So often when I talk with people who have suffered severe injustices, they are not ready to forgive. This is a normal reaction because a time of anger and adjustment to what happened is important. Forgiveness never should be rushed or pushed onto anyone. To the injured does the decision to forgive belong.
Within the past few weeks, I was talking with a teenager who lives under very trying circumstances. He lives on the West Coast of the United States. He has a history of violence against others because “this is the way you survive,” he told me. “Forgiveness is a sign of weakness,” he added. “You just can’t imagine what my family would say if I came home and proclaimed that I am forgiving those who hurt me. They would get a big laugh out of this.”
Yet, his strategies are not necessarily working for him. He is in a special program and could be expelled from his school and even from his school district. Three of his relatives are in maximum security prison. I hope we can keep him from following them.
“Not everyone agrees that forgiveness is morally good. For example, in 1887, Nietzsche said that only the weak forgive. In other words, if you have to keep a job, then you forgive. If you find another job, then you can boldly tell that boss where he can go as you strut out the door. Yet, is this philosopher Nietzsche talking about genuine forgiveness? I don’t think so.
To forgive is to deliberately offer goodness in the face of your own pain to the one who was unfair to you. This is an act of great courage, not weakness. Forgiveness—like justice or patience or kindness or love—is a virtue and all virtues are concerned with the exercise of goodness. It is always appropriate to be good to others, if you so choose and are ready to do so. As a caution, if you have only $1 to feed a hungry child and you get a phone call to please give mercifully to the local animal shelter, you should not exercise goodness toward the shelter if it means depriving your child of basic needs. Yet, if the circumstances are right and if you have an honest motive to give mercy to someone who hurt you, then going ahead with forgiveness is morally good.
Why? Because you are freely offering kindness or respect or generosity or even love (or all four together) and this might change you and the other person and others in the world. Even if no one is changed by what you do, it is always good (given the right motivation and circumstance) to offer mercy in a world that seems to turn its collective back on such an act too often.”
Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05)
. The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools). American Psychological Association.
Think about this: Long after you are gone, your love could be alive and well and living on this earth in the minds, hearts, and beings of others. You can begin to leave a legacy of love by how you live this very day. In all likelihood, you will meet others today. If your heart is filled with love rather than with bitterness, it will be much easier to pass that love to others. Do you see why it is so important to forgive? You are given the joyous opportunity to shed bitterness and put love in its place for the one who hurt you and then more widely to many, many others, as you are freed to love more deeply and more widely. The meaning and purpose of your life are intimately tied to this decision to leave a legacy of love.
Enright, Robert (2015-09-28). 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) (p. 225). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
We now see forgiveness as a protection in at least five ways. As we forgive, we are protecting:
(A) our own emotional health;
(B) the human dignity of the offender, not because of what happened but in spite of it;
(C) our relationship if the other wants to reconcile;
(D) other family members, friends, and colleagues who are protected from our resentment; and
(E) our communities from on-going anger that can pervade neighborhoods, separate people, and leave a blight that depresses economies.
After all, communities continually in contention do not receive tourist dollars, and governments often turn away, even if subtly, from such communities with high rates of violence. To forgive is to serve, to love, and to protect.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5565-5567). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5562-5565). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Here is your multiple choice exam for the question above:
Please check all that apply to you.
- to feel better
- to repair a relationship
- to grow in character because forgiveness makes me a better person
- to be of help to the one who hurt me
- to show my children, or others who are important to me, that forgiveness is important
- to help even in a little way to make a better world, which forgiving others does by reducing conflict and trying to create more peace
- to exercise goodness as an end in and of itself because forgiveness is good
- to honor my religious tradition which highly values forgiving
- to love because to forgive on its deepest level is to love another who is not loving me, at least in terms of the actions of unfairness
How many did you choose and why?
If you had to choose only one which typically characterizes you, which one is that?
If you had to choose only one which you think is the morally highest reason for forgiving, which one would you choose?
On which of the nine choices do you need to train your mind and heart more strongly so that you can consistently see, appreciate, and practice this one?
I go to the local gym frequently because I must stay as fit as I can for world travel centered on forgiveness education presentations. This is a very popular gym that frequently has 100 people working out at any one time. So, you get to see varying levels of fitness by the patrons of the gym.
One thing I have noticed over the past two years is this: there is a particular group of people, in a younger generation (I do not want to specify which generation this is), who can do, at most, about 6 push-ups at any one time. I am talking about the group as a whole; I am not just singling out one or two people…..and I am not doing this to criticize them.
I bring this up for the following reason: Somehow, in this particular generation (because it is common to every one of the gym patrons I have seen over a two-year period) the people (as students growing up) were never challenged in their education to do push-ups. My generation, in contrast, had what they used to call the Marine Corp Physical Fitness challenge during gym class. The challenge consisted of doing 60 push-ups at any one time. It is painfully obvious to me, as I walk through this gym, that the idea of doing 60 push-ups in a row was absent during their educational years…….and the consequence is that they cannot. Their upper bodies are not strong and this seems to hold across the board for all whom I see in this generation.
And this brings me to the point of this blog. If we do not challenge children to learn about forgiveness, to practice it, to stay at it, then when they are adults and are hurt by injustices, they will be weak in their response. They will not know how to forgive, they may not stay at it. Not being able to do push-ups is hardly an inconvenience in modern First-World societies. Not being able to forgive could be deadly.
What we do in schools matters for adulthood. Do educators really know the consequences of not encouraging students to do their forgiveness “push-ups”?
We need forgiveness education…………now.
Lance Morrow: “Evil possesses an instinct for theater, which is why, in an era of gaudy and gifted media, evil may vastly magnify its damage by the power of horrific images.” If this is true, we need forgiveness all the more in our times.
Forgiveness is not justice and therefore focuses on effects, not direct solutions to injustice. When injustice reigns, it surely is the duty of communities to exercise justice to counter that which is unjust.
Yet, what then of the effects of the injustice? Will the quest for and the establishment of justice in societies suffice to cure the broken heart? We think not and this is where forgiveness is needed for those who choose it.
Is there a better way of destroying the damaging effects of evil than forgiveness? As a mode of peace, forgiveness is a paradox because at the same time it is a weapon, one that fights against the ravages of evil. By destroying resentment, forgiveness is a protection for individuals, families, groups, and societies.