Barriers to Forgiveness
To grow in any virtue is similar to building muscle in the gym through persistent hard work. We surely do not want to overdo anything, including the pursuit of fitness.
Yet, we must avoid underdoing it, too, if we are to continue to grow. It is the same with forgiveness. We need to be persistently developing our forgiveness muscles as we become forgivingly fit. This opportunity is now laid out before you. What will you choose? Will you choose a life of diversion, comfort, and pleasure, or the more exciting life of risking love, challenging yourself to forgive, and helping others in their forgiveness fitness?
Enright, Robert D. (2012-07-05). The Forgiving Life (APA Lifetools) (Kindle Locations 5359-5360). American Psychological Association. Kindle Edition.
400…….since February, 2011…..six years and counting.
Over that time, here are 7 impressions which I have formed about the world of forgiveness:
- Forgiveness is not one more light entertainment in a world that is constantly screaming at you for attention. In today’s frenetic world of marketing, unless there is a ton of adrenaline released by the recipient in response to any new marketing strategy, then that recipient might turn away. This new attention-getting device—-increase adrenaline of the hearer—-will not work with forgiveness. Why? Because forgiveness takes place in the context of the wounded heart. Wounded people usually do not seek the adrenaline high but instead the quiet encouragement and love that will help them to heal. Forgiveness is at odds with the whirlwind, adrenaline-pumping world.
- Related to point 1, we are easily distracted by the next “big thing.” The early 21st century is not a time of quiet persistence, but instead a time of flinging oneself from one interesting idea to another. A steady diet of one food is boring……..and so people come into the forgiveness arena, only to leave way too soon to follow the call of something new and shiny and exciting. Forgiveness is at odds with the shiny as it is more at home with the strong will, the daily persistence in offering compassion to those who have had no compassion on the forgiver.
- Forgiveness is a hard sell in contemporary education because,quite frankly, too many school systems have way too many requirements, sometimes taught too superficially just to get it all in, and so when an innovation such as forgiveness comes calling, there is not room for this innovation…….which can change lives.
- Forgiveness can help each of us to leave a legacy of love rather than a legacy of anger and bitterness in this world. Few realize this and so when they die, their anger lives on. Being aware of this can reverse a family tradition of bitterness.
- Anti-bullying programs need forgiveness therapy and it is very much off the radar of too many educators. Anti-bullying programs too often focus on bullying behavior (let us punish bullying; let us set up norms against bullying behaviors; let us try to discourage bullying; let us ask peers to help stop the bullying). Yet, conspicuously missing is a focus on the broken heart of those who bully. Give them a chance to forgive those who have broken their hearts and their motivation to bully melts away.
- Still, too often people mistake forgiveness for what it is not. To forgive is to move on from a hurtful situation, some say. You can move on with indifference or even annoyance in one’s heart. To forgive is to be more deliberately active in trying to be good to those who are not good to you.
- In the final analysis, helping students learn how to forgive may be one of the most important new developments on the planet. We need to awaken a world that is still a bit too sleepy to understand this. We sleep through this idea to the detriment of our young people…….who may grow up not knowing how to deal with cruelty……and that is not in their best interest.
LONG LIVE FORGIVENESS!
“Forgiveness is fundamentally unfair. Here we have a deeply abused person and now we ask her, in her woundedness, to reach out to one who hurt her. She now has two burdens, the original abuse and having to forgive. Please, let us first help her with the wounds from the abuse and put forgiveness on the shelf for her sake!”
So goes the most pervasive criticism of what forgiveness is and what it supposedly does in 2016. This criticism is likely to change over time and a new one emerge because, well, that is the way it is with forgiveness. There always seems to be one major criticism that is in season and acts as a barrier to forgiveness.
Thirty years ago, that in-season criticism was the equating of forgiving and reconciling. Once the logic was worked out that forgiving cannot be the same as reconciling, that one faded. After all, forgiveness is a virtue (as is justice and kindness and patience); reconciliation is not a virtue, but instead is a negotiation strategy of two or more people coming together once again in mutual trust. One can forgive and not reconcile. Thus, they differ.
Let us now turn to the current in-season criticism of forgiveness. Yes, forgiveness is a burden if:
………we pressure someone into forgiving;
………we tell the person that the only motivation for forgiving is to be good—-very good—-to the person who was not good to the one who might forgive;
………we critically judge the would-be forgiver for not forgiving.
Yet, we can unburden the forgiver, as well as forgiveness itself, when we realize that:
………forgiveness is the forgiver’s choice. It is not our place to pressure someone to forgive (or not to forgive). Give the person freedom to make the decision;
………there are many motivations to forgive. One healthy motivation that often exists early in the process is the desire to be free from emotional pain. The forgiver is motivated to become emotionally whole. The forgiver, at this stage of the process, is not so interested in doing wonderful things for the one who was not wonderful. These are very different motivations and need to be distinguished, especially early in the process;
………it is wrong to condemn a struggling person who is ambivalent about forgiveness. Maybe the person needs more time; maybe the person needs more information about what forgiveness is (and not the colloquial misunderstandings that cloud the understanding). Again, it is the choice of the one who was abused.
When we unburden the abused person by clarifying these issues, then it is clear that we are not placing a new burden on the person by discussing forgiveness. Notice that I did not say “suggesting forgiveness.” Let us discuss and then let the person decide.
So, what will be the new criticism of forgiveness that could block, without justification, a person from exploring forgiveness?
One argument states that when someone is hurt by another, it is best to show some resentment because it lets the other know that he or she is being taken seriously. If forgiveness cuts short the resentment process, the forgiver is not taking the other seriously and, therefore, is not respecting the other. Nietzsche (1887) also devised this argument.
We disagree with the basic premise here that forgiveness does not involve resentment. As a person forgives, he or she starts with resentment.
We also disagree that resentment is the exclusive path to respecting. Does a person show little respect if he or she quells the resentment in 1 rather than 2 days? Is a week of resentment better than the 2 days? When is it sufficient to stop resenting so that the other feels respected? Nietzsche offered no answer. If a person perpetuates the resentment, certainly he or she is not respecting the other.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5092-5097). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5090-5092). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Too often in society the word forgiveness is used casually: “Please forgive me for being 10 minutes late.” Forgiveness is used in place of many other words, such as excusing, distorting the intended meaning. People so often try to forgive with misperceptions; each may have a different meaning of forgiveness, unaware of any error in his or her thinking.
Freedman and Chang (2010, in the Journal of Mental Health Counseling, volume 32, pages 5-34) interviewed 49 university students on their ideas of the meaning of forgiveness and found that the most frequent understanding (by 53% of the respondents) was to “let go” of the offense. This seems to be similar to either condoning or excusing. Of course, one can let go of the offense and still be fuming with the offender.
The second most common understanding of forgiveness (20%) was that it is a “moving on” from the offense. Third most common was to equate forgiveness with not blaming the offender, which could be justifying, condoning, or excusing, followed by forgetting about what happened. Only 8% of the respondents understood forgiveness as seeing the humanity in the other, not because of what was done but in spite of it.
If we start forgiveness education early, when students are 5 or 6 years old, they will have a much firmer grasp of what forgiveness is. . .and therefore likely will be successful in their forgiveness efforts, especially if these students are schooled not only in what forgiveness is but also in how to go about forgiving.