Shunning the Impulse to Seek Revenge

Here is a brief excerpt from an article “Mother forgives drunk driver after crash killed her son” that appeared in the July 28, 2013, edition of timesfreepress.com, the online version of the Chattanooga (TN) Times Free Press. Written by Joan Garrett McClane.

Forgiveness may be trumpeted in church and on counselors’ couches but it’s not a cultural virtue. We live in a world of open grudges. We live in an angry world made more so by screaming television housewives and George Zimmerman verdicts.

Biologically, according to Fred Luskin, author of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, we are negatively biased. The human brain naturally focuses on the darkness. And when we are hurt emotionally or physically, our bodies, our brains go on guard. Our nervous system reacts. Trauma teaches lessons that are hard to forget.

Robert Enright, a forgiveness researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said few people are taught how to forgive because we are ambiguous about the value of forgiveness.

We laud figures who can overcome anger. We quote Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

We laud characters who take vengeance, too. James Bond. Harry Potter. Batman.

So if someone is going to make forgiveness a practice they have to prepare for tragedy, expect to be wronged, Enright said.

Look at the Amish. When a gunman executed five schoolchildren in Nickel Mines, Pa., in 2006 the crime scene hadn’t even been cleaned up before Amish families were sending notes of forgiveness to the killer’s family. They brought the widow food and flowers. Half of those at the killer’s burial were Amish.

These tight-knit communities emphasize a predisposition toward forgiveness and shun the impulse to seek revenge, instead believing justice to be a divine matter.

At its core, regardless of spiritual belief, people come to forgive because they come to recognize every person’s tendency to err, Enright said.

“The biggest reason that people resist [forgiveness] is the profound confusion that is in the human heart,” he said. “When people are fuming, they are zeroed in on justice. Mercy is abhorrent.”

Read the full story: “Mother forgives drunk driver after crash killed her son.”

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