Archive for April, 2012
National Post (Canada). Lina Dhingra, the daughter of a man who stabbed his wife to death while he was in a psychotic state, has forgiven him. As she visited him in prison and looked at him through the bullet proof glass, she could see his mental illness. “I said to him, ‘I love you, Poppa. I forgive you.’ There was no question,” she recalled. His son is still estranged from the father. Full story here.
My father left my mother about a year ago. My brother and I are adults now and we both try to support my mom. I am the only one who tries to support my dad. This has led to quite a bit of tension between my brother and me. We disagree about forgiving him. What should I do to reduce this tension with my brother?
This is never easy, when one person forgives and another in the family gets insulted by the act of forgiveness. I think the key issues here are these:
1) Be sure to acknowledge that your father’s leaving is morally wrong. I am presuming that your mother did nothing so egregious as to deserve this. Your brother might think that by your forgiveness, you are condoning your father’s leaving, which you are not because forgiveness does not condone wrongdoing.
2) Gently point out that forgiving is a free will choice by the one who offers the forgiveness. You are free to offer it and your brother is free not to offer it. Your individual choices do not make either one of you bad people.
3) Try to find common ground, such as your shared desire for your mother and father to be reunited. This common goal may help you to work as a team.
4) Finally, your brother’s refusal to forgive today is not necessarily his final word on the matter. Be open to change in him. If he becomes open to forgiveness, he might want and need to ask your forgiveness for how he responded to you when you forgave.
All right, class, you have a homework assignment today. For a minimum of 10 times today, as you meet others (in the family, at work, or in casual encounters) or pass them by on the street, you are urged to do this:
1) First, see each person without just passing by or glancing casually at him or her.
2) See that there is so much more to this person than a casual encounter will allow you to see. Realize that there is a depth to this person, and this depth is currently not entirely known to you.
3) Next, consider this thought, “The person I am encountering right now, or seeing right now, probably is carrying emotional wounds inside of him or her.”
4) Go farther down that road: “Here is this person with emotional wounds and so he or she is probably carrying a lot of emotional weight right now. Even though burdened in certain ways, this person is bearing up under this weight and functioning well (or at least reasonably well) under this circumstance.”
5) And still farther down that road: “It takes courage to live each day with a wounded heart……and this person is doing just that.”
6) Try then to think this: “There is a certain dignity to each person. Each has emotional wounds and carries these anonymously, quietly, and courageously.”
7) Finally, try to think this: “What can I do to ease this person’s wounds today? Perhaps a little smile, or a comment, or somehow acknowledging this person will help ease his or her pain in some small way.”
Seeing each person as part of the walking-wounded of this world is good preparation for forgiving. You are training your mind in the truth that all carry wounds. When you then apply that principle to those who have hurt you, you are beginning to practice forgiveness. This little homework assignment is intended to strengthen you in preparation for being a forgiver. And even if you have no one to forgive, this little exercise is likely to put an unexpected joy in your heart as an end in and of itself.
As we know, some people are more skilled athletes than others, no matter how hard some try. Do you think something similar occurs with forgiveness? Might some people just be better at forgiving than others, no matter how hard they try?
This is a very challenging question primarily because it asks about natural dispositions in forgiving and no one knows the answer with certainty. My answer, based on reason, is open to feedback and change. I have three points to make.
First, I have never met a person who says, “Forgiveness is easy for me. It just seems to be part of my nature.” So, even if some people are better at forgiving than others, it still is not easy for anyone. In other words, even if one person seems to find it easier to forgive than others, that person still has an uphill struggle to become more perfected in the virtue. In contrast, some people with minimal practice do not find it hard to throw a baseball 90 miles an hour, although even this needs practice to achieve excellence.
Second, some people may find it easier to forgive than others because of what has happened to them “out there” in their family or community, as certain influential people show the person the way to forgiveness. The support from others could explain why some people have an easier (not an “easy,” but an “easier”) time forgiving than others. The person, then, might appear to have a natural disposition to forgive, but it has been made possible by others’ teaching and encouragement.
Third, there probably are certain qualities “in here” (inside the person) that aid a person in forgiving more readily and more deeply than others. Yet, it seems to me that those inner qualities, such as humility and love, are won only after a hard-fought struggle to advance in them. The developments, in other words, require much work and do not necessarily just happen, as can be the case with throwing a baseball at a higher velocity than the average person.
We all need work to advance as forgivers.
As astounding as Kyle’s triumph is, there is also another story to be told here, one of recognizing who a person really is. One of the many things that struck me about this story was the younger sister’s comment, she didn’t see him as “different” she just saw him as a “normal big brother,” her brother. Her vision was pure and un-skewed by the bitterness of criticism and judgmental views that often come with age. The love of her big brother Kyle, out-shined the “abnormalities” seen by others. She did not see the physical differences that clouded the perspectives of so many who let those differences get in the way of seeing a courageously strong soul, full of life and love. It’s too bad for them…what a loss on their part. In their blindness they missed out on an empowering opportunity to meet, get to know, and learn from someone who has so much to give and so much to teach. Have you ever noticed how easily a child seems to forgive? I think this is in no small way due to the fact they have an innate ability to see through the obstacles that can obstruct our view, into the heart of who a person is, to see the goodness within, and to recognize the “human-ness” of a person. What if we could all see each person, despite their differences and even despite their faults and shortcomings, simply as a human being worthy of love? What if we could see each person through the eyes of a child, with purity and true clarity?