Author Archive: doctorbobenright
Three Reasons Why “Quick Forgiveness” Is Not Phony
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.
I have been fascinated with your blog posts on “Barriers to Forgiveness.” Can you choose the biggest barrier? Do you think there is one major barrier we need to see and fight against?
The biggest barrier to forgiveness, I think, is pride. Pride clouds our vision so we do not see clearly. Pride inhibits our behavior so that we do not act correctly. Pride obscures our feelings so that we feel a sense of entitlement rather than humility, a call for retribution or even revenge rather than love. Pride does not allow us to move forward in the forgiveness process.
I was the victim of abuse in a relationship I never should have entered into. No one does anything to warrant abuse. Yet, I do wonder about self-forgiveness in this context. Maybe I should have seen the signs before entering so deeply into this disaster of a relationship. Even though I am not guilty of any abuse back to the other, do you think I should try to forgive myself for my stupidity of poor judgment?
Whether or not to self-forgive in the context you describe may depend on the answer to this question: Do you feel guilty in any way? If the answer is “yes,” then the next question is whether or not this is genuine guilt or a false form of it. Sometimes, we falsely accuse ourselves and upon further examination, we realize that we did nothing wrong. If there is a sense of genuine guilt, then there likely is a sense of wrong-doing. What is the wrong-doing? Try to be specific. You say that you should have seen the signs of a poor relationship coming. Yet, you did nothing intentionally wrong here. As you call it, stupidity is not a deliberate intention to do wrong. And sometimes we just do not see tragic flaws in others until we know them in the greater depth of a marriage, for example. So, are you experiencing genuine guilt? If so, forgive yourself. If you did nothing objectively wrong with a bad intention, I would recommend that you try to be gentle with yourself, to be merciful toward yourself, but not necessarily in a context of self-forgiveness in which you see, acknowledge, and correct a moral wrong within yourself.
Mercy on the Hurting
Suppose that each of us had a little red light on the top of our heads. Further suppose that whenever we are feeling beaten down by the injustice of another, that little red light started to blink.
What do you think? Do you think there then would be mercy in the world as we, each of us, responded to the one whose light-of-pain was going off?
We all kind of hide behind a veneer of civility—well dressed, well mannered….and sometimes dying even a little bit inside.
No one sees the “dying even a little bit inside” because it is hidden. Others really do not want to see it……It is an inconvenience to see it.
Yet, it is there…..for all of us at one time or another.
That little blinking red light would be a sign to us that we are all hurting. It would be a concrete sign that mercy is necessary….even more so than civility.
That little red light would be our teacher….and perhaps soften our hearts…..and help us to learn that offering mercy should be our first response, not our last one after we all dress up in our finery, with our impeccable manners…..that keep the hurting invisible to us.
Try to see that little blinking red light on the top of each person’s head today even if it is not there. Try to see it anyway.
Love Never Dies
Think about the love that one person has given to you some time in your life. That love is eternal. Love never dies. If your mother gave you love 20 years ago, that love is still here and you can appropriate it, experience it, feel it. If you think about it, the love that your deceased family members gave to you years ago is still right here with you. Even though they passed on in a physical sense, they have left something of the eternal with you, to draw upon whenever you wish.
Now think about the love you have given to others. That love is eternal. Your love never dies. Your actions have consequences for love that will be on this earth long after you are gone. If you hug a child today, that love, expressed in that hug, can be with that child 50 years from now. Something of you remains here on earth, something good.
Children should be prepared for this kind of thinking through forgiveness education, where they learn that all people have built-in or inherent worth. One expression of forgiveness, one of its highest expressions, is to love those who have not loved us. If we educate children in this way, then they may take the idea more seriously that the love given and received can continue……and continue. It may help them to take more seriously such giving and receiving of love. We need forgiveness education……now.