Archive for April, 2012
Excerpt from pages 37-38 of the book, The Forgiving Life by Dr. Robert Enright:
“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.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal. Steven Kalas, a counselor in Nevada, has an interesting reflection on forgiveness. His main point is that those who transgress sometimes tend to hide this fact from themselves. Pride is the central barrier to admitting that one has done wrong. Yet, eventually, this realization can come pouring out and how should the recipient of this humble confession react to it?
There are certain psychological disorders which some people exhibit, making it very difficult to interact with them. The Narcissistic Personality Disorder is one of these. It is considered to be a chronic state of self-absorption. Some of the symptoms that go into the diagnosis include these: extreme reaction to criticism such as excessive humiliation or even rage; takes advantage of others to achieve his or her goals; excessive preoccupation with beauty and ideal love or power and success; has unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment (the others in his or her life, for example, are expected not to show any anger whatsoever); and disregards the feelings of others.
Living or working with someone who consistently shows these symptoms is a challenge. You are probably demeaned for small things and you have to guard against believing the false accusations against you as true. This requires standing in the truth of who you are as a person and seeing the distortions that the other person has. Because the narcissistic patterns are consistent, you are faced with consistent challenges.
Under such circumstances, it is easy to slip into the incorrect thought that the other is not human. The struggle is to work on seeing the inherent worth of this person, not because of what he or she has done, but in spite of this. I recommend that you read pages 179-182 in my new book, The Forgiving Life. It will help you see the truth about this person, who in all likelihood is deeply hurting. He or she is human. Your struggle now is to see this, to see beyond the frustrating behaviors. Your forgiving the person will help you to see his or her humanity.
I further urge you to read this section of the book and apply it directly to yourself. Sometimes we start to devalue ourselves because of the constant criticism given out by someone suffering in this way.
One major goal of the process of forgiveness is to be reconciled with those who have hurt us by their unjust acts. If the ones who were unjust refuse to change, refuse to reconcile, is the process of forgiveness then incomplete? After all, if the goal is not accomplished, how complete can it be?
If a person wishes to serve the poor and gets caught in traffic, which prevents him from going to the soup kitchen, one can hardly say that the service to the poor was accomplished. Yet, I think this analogy is not a strong one for this reason: Forgiving as a moral virtue is complete in itself when the person exercises that virtue. The exercise of that virtue is independent of others’ reactions to it. Not only did the forgiver intend to perform a forgiving act but also he did so when he offers a cessation of resentment and some form of goodness to the other. In our soup kitchen example, the well-meaning person had full intent to work in the soup kitchen, but did not do so.
All virtues are complete as virtues when exercised appropriately and do not require a specific response from another. As another analogy, if a police officer exercises justice by restraining a burglar, the police officer has exercised the virtue of justice (presuming he had a deliberate intent to exercise justice). Even if the burglar now escapes and burglarizes three different stores, the police officer’s act of justice is complete as a virtue. The intended purpose was not brought to completion and so we must distinguish between a completion of the virtue itself and a completion of an intended purpose for the virtue. The intended purpose at least in part of the process of forgiveness is reconciliation. So, one can forgive and complete this as a moral virtue. At the same time, the other can spurn the forgiveness, in which case, the intended purpose of the process of forgiveness is not fulfilled.
There was a rash of strong tornadoes in the Midwestern United States last week. Is it appropriate to encourage children, who become frightened by such serious natural disasters, to forgive such weather events? I am thinking that forgiveness might reduce anger and calm the children when they think of these dangerous weather conditions.
In your asking this question, I can see that your intentions are honorable toward children. You are trying to find a way to reduce their anxiety. Yet, we do not want to distort what forgiveness is for the sake of people’s comfort. Forgiveness occurs when a person has been treated unjustly by other people. Weather events cannot act unjustly for obvious reasons; they do not have motivations to act in morally good or bad ways; they do not have free will. Thus, no weather event, no inanimate object can do moral wrong and so it cannot be the target of forgiveness. Instead of asking the children to forgive in such circumstances, I recommend that you work with them to accept what happened. Acceptance might also calm the nerves. By not introducing forgiveness in this context you are preserving its true meaning for when a child does have to forgive another person.