Archive for November, 2016
Forgiveness: why it’s important
Editor’s Note: Forgiveness has matured into a world-wide movement, including in India. This article is excerpted from a more lengthy news story in one of India’s largest business publications.
LiveMint.com, New Delhi, India – In his 2015 book, 8 Keys To Forgiveness, psychologist Robert Enright cites research to demonstrate the power of forgiveness. In a study conducted with fellow psychologist Suzanne Freedman, he found that incest survivors who underwent a 14-month programme to forgive their perpetrators were free of depression one year after the programme ended. The study was published in the Journal Of Consulting And Clinical Psychology in 1996.
In another study, published in the Psychology & Health journal in 2009, Enright and his colleagues worked with men who were admitted to the hospital with cardiac problems. After undergoing forgiveness therapy, which involved 10 weekly sessions of identifying and forgiving those who had wronged them, the men not only exhibited reduced levels of anger but also had healthier hearts.
Intriguingly, Enright has even found that students who were unable to concentrate in school owing to anger issues benefited from forgiveness counselling, so much so that they actually raised their grades from D to C, were able to focus better and had more amiable relationships with others. This study was published in the Journal Of Research In Education in 2008. Thus, forgiveness can have a positive ripple effect, wherein mercy extended to one person radiates to others.
If forgiveness, then, can have such a positive impact, how can we practise it more often? As Enright says, forgiveness goes beyond saying “I forgive you”. In fact, the words do not even have to be uttered; rather, they have to be felt. In its essence, forgiveness entails “extending goodness towards those who have hurt you”. It involves acknowledging the inherent worth of every human being. And, as we all know, this can be hard even at the best of times, and can become a Herculean task when we have been wronged grievously.
Enright, however, says that we can become “forgivingly-fit” with practice. By first forgiving people whom we love for minor misdemeanours, we can gradually graduate to forgiving those who have injured us in more heinous ways.
Finally, forgiveness should not be mistaken for weakness. As Mahatma Gandhi aptly put it, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
Aruna Sankaranarayanan, the author of this article, is the founder and director of Prayatna, a centre for children with learning difficulties in Andheri, a suburb of Mumbai, India. She completed her undergraduate studies at Mount Holyoke College and acquired her doctorate in developmental psychology at Harvard University. Both schools are in Massachusetts, USA.
Mint is one of India’s premium business news publications and the clear No.2 among business papers in terms of readership. LiveMint.com is Mint’s online portal and is among the fastest growing news websites in India.
To explore more of Dr. Enright’s compendium of peer-reviewed forgiveness research from the past 30+ years, visit the Research Section of this website.
When I try to bear the pain of what happened to me, so that I do not pass that pain to others, I notice that you also suggest feeling compassion toward the other. When I try this (bearing the pain and having compassion), it seems that I am adding even more pain to myself. I have a lot of pain and it is not going away any time soon from what I can tell. How can I endure this added pain when I try to be compassionate?
You are aware that you already have pain and that it is enduring, not easily ended. I admire you for your courage to try to be compassionate under this circumstance. If you find that the pain increases as you try to be compassionate, I recommend that you take a step backwards and do more cognitive work. By this I mean the following: Try once again to think about who this person is who hurt you. Try to see his or her struggles, his or her wounds, not to excuse what happened, but instead to see a human being, a person who has worth, not because of what was done, but in spite of that. As you begin to see his or her woundedness, then the compassion may emerge more gently, more slowly and be endured more easily. Please keep in mind that this is not easy, just as doing rehabilitation work on an injured knee is not easy. There will be pain, but the rehab of the heart will diminish the pain.
Finding Meaning in the Pursuit of Truth
Finding meaning in the pursuit of truth is yet another way of finding meaning after or while you suffer. When we are hurt by others who exert power over us, there is a tendency to blur the lines between what is the truth and what is a lie.
Consider the suffering of the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, who was in concentration camps in Germany and Poland during World War II. When Dr. Frankl was ordered to go on a march to do some slave work, I am sure that the soldiers controlling his behavior were convinced that they were doing the right thing. They likely had convinced themselves that those they had enslaved somehow deserved it. Dr. Frankl resisted their lies and consciously stood in the truth that what he was experiencing was unjust.
One can become stronger by realizing that one’s suffering has sharpened the mind to see what is right and what is wrong, even when others are trying to convince you otherwise.
Enright, Robert (2015-09-28). 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) (p. 120). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
Frankl, Viktor E. (Dec. 1, 1959) Man’s Search for Meaning. Beacon Press.
You talk about giving a gift to the one who offended you, but in some cultures it is considered rude or disrespectful to hand out gifts. So, it seems to me that this is not a good idea.
You raise a good point about how we are to be merciful or loving toward those who were not merciful or loving to us. Generosity is a virtue that would seem to be universal. It is in how this is demonstrated that is at issue here, not whether or not to ever exercise generosity. So, with that clarification, I would say that one should be sensitive to the cultural nuances of what you have in mind as your gift. If handing out gifts is seen as showing off or condescending to those receiving the gifts, then it is best to be quiet and private in the giving. One need not give a physical gift, such as perfume in a wrapped box, for example. One, instead, can give a smile, or respectful attention, or a good word about the person to other family members.
Comfort or Challenge?
One of the most popular images in all of philosophy is Plato’s cave. He challenges us to go beyond what we know in that cave, to the sunlight, to knowledge that goes beyond the conventional, beyond the ordinary.
I now wonder where modern societies fall when it comes to the question: Should we put more energy and effort into making our cave comfortable, or should we deliberately challenge ourselves, to be open to the unusual, to the risks that can bring suffering as we stretch ourselves to grow?
Forgiveness is one of those developments in life that challenges us. It does so by asking us to strive to understand those who have not understood us. Forgiveness challenges us to suffer as we try to bear the pain of what happened to us so that we do not pass that pain to others. Forgiveness challenges us to understand and to act upon the paradox that as we are good to those who were not good to us, healing can occur within our hearts.
And yet, I wonder. How much of a challenge is modern man willing to endure, given that he can slink back into the man-cave, pop a cold one, and turn on any number of distractions from the pain.
Does modern cave dwelling help us to become better forgivers…….or does it soothe us to the point of not accepting the challenge?