Ask Dr. Forgiveness
A colleague said to me that it is child abuse to impose the education of forgiveness on unsuspecting students. How would you answer such a charge?
Good philosophy is the pursuit of wisdom. Good education is the same. Part of being wise is to know how to control one’s anger, to reduce resentment, and to forge healthy relationships in the home and in the community. Forgiveness, seen in scientific studies, is one effective way of reducing resentment and fostering better behavior and relationships. If we then deprive a child of this part of wisdom, are we somehow aiding that child’s development or stifling it? Teaching about forgiveness is far from child abuse. Deliberately withholding knowledge of forgiveness is educational deprivation, which should happen to no child.
You talk about forgiveness as a process, one that can take time. I find that as I go along the path of forgiveness, that I slip into revenge-seeking. I do not mean anything violent, just some nastiness or even verbal disrespect. Do you think this will delay my forgiveness process?
We are all imperfect forgivers and so we cannot think of forgiveness as a straight line from the start to the finish. We go back and forth with forgiveness. At times, we see the one who offended us as possessing inherent worth. Then we might have a dream about the person and we wake up angry and do not want to even think about the person. The key here is to understand that the process is not a straight line. Have patience with yourself. Try to have patience with the one whom you are forgiving. In time, this back-and-forth will even out and improvements in forgiving are likely as you continue to persevere in the forgiveness process.
I have to admit that as I forgive, my anger is not completely eliminated. I am feeling kind of guilty about this. Does this mean I am not actually forgiving?
Forgiveness does not proceed perfectly and often the outcome is not perfect. If you have done the work of forgiving and if your anger no longer controls you, then I would say that you have forgiven even if you have some anger left over.
I am trying my best to forgive a family member who has some sustained anger, not temper tantrums, but a kind of simmering anger that comes out frequently. I now am wondering if it is harder to forgive someone for this than other issues.
I do think it may be more difficult to forgive someone who has what you call sustained “simmering anger.” You may have to forgive on a daily basis if you are in regular contact with a person who is continuously angry. After you have forgiven to a deep enough level so that you can approach, in a civil way, this person, then it may be time to gently ask for justice. Part of justice is to ask this person, if you feel safe with this, to begin working on the anger so that you are not hurt by it.
For the effects of unjust treatment against a person, you talk frequently of anger. Yet, I think I am more in pain than angry. What would you say about that?
I agree with you that pain occurs after being treated unjustly. I think the sequence is as follows: 1) Someone is unfair to you; 2) Next comes shock or even denial; 3) Then comes pain, as you describe; 4) If the pain does not lessen or if you have no effective way of reducing and eliminating the pain, then you may become angry.
That anger can be at the person for acting unfairly, or at the situation, or even at the pain itself that resulted from the unfair treatment. It is the anger, if it abides and deepens, that can lead to health problems (fatigue, anxiety, and so forth). So, I emphasize anger within Forgiveness Therapy because it, in the form of excessive anger or resentment, can be dangerous to health, relationships, and communities.