Franklup 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.

Robert

What Is a Good Heart?

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.

Robert

Checking in Again Regarding Your Unfolding Love Story

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 2019.

One way to start is by looking backward at one incident of 2019 so far. 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 2019 will be 50% over as we move through June. Have you engaged in 50% 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.

Robert

Should ‘Moral Love’ or ‘Respect’ or ‘Civility’ Underly Our Forgiving Others?

Moral love encompasses civility and respect in its response and so is the most complete. Civility is the least demanding and also the least complete. I can be civil and rather detached from a person who has hurt me. I can even be civil without respecting the person. Even respect does not go far enough. I can respect a person who has injured me and, of course, this is a major step in the right direction. Yet, respect can be given from a distance, from a position that does not ask for my sacrifice. When I extend moral love to another, I not only must be civil and respectful, I must be more than that. I must encounter the other with the intent of helping for his or her sake, not my own sake. To morally love another who has hurt me is to enter into that person’s world with an intent to serve, even to suffer to make him or her a better person to the extent that the person will allow that. Moral love asks the most of me in forgiveness.

Robert

My Journey to Forgiveness

I never expected that one day I would be asked to give talks about forgiveness.  Forgiveness was the farthest thing from my mind. How could I ever forgive someone who hurt me so much, someone who was supposed to love and adore me? After all, I was her child.  By the time I was twelve, I made a pack with myself that I would never let anyone hurt me the way she did.  I lived a life protecting my heart, keeping connections at a distance and sabotaging intimate relationships if they got too close.  And where did I end up?  Middle aged and single.

On the outside, I looked good.  Had a successful career in a glamorous field and was acknowledged with prestigious awards along the way.  My face, my projects, my stories were featured on the front pages of The New York Times, The Washington Post and others.   As I aged, I managed to keep my weight down, my figure looking not too far from college days and my face less wrinkled than many of my contemporaries.

I would be rich if I had a dollar for every time someone asked me, “Why are you not married?” or said “The man that gets you is a lucky person.”

A young Gayle and her mother Mildred.

Underneath this glossy package, I was seething with anger towards my mother.  My accomplishments didn’t matter.  From head to toe there wasn’t anything right about me. My hair was too frizzy, my butt too fat and my nose too big.

Growing up and well into adulthood in my mother’s eyes, I just couldn’t do anything right. And my brothers couldn’t do anything wrong.

Little did I know, the obstacles I faced in my childhood would end up being the biggest opportunity of my life.  By facing those challenges, I figured out the secret to finding forgiveness and the power and freedom that gives you.

Growing up in my house was like growing up in enemy territory and you’re the only one who was captured.   From the moment I was born, mom took ownership.   She was at the helm controlling how I looked, spoke and behaved.  Not always successfully as she wrote in a letter to me in college, “You are my product and you are destroying it.”

When my nose started growing so did her relentless campaign to get me to have a nose job.  No, I never had a nose job.

My brothers were mom’s bouncers. The one closest to my age did not want me around as you can imagine he had been the youngest. And he let me know it on a regular basis – destroying my dolls and then trying to do the same with me. And my eldest brother did as he was told.

When mom wanted me out of her way, she had my brothers put me on top of the refrigerator where I could not get down.

There is one evening mom refers to today proudly as the night she pulled a Mommie Dearest on me. Remember the movie about how Joan Crawford was so abusive to her daughter Christina?

I was a teenager and out with my friends.  I came home a bit later than she expected. When we pulled up to my house, my mother was standing on the street with a glass of water in one hand and the dog’s leash in the other hand.  With my friends  watching from the car and the head lights shining on us my mother threw the water in my face, and told me to walk the dog, she didn’t care if I got raped if I wasn’t already. That was just the beginning.

Never knowing what I would do that would trigger her rage on me, I lived in fear of my mother, in fear of her punishments, often humiliation.

The fear led me to being sick and I had headaches and dizzy spells. As soon I left home I never had headaches again.

Gayle, shown above — and, yes, she’s Jewish, so the “nose” problem (mom wants her to have it “fixed”) crops up early on and never goes away.

When I hit middle age, I finally gave in to mom and agreed to visit plastic surgeons for consultations about my nose as long as I could have a camera crew with me.  What resulted was a funny short film about mom’s relentless campaign to get me to have a nose job.

After the Q&A, people stood on line to compliment my nose, and then tell me their story. It wasn’t always about their nose. It was about criticisms they endured from their mother.

I saw how many people were hurting and knew I was not alone.

It didn’t matter if I was attaining success in my career, traveling the world, making friends internationally – underneath it all I was fuming and holding onto victimhood.

I had given my power away.   I was still reacting to mom’s insults and criticism.  And often would give it right back to her, having learned how to have a sharp tongue and knowing how to leave a lasting scar.  I was not proud of my behavior and it was not making me happy.

