Archive for April, 2012

I would like to follow up on the question about the Narcissistic Personality. Don’t you think that after a while, a person who does not strive for goodness, including forgiving and being forgiven, and neglects the central virtue of justice (as stated by Plato) can actually diminish his humanity? He is being less than he could be. Therefore he is less human than he could be. What do you think?

This is an interesting challenge and it is nuanced. First, let us address the nuances in the question and then move to the issue of the person’s humanity. The original question presented a dichotomy: either the one with a Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) is human or not human. I answered that the one judging might see the one with symptoms of NPD as not human, but that is more of a problem centered in the one who judges, not in the one suffering from NPD.

You now have posed a question that is not a dichotomy. It is a question centered on degrees of humanity (you use the words “less human” rather than the words “not human”). If you claim there is “less” of something, then is it fair to say that there can be “more” of that same thing?

If so, let us examine this idea of “less” and “more” human. You mentioned Plato and so let us stay with this philosopher for a moment. The ancient Greeks thought that one developed as he or she practiced the virtues. In other words, when people practice forgiveness or justice, that person does not practice the entire, completed, perfected virtue, but instead practices it to the degree that it has been perfected in him or her (and it is never completely perfected). Each person, in other words, has a lesser or a greater degree of wisdom, consistency, and expertise when it comes to the virtues.

With this model of virtues in mind, it can be said that some people are closer to the perfection of humanity than are other people because they are growing wiser, more consistent, and more expert in the virtues, which define, in part, how human we are.

Yet, and this I think answers your question, all humans have the capacity for being virtuous, even if slightly and even if it is just potentiality at present (say, if the person is in a coma). Thus, all persons are human, even those with severe NPD, with all of its resultant self-centeredness. Some people are more human than others if we define humanity classically as growing in the virtues. At the same time, no one is less than human because, as taken for granted here, to be human means that we at the very least have the capacity to be virtuous.

To summarize:

  • Can any one person not be human? No.
  • Can any one person be less than human? No.
  • Can any one person be less than he or she could be as a human? Yes.
  • Can one person be more human than another, meaning that he has advanced in the perfection of the virtues more than this other person? Yes.
  • Does this then make the one more perfected in the virtues more worthy, more valued than the other? No because both are human and all humans are persons with inherent worth. The practice of forgiveness helps us to see that.
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Forgiveness Is an Illusion: Or Is This Statement the Illusion?

The International Forgiveness Institute, Inc. exists for the purpose of helping you to understanding forgiveness and, once it is understood, to practice it if you wish and then to give it away to others. We want you to know that there is a movement that has been building some steam in getting its message out and that message is ultimately irrational and dangerous for those who accept it without deep scrutiny.

The gist of the message is this:

Forgiveness as you think you know it is an illusion because when you try to deal with offenses against you, you will come to see that there are no such things as offenses. What is “out there” is subject to your inner subjective judgement and when you look deeply enough into these offenses outside of you, then you come to realize that there are no offenses, only illusions of offense. There are no sins. There are no offenses. There are no injustices. The Abrahamic religions had it wrong all along. The laws of any land have had it wrong all along. Law Schools are living an illusion that there are offenses to be tried. There are no criminals in the final analysis, only perceptions that what a mass murderer has done is “wrong.” The woman who was brutally raped, beaten, and left for dead in Central Park did not have an offense committed against her. The trial lawyer who sits by her side in court is being duped. The lawyer’s job should be to convince her to cultivate inner peace, to see the rabid attackers as mistaken, as uninformed, but not as sinners or offenders or perpetrators of injustice.

We at the IFI consider these ideas to be the illusion because, based on this view, there is no reality apart from one’s inner world to make sense out of that world. As the late Mortimer Adler challenged all of us, think of the cultures which think this way. What major advances in science have they made? You will see that the advancements in  cultures which do not accommodate to the fact that there is a reality suffer the  consequence of falling far behind in the sciences, which are based in the fact that there is a reality to be studied, measured, and understood with a common knowledge.

If forgiveness is the ultimate conclusion that there are no offenses to forgive and so the “usual” way of approaching forgiveness is wrong, then let us take this to its logical conclusion. Forgiveness as traditionally understood is a moral virtue. If  forgiveness does not exist, then neither does justice or patience or kindness or any other moral virtue. Morality exists only “in here” and not as a commonly held reaction to what is real in the world. Do you wish upon the world this level of moral chaos because you and others have decided that forgiveness in its traditional sense is an illusion?

Be on the lookout for this challenge to the traditional view of forgiveness as grounded in the reality that there are objective wrongs done against us. And if a rape and torture victim ever comes to you and says, “Is it all in my head that there has been a grave offense against me?” what will you say? Rationality, moral order, and a psychologically healthy response to injustice are at stake here. Which path will you choose to help the one who asks the question?

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Do You Want to Become a Forgiving Person?

“I hope you are beginning to see that forgiveness is not only something you do, nor is it just a feeling or a thought inside you. It pervades your very being. Forgiveness, in other words, might become a part of your identity, a part of who you are as a person. Try this thought on for size to see if it fits: I am a forgiving person. Did that hurt or feel strange? Try it again. Of course, to say something like this and then to live your life this way will take plenty of practice. Part of that practice is to get to know the entire process of forgiveness.”

Excerpt from the book, The Forgiving Life, page 79.

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How should I respond to some one to whom I have asked forgiveness for wrong doings, says that I have been forgiven, but constantly reminds me of my wrong doing?

There are two basic reasons why someone would remind you of the wrongdoing: 1) The person is now interested in helping you correct a behavior still in need of correction, or 2) He or she is still quite angry, despite the proclamation of forgiveness.

With regard to point #1, I ask you to examine your behaviors to see if the ones that led to your seeking forgiveness are still present. If so, then the person’s reminders are charitable, intended to help you change.

Yet, you used the word “constantly,” which suggests to me that point #2 is actually operating here, not point #1. If this is the case, then you have to approach the person with the understanding that he or she might think forgiveness was offered to you, but it has not been offered in any complete form. Perhaps the person has taken some important steps in this direction, and I urge you to try to see this first if it is the case. Then, with this perspective (that the person might at least be trying to forgive you), I recommend the following:

1) When he or she brings up the transgression again, you should work on forgiving the person first before approaching him or her.

2) When you approach the person, you could say something like this, “I notice that you forgive me for what I did, but you keep bringing it up. This is making it hard for me to move on in a dignified way. Is it possible that you are still angry with what I did? Is it possible that you need to forgive me more deeply?”

If he or she has anger left over, please be ready for a response that could be defensive (“Oh, no, I am not angry any more”) or confrontational (“What do you mean? You are too sensitive.”) In either of these cases, you may need to practice forgiving this person for the continued anger and his or her inconsistent message of forgiveness. You may have to repeat this pattern for a little while: forgive, approach the person gently about the issue, forgive again, and approach again.

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I was someone who was bullied in middle school. I was not so great at sports and I was quiet. This made me a target for about four other guys, who thought they were amazing. Sometimes, they would push against me as I walked through the halls and sometimes they would sit down by me at lunch and start whispering bad stuff in my ear as I tried to eat. Once I started to look them in the eye and talk in a way that showed them I was not about to take this, they started to back off, way off. I started to forgive them before I stood my ground and I am glad I did. Otherwise things could have gotten out of hand and a big fight could have started. They saw that I meant what I said and they did not want what was going to happen next. They were all talk and no courage. When I saw that it was even easier to forgive. They were scared kids trying to be tough.

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