Archive for April, 2016

“Forgiveness Is Unfair Because It Puts the Burden of Change onto the Victim”

I heard this statement from a person who holds a considerable degree of academic influence. The learned scholar, however, did not give a learned response as I will show in this little essay.

Suppose that Brian is driving his car and is hit by a drunk driver. Brian’s leg is broken and he must undergo surgery and subsequent rehabilitation therapy if he again will have the full use of his leg. What happened to him was unjust and now the burden of getting back a normal leg falls to him. He has to get the leg examined, say yes to the surgery, to the post-surgical recovery, and to months of painful rehab. The “burden of change” specifically when it comes to his leg is his and his alone.

Yes, the other driver will have to bear the burden of paying damages, but this has no bearing on restoring a badly broken leg. Paying for such rehabilitation is entirely different from doing the challenging rehab work itself.

Suppose now that Brian takes the learned academic’s statement above to heart. Suppose that he now expects the other driver to somehow bear the burden of doing the rehab. How will that go? The other driver cannot lift Brian’s leg for him or bear the physical pain of walking and then running. Is this then unfair to Brian? Should we expect him to lie down and not rehab because, well, he has a burden of restoring his own leg? It would seem absurd to presume so.

Is it any different with injustice requiring the surgery and rehab of the heart? If Melissa was unfairly treated by her partner, is it unfair for Melissa to do the hard work of forgiveness? She is the one whose heart is hurting. The partner cannot fix the sadness or confusion or anger……even if he repents. Repentance will not automatically lead to a restored heart because trust must be earned little by little.  As Melissa learns to trust, she still will need the heart-rehab of forgiveness (struggling to get rid of toxic anger and struggling to see the worth in one who saw no worth in her) that only she can do. Once hurt by another, it is the victim who must bear the burden of the change-of-heart.

We must remember: The rehab and recovery are temporary. If the forgiver refuses to engage in such recovery, then the injurer wins twice: once in the initial hurt and a second time when the injured refuses to change because of a woeful misunderstanding that he or she must passively wait for someone else to bear the burden of change for him or her.

Ideas have consequences. Bad ideas tend to have bad consequences. Learned academics are not necessarily learned in all subjects across all cases.


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I am about to start with the forgiveness process, but I wonder if my problem allows it. What if you are harassed by others, your reputation is being destroyed and you are sabotaged in every way and it is still ongoing? Would you recommend trying to end that relationship before you start to forgive or is forgiveness the key to end it? And is the guide in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice, also working for this sort of problem? Have you experiences with forgiveness and mobbing given that it is quite epidemic nowadays?

We recommend first protecting yourself. Try to end the interactions with those who are, in your words, mobbing you. Once you are safe from further harm, then you can begin the forgiveness process.

Yes, we have encountered this kind of injustice. As you are seeing, it is more involved than forgiving one person for one injustice. We recommend that you first forgive one person in this mob (and not the one who has hurt you the most deeply; you need a chance to slowly learn to forgive). Then, when you have forgiven this one person, start to forgive another and then another, one at a time. You may have to go back to those whom you have forgiven as anger emerges again, but this is often the case with people who practice forgiveness.

Please be gentle with yourself as you work through these multiple layers of forgiveness. We are here if you have further questions.

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Is This the One Weakness in Forgiveness as a Moral Virtue?

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.


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Mother Forgives Hit-and-Run Driver Who Killed Her 4-Year-Old Son

The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA, USA – Four-year-old Abdul “Latif” Wilson was playing outside with his two brothers when he scampered between parked cars and into the road on April 13, 2015. A surveillance video caught grainy images of Shanika Mason, 28, hitting Latif with the rented Ford Edge she was driving, her own three children in the back seat. Mason apparently panicked and drove off before turning herself in the next day.

Mason, who pleaded guilty, was sentenced to 2-5 years in state prison for “letting panic overtake decency” that night. At Mason’s sentencing hearing, Latif’s mother Dominique Lockwood, 30, despite choking back sobs, was eloquent and dignified as she read the three-page statement she’d handwritten.

“I look at what now is my past merging into my future,” Lockwood said. “It’s a sharp pain that goes through my heart – the very heart my baby boy once listened to as he slept while I kept him safe, healthy and warm in my belly.”

Although she was in obvious pain, Lockwood didn’t talk out of anger. Instead, she talked about how she has found a new way to go on, for her own sake and for that of her surviving children, Samaj, 9, and Everett, 6.

“I can only live on by having faith that this very sharp pain that cuts deep down in my heart is just my intelligent baby boy letting me know he didn’t go anywhere,” she said. “I forgive you, Miss Mason, as hard as it is to say. I have to forgive you so that my own heart can be as pure as my baby’s so that I can be with him again one day.”

In memory of Latif, Lockwood has founded a nonprofit called Embracing God’s Angels. Its mission is to lend a hand to those who’ve lost loved ones suddenly – perhaps to help pay for a headstone or for a day of pampering in the aftermath of loss.

“It is hard. I cry every day for my child. But I have to keep moving forward in forgiveness and goodness,” Lockwood said.

Read the full story: In court, a day of sadness & forgiveness in hit-and-run 

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Might Forgiving Others Be Dangerous to Our Health?

In his thought-provoking book, The Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain, Dr. John Sarno says that a condition he calls “goodism” can lead to even greater anger and rage and to more back pain than a person had prior to engaging in “goodism.” Goodism is the striving to be good to such an extent that one cannot possibly live up to the self-imposed expectation. It leads to stress which can, if repressed, hurt a person physically.

So, then, how does this relate to practicing forgiveness? Forgiveness is concerned with being good. In fact, to forgive is to exercise a moral virtue of love and mercy, both signs of goodness. Thus, might the practice of forgiveness actually lead to more anger, to more rage, to more unpleasant physical symptoms than to the reverse of this, especially when we are unable to live up to these requirements to love someone who has not loved us?

Yes…..if we go about forgiving in the wrong way.

If we are forced to forgive (I must do so to be good) and if we strive for perfection in forgiving (I must be perfectly loving), then we are not going about forgiveness correctly. We need to choose to forgive, be drawn to it, and go about it with gentleness and patience.  We need to take small steps: do no harm before I feel compassion; see the other as more than the offense before feeling love; striving for civility at first rather than love. We need to exercise humility, not grandstanding “goodism,” as we start on the path to forgiveness.

If people are forgiving and develop more back pain or more anger or more anxiety, then these forgivers (or the clinician who is helping) should examine whether they are doing this out of grim obligation or to show people how perfect they are. The forgivers should adjust how they are approaching forgiveness and go about the process with more gentleness and patience, one small step at a time.

Genuine forgiveness is not “goodism.” Forgiveness, genuinely understood and practiced, is not dangerous to our health.

Robert Enright and Jacqueline Song

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