Archive for March, 2013
A close friend asked one of us yesterday, “What is a good heart?” We never had been asked this before. Our response is below. What is your response?
A good heart first has suffered. In the suffering, the person knows that all on this planet are subjected to suffering and so his heart is compassionate, patient, supportive, and loving as best he can in this fallen world. The good heart is forgiving, ever forgiving, vigilant in forgiving. The good heart tries to be in service to others. The good heart is no longer afraid of suffering and has joy because of the suffering, not in spite of it. Having suffered and having passed through suffering, the good heart dances. Others do not understand the good, joyous heart. Yet, the one with the good heart does not compromise the goodness and the joy. It is like a valuable gift received and she knows it.
The snow is melting. The days are becoming longer. Even the birds are starting to chirp. Spring is a wonderful time of new beginnings. New relationships develop and fantasies of improving old relationships may increase. For most people, time spent with friends and family brings happiness. However, for some, relationships with family members and/or friends can be a source of stress related to past conflicts. There are many ways to cope with conflict and feelings of anger and resentment but one approach that we don’t often hear about is the idea of Forgiveness. In an article I read in Runner’s World, the author states, “Butter brings families together, mends old wounds and softens the harsh glare of old resentments, and even makes peas taste good” (Parent, December 2011, p. 50). I don’t know if forgiveness can make “peas taste good” but I do believe that forgiveness can be just as effective as butter, if not more so, in “bringing families together, mending old wounds and softening resentment.”
Many misconceptions and misunderstandings surround what it means to forgive, how to forgive, and when to forgive. Forgiveness involves a willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and negative behavior toward one who unjustly injured us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and sometimes even love toward him or her ( Enright, 2001; North, 1987). Notice in the definition that you have a “right” to feel resentment and that the offender does not “deserve” your compassion and generosity based on his or her actions. Forgiveness can also be more simply defined as a decrease in negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors toward the offender and perhaps, over time, a gradual increase in more positive thoughts, feelings, and sometimes behaviors (Enright et al., 1991). Forgiveness does not mean that you deny your offender’s wrongdoing or excuse your offender or the wrongdoing.
One frequent misconception of forgiveness is that it is the same as reconciliation. Although frequently confused with reconciliation, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation and does not automatically lead to reconciliation. You can forgive and choose not to reconcile. Forgiveness is something you, as the injured, can do on your own and reconciliation requires a change in behavior on the part of the offender; possibly including an apology and the admittance of wrongdoing. Some criticize forgiveness because they think that advocating forgiveness leads to further abuse. However, in the case of a woman married to a partner who continuously cheats on her, she can leave her partner and work on forgiving without staying in the relationship. I would only advise her to consider reconciling if her partner changed his behavior and admitted to his wrongdoing. Forgiveness can also lead to reconciliation. It might be the first step in the process of getting back together with an offender who is sorry for his or her actions.
Forgiveness is a complicated topic and it is definitely not easy, but the benefits are well worth the effort. Future blogs on forgiveness will discuss the role of anger and apology when forgiving, the relation between forgiveness and forgetting, how religion relates to forgiveness, and who benefits when one forgives. Forgiveness is not the only approach to dealing with deep, personal, and unfair hurt. Remember, there’s butter. It is just one response that is not always thought about or tried.
Suzanne Freedman, Professor, University of Northern Iowa
By Leslie Neale, Chance Films, Inc.
Would you become friends with the person who shot you or killed your only son?
For most of us this is unimaginable.
There are those, however, who in order to understand the crime have reached through the bars to connect with and then surprisingly befriend the criminals who devastated their lives.
This is the premise of my newly completed film, Unlikely Friends, a feature length documentary narrated by acclaimed actor, Mike Farrell, telling the heroic journey that five victims of horrific, violent crime choose to walk.
The seeds of this film were planted many years ago when I met Nelson, a bank robber featured in my first documentary, Road to Return. Nelson told me he was consumed with an overriding compulsion to go back to the bank he robbed once he was released from prison and APOLOGIZE.
He told me the story of sitting around a conference table in a small town community bank tucked in the rural banks of Louisiana, sharing pictures of one another’s families with the bank’s employees and swapping stories of their lives. They were all crying. The teller, who Nelson held a gun to 12 years prior, finally looked up at him with tears streaming down her face and said, “Thank you. Thank you for coming back here and apologizing because for 12 years I have not been able to get you out of my mind, and I have lived in fear you would come back and kill me.” I thought to myself the brilliance in that simple act of forgiveness. I immediately understood the implications, not only for his heart to be unburdened from the weight of knowing he harmed innocent strangers but also for the victim to be released from the terror of that nightmare. She was finally able to let go of her obsessive thoughts and fears.
This story convinced me to make a film on the concept of forgiveness, to explore how it might be used to affect positive change within our criminal justice system.
Nelson told me that it took him eight years to realize the damaging effects of what he had done. He had left a couple of precious stamps on his bunk “his only link to the outside world” and another inmate stole them. He vowed then to apologize to those he robbed if and when he got out.
The cornerstone to any true and lasting rehabilitation is taking full accountability for what you’ve done. Victims and offenders coming together in victim offender dialogues can be the catalyst for that connection to be made. Forgiveness is not expected from these dialogues but when it happens, it is life changing for both.
Debbie wanted the death penalty for Gabriel, the man who killed her only son. She says she was eaten up with anger and bitterness before she forgave him. In turn, Gabriel shares that her forgiveness affects every action he now takes–if she can forgive him, then he can forgive all the daily transgressions that occur around him in prison. Most of us think theses stories are the exception. Yet, I was surprised to find more stories than I could tell. There are many people who have forgiven acts that most of us deem unforgivable–and the numbers are growing.
Guest Blog by Leslie Neale, Chance Films, Inc.
I am in the process of reconciling with a close friend. We are trying to forgive each other. I am now scared. Is it normal to feel scared about this? What can I do to get over this fear?
In all likelihood, you are scared because your trust has been damaged. Forgiveness can help with this, but you need more than just forgiveness. As you see the other person’s genuine attempts to be kind, to be respectful, note these: Trust usually is built up one action at a time. As you see that he or she means well and is trying, this should reduce your fear and increase your willingness to trust once again.
Here is a syllogism for you:
Premise #1: To forget is to not remember in the sense of moving on and not letting the emotional effects of injustices bother us any more.
Premise #2: To forgive is to forget.
Conclusion: Therefore, when we forgive, we do not remember what happened to us, making us vulnerable to continued injustice.
When we fail to remember what happened to us, this can be dangerous because we might let others again take advantage of us.
Because forgiveness might hasten our not remembering, forgiveness is dangerous.
What is wrong with the above argument?
In logic, we have just committed the fallacy of equivocation. By this we mean that there are two very different meanings of at least one word in the argument. The first use of the term “forget” in Premise #1 equates to “moving on” or “putting the injustice behind us.”
The second use of the term “forget” in the Conclusion of the syllogism equates to a kind of amnesia, a blotting out of what happened rather than a moving on from what happened.
Yes, when we forgive we forget (meaning #1) in that we move on.
No, when we forgive we do not forget (meaning #2) in that we can no longer remember anything of what happened, making us vulnerable to another’s continued injustice.
To forgive is to forget in a certain meaning of that term and given that meaning, to forgive is not dangerous, at least not in the sense of “dangerous” meant here.