Archive for February, 2013
What if I keep offering the goodness of forgiveness to someone and they just do not accept it? It seems to me that this is an occasion for the other to take advantage of me. It also is an occasion to wear myself out by being good with no return of this from the other. What do you think?
Yours is an important questions because, unless we make some important distinctions, you could wear yourself out, but it would not be because of forgiveness. First, let us discuss the issue of your offering forgiveness and the other rejecting it. Suppose, instead of the virtue of forgiveness, you were exercising the virtue of justice and every time you are fair to someone, he or she is not fair to you. Would this stop you from being fair? Woud you, for example, start to be unjust? No, you would persist. Why? Because it is good in and of itself to be just even when others are not. It is the same with forgiveness. It is good in and of itself to offer mercy even if everyone around us is unmerciful.
Now to the second point of wearing oneself out. You can practice forgiveness from a distance without necessarily reconciling with someone who continually takes advantage of you. In other words, forgive but then carefully consider what is fair and reasonable to effect a reconciliation with the person who could wear you out.
“Many people are hesitant, even afraid, to forgive because they fear that the other will take advantage of them. Forgiveness is for wimps, I have heard many times. Yet, is that true? Is the offer of goodness, true goodness, extended from a position of your own pain, ever done in weakness? How can one offer goodness through a position of pain and see it as weak? And see the giver of this goodness as weak? My point is this: We all may need to delve more deeply into what forgiveness is so that we can make the best decisions possible for ourselves, for our loved ones, and for the ones who hurt us.”
Excerpt from Chapter 3 of The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love by Dr. Robert Enright.
The Palm Beach Post, West Palm Beach, FL – Isidro Zavala, dressed in black and with a gun in hand, stormed through his former home earlier this month, strangled his two young sons and then killed himself, even as his estranged wife, Victoria, pleaded for him to kill her instead of the boys. Police said Isidro told his wife he would keep her alive so she could live with the pain of not having her children.
Less than a week later, at the funeral service for the three Zavalas, Victoria offered forgiveness to her late husband. “Today, I choose to extend the forgiveness that exists in Jesus Christ,” she said.
Ivette Eligio, the boys’ older cousin, also spoke at the funeral and said that just as Eduardo and Marco had taught them many lessons during life, they continue to do so in death.
“As a last hoorah, they’re trying to teach us how to forgive,” Eligio said.
Read the full story: “Boynton mother preaches forgiveness.”
Suppose that Angela has been friends with Barretta who has neglected the friendship now for over a year. Barretta’s flaw is of a passive nature, not being present in the friendship. The neglect has hurt Angela.
Angela sees that Barretta is not a good friend and decides to end the friendship despite her active attempts to reconcile. At the same time, she forgives her. Her forgiveness leaves open a kind of sisterly-love for Barretta that now makes it more difficult to leave the friendship.
In this case, is forgiveness a process that is standing in the way of the truth: that Barretta will not make even a reasonably minimal friend for her? Her feelings of sisterly-affection, which are kept alive by forgiving, are making her re-think her decision to leave a friendship that holds no future if Barretta’s behavior remains as it is.
In this case, is forgiveness a weakness in that Angela retains affection that continues to hurt her? The short answer is no, forgiveness itself is not weakness, but the failure to make distinctions in this case could be the weakness. Here are some important distinctions for Angela to make:
1. There is a difference between forgiving-love and sisterly-love toward Barretta. Agape is a love in service to others as we see and appreciate their inherent worth. Philia (brotherly- or sisterly-love) is the kind of love that is mutual between two or more people. In the case of Angela and Barretta, the love is no longer mutual. If Angela makes this distinction, then she will see that philia no longer is operating between them
2. There is a difference between feeling warm toward someone and the pair acting on it in friendship. While Angela might feel a warmth for Barretta, kept alive by forgiveness, she cannot let her feelings dictate her actions. She must stand in the truth and do so with a strong will. A strong will works in conjunction with the soft feelings of forgiveness.
3. There is a difference between practicing forgiveness as a lone moral virtue and practicing it alongside justice. When forgiveness and justice are teammates, Angela is more likely to conclude that even though she has warm feelings for Barretta, there are certain troubling behaviors she shows that work against a true reconciliation (because Barretta remains without remorse, with no signs of repentance, and no signs of making things right).
