Archive for January, 2015
“Forgiveness Saved My Life” says World War II Army Veteran Louis Zamperini who was Immortalized in Book/Movie ‘Unbroken’
The Atlantic.com, Washington, DC – Louis Zamperini waged one of the most astonishing personal battles of World War II as an Army Air Corpsman. Despite being officially listed as “killed in action” by the U.S. Government and surviving two years of torture in a Japanese prison, Zamperini survived to tell his story and to forgive.
In May 1943, Zamperini’s B-24 crashed into the Pacific. For 47 days, he floated on a raft in the ocean. He was then captured by the Japanese, who held him prisoner until August 1945. These experiences tormented Zamperini’s postwar life leading to constant nightmares, drinking binges, and general carousing.
But in 1949 things began to turn around for Zamperini. After hearing a talk by a young Rev. Billy Graham, he forgave the men who held him prisoner, including the sadistic Japanese corporal, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, known as the “Bird,” who tortured him daily. Without that forgiveness, Zamperini says, “I wouldn’t have a life. I think I’d be dead.”
This saga is chronicled in Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The award-winning book has remained on the bestseller lists since it was published in 2010, and in December, Universal Studios released a film adaptation directed by Angelina Jolie.
Before his death in July at age 97, Zamperini was interviewed by author John Meroney who knew him when Zamperini was an Olympic athlete before entering the Army. Here are excerpts from one of those interviews:
Meroney: After the war, you had nightmares about being a prisoner of war. Hillenbrand discloses that these dreams were so extreme, you almost strangled your pregnant wife to death in your sleep thinking she was the “Bird,” the man who tortured you.
Zamperini: Those nightmares came every night. I’d always wake up wringing wet. I thought I was strangling the Bird. I honestly wanted to go back to Japan and secretly find and kill him before I’d be satisfied.
Meroney: And your life was never the same after Billy Graham.
Zamperini: Well, that night I went back to his prayer room and made my profession of faith in Christ. I asked God to forgive me for not being conscious that He answered my prayer requests. While I was still on my knees, I knew there was a change. It happened within seconds.
Zamperini: I felt this perfect calm, a peace. I knew then that I was through getting drunk, smoking, and chasing around. I also knew I’d forgiven all my prison guards, including the Bird. Boy, that’s something. So I got up, went home, and that was the first night in four years that I didn’t have a nightmare. And I haven’t had one since.
Meroney: How did forgiving your captors change your life?
Zamperini: Well, when you hate somebody, you don’t hurt them in the least. All you’re doing is hurting yourself. But if you can forgive—and if it’s true—you’ll feel good. It’s chemical. White corpuscles flood your immune system, and that’s a secret to good health.
Forgiveness has to be complete. If you hate somebody, it’s like a boomerang that misses its target and comes back and hits you in the head. The one who hates is the one who hurts. So forgiving someone is healing.
Read the full story: ‘World War II Isn’t Over’: Talking to Unbroken Veteran Louis Zamperini and watch the official Universal Studios movie trailer.
My sister, who lives in another state, refuses to talk with me. I have no idea what I did and so I have no clue how to handle this. Should I apologize in the hope that this will soften her heart so that she will at least talk with me?
It is obvious that you see no unjust behavior on your part. When we seek forgiveness from others, it is in the context of knowing that we have been unjust. Thus, it follows that you should not ask for forgiveness for something that you did not do. With that said, it is reasonable to acknowledge your sister’s hurt feelings. A way to acknowledge this is to say something like this to your sister: “I am sorry if some of my behavior has caused you pain. Can we talk about it?” Notice that you are not acknowledging wrong-doing (because there was none as far as you know). Instead, you are acknowledging your sister’s hurt feelings, a situation you would like to address.
We present here the first four of our Nine Principles Underlying Forgiveness Education as practiced in the forgiveness programs we are implementing in countries around the world. In the next post we examine the final five. Most of the principles are taken from two books: Forgiveness Therapy by R. Enright and R. Fitzgibbons, published by the American Psychological Association (APA) in January of 2015 and The Forgiving Life by R. Enright, also by APA.