I was emotionally and mentally trapped hanging onto the anger.

I knew I would have to change how I thought about my mother in order to heal myself.

I knew if I was going to find peace and happiness I would have to forgive her. I just didn’t know how.

Mom was now well into her 80s. I asked her if she would be willing to go on a journey with me to resolve our relationship in front of the cameras and she agreed. I knew I had a golden opportunity. In her mature years without the responsibility of taking care of children, my mom’s humor came out and she was not only willing but also happy to show herself to the world.

The result was my award winning feature documentary LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER!  It’s been released widely. Unforeseen, this deeply personal film has been transforming lives all over.  Due to the humbling response, I have launched workshops and talks teaching forgiveness called NO MORE DRAMA WITH MAMA.

So how did I do it? How did I forgive my mother?   There are three main steps.

The first step is to UNDERSTAND.

I knew I had to first understand my mother and to do so I would have to dig into her past. With cameras rolling, I started my investigation and learned about her pain, her father’s suicide attempts, the untimely death of her baby sister, and the financial hardships.  And the childhood she never really had.

A big light bulb moment came when I played a psychological board game. I threw the dice and it landed. The facilitator asked to me to imagine my mother as a little girl. At that point, I knew about her childhood and saw a wounded little girl. Then she said imagine yourself as a little girl.  I knew my pain and that I was a wounded little girl. Then she said now you both come together.  Wow! She was no longer my mother. We were both wounded little girls.

The second step is REFRAME.

By learning about my mother’s pain, I was able to understand her and instead of seeing her as an abusive mother, I now reframed how I looked at her and saw her as a wounded child.  And by doing that I changed my expectations of her.

The third step is FORGIVE.

When she said something critical, it bounced off of me, as I knew she was a little girl in pain herself.  By reframing how I looked at my mother, I was able to actually feel compassion for her and forgive her.  I rendered her abuse powerless over me. And as a result her insults were less often until they faded away. Why?  Because they had no effect on me. I laughed them off or ignored them and at times gave her love in return.

What makes us so upset is when we have unfulfilled expectations.   When your three year-old daughter looks up at you and says, Mommy or Daddy, I don’t love you anymore. What do you do?  You bend down and pick her up and give her love because you know that is really what she is asking for.  So when you mother tells you that you are fat, you will amount to nothing, imagine she is a child crying for love and respond accordingly.

I forgave my mother. I didn’t say I forgot. You never forget.


“If you don’t forgive and you hang on to the anger and resentment, it hurts you and affects all aspects of your life – your relationships and health.”
– Gayle Kirschenbaum


While I was making LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER! I reread my childhood diaries and relived the trauma. I ended up getting an autoimmune disease. It came out through my skin, and I developed a bad case of psoriasis on my hands that they were bleeding and I needed to wear vinyl gloves it was so painful. After trying various medical treatments and not getting lasting results I turned inside and realized I got myself sick due to the emotional stress and I will heal myself.  I did so by changing my thoughts and getting rid of the anger and forgiving my mother and feeling love.

The biggest gift you can give yourself is the ability to forgive.

Forgiveness is emotional freedom. It unleashes the perpetrator from holding the noose around our neck, which we have allowed.

Once I learned the secret to forgiveness I was able to apply these steps to other people and used this method to also forgive my brothers.  I know now when I am faced with a difficult person and situation how I can turn it around.

As I look at others who are acting unkindly, I reflect on myself and know when I am unkind to others, it is coming from fear, insecurity and anger.  When we are feeling loved we are not reacting nasty to others.

Gayle and her mother after forgiveness.

With that said, by showing kindness, compassion and love to someone you can actually transform them.

Our BRAIN is the most powerful organ in our body. It is our thoughts that control our  emotions and actions.

By changing my thoughts I was able to reframe how I saw my mother and forgive her.

Mom has become my closet friend.  Today she is in her 90s. We have been traveling the world together for the last 10 years.  We speak to each other daily by choice because we love to share and communicate.

To recap the three simple steps:
1. UNDERSTAND
2. REFRAME
3. FORGIVE

Think about your own life.  Who hurt you so badly that you have not been able to forgive them?   Remember you have the power to make the choice whether to forgive or not.  We all have a story.  Be the hero of your story not the victim. 


To learn more about LOOK AT US NOW, MOTHER!  and watch it,  visit: https://www.lookatusnowmother.com/   It is also on Netflix, Amazon and several other venues.

To learn more about Gayle Kirschenbaum’s work or to book her for her talks, screenings  and workshops, visit:  https://www.gaylekirschenbaum.com/

To watch Gayle’s TED Talk, visit: No More Drama With Mama

Email: Gayle@gaylekirschenbaum.com