4. While it is true that her vigilance in forgiving may keep alive agape love in her heart (with accompanying warm feelings toward Barretta), those feelings, while perhaps uncomfortable, are not nearly as uncomfortable or damaging as resentment. Forgiveness will not lead to a pain-free solution in this case. It will lead to standing in the truth of who Barretta is (a person of worth) and whom she is incapable of being to her (in the role of friend). It will lead to feelings that may be uncomfortable (the warmth of agape without appropriating this in a friendship with Barretta) but manageable. Angela needs to distinguish between the discomfort of a retained agape love and the considerably more uncomfortable feelings of resentment.
When these distinctions are made, forgiveness is not a weakness even in this example.
I had been trying to forgive my parents for 25 years. And, when I was unsuccessful, I lied, and I told others that I had forgiven them. Since I was not honest, I drank and used drugs. Since alcohol and drugs generate guilt, I had low self esteme. I would go over the story in my head every day. And, since I “should” have “let it go” I was ashamed and did not tell anyone my secret. So, instead of ruminating, I told jokes and became funny. No matter how hard I tried to stay sober, I failed. And I got angry because everyone else in aa had forgiven their parents while I was stuck. I tried to forgive, and the harder I tried, the more I drank. I was trying to do the “right” thing and it kept producing the “wrong” results.
And then, soon, I stopped being funny anymore. Now I was always angry. But, of course, I had a good reason to be angry. I had been wronged. My mother was a narcissistic alcoholic who projected her guilt. I was neglected and molested. And when my closeted father was not absent he was tyrannical and abusive. He hated his own parents and wanted to make sure his sensitive little boy did not turn out to be a pansy homosexual. One day, when I was 18, while they were busy arguing, I left. Nobody really noticed much. “I WAS NEVER GOING TO BE LIKE THEM” Then my grandfather died and I came out of the closet and my father got jealous. He tried to steal my inheritance so I yelled at him which hurt his pride so he retaliated with blackmail. I took him to court and he disowned me and lied to everyone. I turned into the black sheep. THAT WAS NOT FAIR! How could a disowned black sheep get revenge now? That pissed me off even more.
Since I could not be perpetrator I became victim and told my story to anyone who would listen. Then, as the years passed, others grew tired of my story. Since I was not able to forgive, I made new friend who would listen for a while and until they grew tired also. Since I had no intimacy, I became lonley and drank more until I was more dysfunctional than my own parents. Now I was trying to forgive them and myself also for having turned out to be even worse then them. Compulsions and distractions worked for a while. But, when the escapes wore off, the anger returned. It was hopeless. And my psychiatrist agreed, I had a textbook case of PTSD.
Then my parents died, and now I was blaming dead people for my problems. So, one day, I finally gave up trying to forgive them. It was hopeless. I was never going to succeed. I bought a book called the “Final Exit” and went shopping for helium. I did not have the courage, so I got loaded instead(again) Thats when it happened. In one flash, it came clear. Since I wanted to die, spirit granted my wish that night. I died! But since I was still breathing, something was askew. Thats when I had the flashback. I saw my life in one instant, and the tragedy of my story. It had all been a giant drama on stage. It was not death, although the curtain did go down. It was only the end of act 1. And, since it was a stage in a theatre, I was able to walk back out on for a curtain call. After my first bow, I looked into the audiance, and I saw my parents, my mother and father. They were in the front row, and they were applauding. This made no sense at first, and then it did. Mom and Dad were only acting. And, since they were only acting, they were playing roles. They were the perpetrators and I was the victim (or was it the other way around?) Thats when I had my shift. And, for the first time in my entire using career, I wanted to get sober. For the first time, I really wanted to live.
To make it simple, My parents had never done anything to me. They had done all of those things for me. They were hired by the director because a good drama will not sell tickets unless it has a good perpetrator and a good victim. This was also a comedy, which the critics loved! When this became clear, and the play ended, I no longer had to play my role any more. Thats when my parents left their seats, got up on stage, and all three of us gave standing ovation. Its all true, except for the part about the play. That is just a metaphor I use to describe the way I see it all now. I was trying all of those years to forgive my parents for what they had done “wrong.” It did not work because I was still living with the belief that something was not right. Everything was perfect.
Today I see. But, since this was only a play, and since we were only actors, they had been hired by the director to do those things to me so I could entertain everyone else with this wonderful story. For the first time today I want to be sober. Today I want to live. And, the lights are about to go down, which means its time go go back on stage and begin scene 2 of this drama. Instead of a comic tragedy, the next scene is going to be a romance!