Archive for September, 2012

Why Forgiveness Brings Joy

Forgiveness brings joy? Where did I come up with that, the skeptic might ask. Well, our forgiveness research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, since 1993, has shown that as people take the time to forgive others for deep injustices the following tends to happen for the forgiver: lower anger, anxiety, and depression, and higher self-esteem and hope for the future. Are these fancy psychological ways of saying, “My joy has increased”?

Maybe not. Perhaps there is much more to forgiveness than a change in one’s emotions and in one’s perceptions of the self. In reflecting on this issue lately I have come to a new conclusion: Forgiveness brings joy because of what the future holds for those who routinely forgive as part of The Forgiving Life.

Here is what I mean. When we forgive and make it a part of our very being, we start to give a high priority to love in our relationships. By love, I mean the kind that is in service to other people for their good. We first love through forgiveness by looking back, by seeing who was back there in our past to make us miserable, and we respond by trying to love them, not for what they did, but in spite of this.

Eventually, we realize that not only can we go back to our past and love those who may not have loved us but also we realize that we can bring that love into the present. We can exercise this love-as-service-to-others not only toward those who have offended us, but also to all whom we meet today. We can smile at the person who looks lonely as we pass him or her on the street. We can offer kindness to a co-worker. We can love.

Even more eventually, we come to realize that our future is very, very bright. When we get up in the morning, our way of relating is through love. And it will be that way tomorrow and a hundred tomorrows from now. We have learned to love and it is now part of us, regardless of the injustices we might face.

Forgiveness may bring joy when we have some emotional relief from others’ unfairness. Forgiveness brings more decided joy when we live a life of love. Try it. You can’t wait to get up in the morning once you live life through the lens of future forgiveness.

Dr. Bob

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Treat the Cause, Not Just the Symptoms of Bullying: Encourage Those Who Bully to Forgive

A story in yesterday’s newspaper and a conversation with a doctoral student today has led me to this conclusion: Well-meaning people are making progress in confronting the student-bullying problem across the world…..and yet most of these professionals are not looking closely enough at the real problem to find the best solution.

The newspaper article, “Bullish on anti-bully business,”¬†appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

One main point of the article is that some professionals are offering solutions in schools to those students who have been victimized. As one example, encouraging the bullied students to find ways to calmly stand their ground when being bullied can be a way of diffusing the bullying behavior. It seems to work.

When I talked with the graduate student today, she had just finished a masterful review of the bullying literature in the psychological sciences. She reported that a key research topic presently is to examine the coping strategies of those being bullied. Those who seek social support from friends and teachers, for example, cope better with the effects of bullying than do those victims who cry.

The newspaper article and the research documented by the graduate student converge on the same theme: Help the victim.

We continue to suggest the untried theme that may seem counter-intuitive today, but will appear obvious to many in the future: Yes, help the victim, but also help the one who is bullying to get rid of his or her anger, which is fueling the bullying.

Those who bully have been victimized by others. Help them to reduce their resentment toward those who were the victimizers and the bullying behavior will melt away. Why? Because wanting to harm others comes out of a position of profound woundedness within. Angry people are wounded people and angry, wounded people are the ones who lash out at others, even when these “others” did nothing whatsoever to provoke the verbal or physical attack.

We point principals, teachers, and parents to our Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program, intended to melt that anger in the one who bullies… that victims are no longer victims…..because the one bullying has no need any more to throw his wounds onto others. Forgiveness heals those wounds.

It is time.

Dr. Bob

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Is there such a thing as passive abuse? My spouse is constantly ignoring me, engages in long periods of silence, and is not receptive to my pointing out how harmful this is. I see the problem clearly. My partner does not. It is really hard to keep forgiving what is not seen as an injustice by the other party. What advice can you offer on this very difficult situation?

Yes, there is a form of abuse that is passive and silent as you describe. I am presuming that any offense you have perpetrated does not match the duration and intensity of her ignoring and silent behavior. I want to add that I am not saying that you did anything at all. You did not say. Passive aggression, as it is sometimes called, can result from the person being very angry at someone else—not you—and thus the anger could be displaced onto you.

Either way, whether you did something much smaller than the reaction toward you now or you are a victim of displaced anger, your job right now may be to forgive….every day. Ongoing abuse needs a courageous dose of forgiveness to keep your own anger low. So, I recommend that you roll up your sleeves, forgive, and then forgive again and again.

Keep striving for justice, too. After you forgive and are not angry, approach your partner and ask to speak about this situation. Your partner may not be receptive. Forgive again and strive for justice again. It is not easy, but it is a truthful and joyful way to live because you are doing your best and offering love in the face of a very challenging situation.

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What advice do you have for people who now want to forgive those who perpetrated 9/11?

My advice is specifically for those who want to forgive. In other words, they are ready to do so. First, I would recommend doing a little research on those who have been identified as planning and perpetrating the attacks. I say that so that you can concretely see who the people are. It is easier to forgive a person you can see rather than an abstract set of people.

From there, I recommend working on seeing them as persons. You can gain some insight into this from this post: We All Have Inherent Worth.

Next, you might want to consider what we call “bearing the pain” of what happened. You are not giving in or taking on pain that will not leave. When you bear the pain you commit to not passing the pain that you now have onto other people. Sometimes we displace our pain onto innocent others. As we bear that pain, the paradox is that it leaves.

Finally, you might draw inspiration from this video. It concerns one mother who lost her son in the attacks on 9/11 and another mother whose son was convicted in taking part in those attacks. They have formed a bond through forgiveness.

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9/11 and Forgiveness

I have been reading some comments across the Internet about how we ought to respond to the 9/11 attacks. Here are five of them:

1) Forgiveness is only for the unintended slights, not for the malicious who desired to hurt.

2) It is time to put it all behind us. Forgiveness does that.

3) Win the wars that we started after 9/11, then let us talk about forgiveness.

4) Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all value forgiveness in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qu’ran. Let us embrace that common ground.

5) We should forgive. It is good for us.

I offer comments on each point:

1) Forgiveness is so easy when the other did not intend it. Forgiveness belongs to the heart torn apart by injustice, but it should never be forced. This has to be a time of gentleness as we in America and those who join us across the globe react in our own way. Some are still fuming, others mourning, still others trying to move on and forget, while still others have forgiven or are on that journey. None of these needs our judgement today.

2) Forgiveness does not necessarily “put it all behind us.” Sometimes, forgiveness puts it all in front of us, opening up the pain as we look at those who planned and executed the crime, and those who looked on in triumph or indifference. We can forgive those who, in the aftermath, did not call evil by its name.

3) Winning wars as a prerequisite for forgiveness confuses this: People can strive for justice and forgive at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive. When we forgive, sometimes what we request in the name of justice changes and for the better.

4) Those who embrace one of the monotheistic traditions indeed share this: The ancient writings across all three honor forgiveness. For those who recognize this, perhaps it is time to open the dialogue so that a deeper appreciation of “the other” emerges across cultures. Forgiveness education can help here.

5) “We should forgive” has a sense of pressure as I hear those words. We do not want to pressure others to forgive. “We should forgive” also has a sense of challenge. This I like. Let us challenge without pressure. We at the International Forgiveness Institute built this site for you, the reader, so you do not feel alone when it is time to forgive. We are here for you, even on the solemn days when forgiveness seems so hard and so many questions about it arise.

Dr. Bob

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