1) What is discussed initially does not center personally on the child, but instead on story characters. The child sees first that story characters have conflicts. Next the child sees that there are many ways to solve and deal with conflicts and forgiveness is one of those ways. Next, the child sees that forgiveness does not directly solve a situation of injustice. Instead, forgiveness is one way of dealing with the consequences of injustice.
2) Once a child understands what forgiveness is and what it is not and understands the nature of interpersonal conflict (when one person acts badly, others can be hurt), he or she is ready to explore the pathway of forgiveness, the “how to” of forgiveness. This, again, is best taught by having the child first see others (story characters) go through forgiveness as a way to model it.
3) It is my opinion, and perhaps this could also be tested scientifically but to date has not, that children will learn better if you as the teacher first practice forgiveness before teaching it. A soccer coach who has never played the game might prove to be less effective than someone who has been immersed in the game. It probably is the same with forgiveness. So, the challenge is for you to be a forgiver first and then a teacher of forgiveness.
4) Throughout the implementation of forgiveness education, you make the important distinction between learning about forgiveness and choosing to practice it in certain contexts. The program is careful to emphasize the distinction between forgiveness and reconciliation. A child does not reconcile with an unrepentant child who bullies, for example.
Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5053-5056). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.
We can get so annoyed so easily. A traffic jam….and we are annoyed.
A colleague late for the meeting…..and we are annoyed.
A spouse who is taking too long in the changing room at the clothing store…..and we are annoyed.
Spend a little time with a homeless person and then ask yourself if the above three are big or minor annoyances. When I pass a homeless person, I can tell that he expects me to not see him. He thinks he is invisible.
He is not.
On one occasion, in leaving a restaurant with a good friend, there was a dear homeless person on the corner. It was a cold evening. He smiled. We gave him our “take out box” and he beamed. He laughed and with arms outstretched, he proclaimed, “God bless you.”
So amazing. He has nothing of material value….no home…..and he thinks he is invisible to the rest of the world.
We decided, after having traversed a block on making our way to the safety and warmth of our homes, to turn back and give him some money along with the food. He was eating, saw us coming, and with outstretched arms, welcomed us with a “God bless you.”
He seems to have no resentment in his heart…..even when outside….without a home…..in the cold of an early winter……even while seeing that others do not see him.
Note: We are filing this in the category of Famous People. The homeless are not invisible and we did not want this uncategorized post to become invisible.
An observant reader asked me recently if our Forgiveness News section might be comprised of many stories in which people are “faking forgiveness” so that they get national and international recognition from the media. After all, the person reasoned, for a few moments their images, words, and actions are in front of thousands or even millions, depending on which media sources carry the story.
While quick pronouncements of forgiveness might lead some to doubt the sincerity of the act, we have three counter-arguments in the debate.
1) We must realize that some people are “forgivingly fit,” in that they practice forgiveness regularly in the smaller injustices of life. Such practice readies them for when the tragic injustices come. In other words, years of practice accumulate and aid the forgiver now in the new, gargantuan challenge to forgive, say, the murderer of a loved one. As we watch the person forgive, we do not see the years of practice underlying the act and so we wonder about the sincerity, which is very real because of the practice.¹
2) Sometimes, our psychological defenses come to our aid when tragedy strikes. These defenses shield us from the intense anger which could emerge now. Yet, after a while, as the defenses begin to weaken, the anger arises afresh and so the initial pronouncement of forgiveness, when the angers subside, is not the final word on the matter. In other words, there still is forgiveness work to do, and this is not dishonorable. Forgiveness is hard work and requires re-visiting from time to time regarding situations we thought we had long-ago forgiven.
3) For reasons that are unclear to the social scientific community, some people, despite not having practiced forgiveness over and over, do forgive seemingly spontaneously. Their psychological defenses are not masking deep anger. They forgive in a thorough way on the first try. This seems rare, but it does happen.
Phony forgiveness? No, not necessarily. What might appear on the surface as phony could be heroic forgiveness forged in the daily struggle to overcome the effects of injustice.