Barriers to Forgiveness
When we are treated unjustly by another, then perhaps it is that other person who has moved us around as if we were toy soldiers. It is at this time that resentment can take hold of us and if we are not able now to competitively move our injurer around like a toy soldier, we dig the trench of resentment and stay there for the battle.
If the other does not apologize, we do not want to budge from our pride-trench. The central problem of waiting for the other to admit defeat is this: Too often those who hurt us do not apologize.
What we need is an antidote to pride, something that will extend a warm hand and help us out of the trench. The antidote is the virtue of humility, a virtue that the philosopher Nietzsche looked on with distain, calling it a “monkish virtue.” It is apparent that Nietzsche’s philosophy valued power and so he wanted nothing to do with humility.
The major problem with detesting humility is that sometimes the other’s power over us remains, despite our best efforts. If all we have left is our pride-trench, then the other’s power could defeat us in an emotional sense as we develop unhealthy anger and even anxiety and depression.
To combat the barrier of pride, we need to value and practice humility, that sense that we need not always get our way and that power is an impostor not worthy of following. With humility, we do not meet power with power. Yes, we meet power with a call for justice, but this is very different from pride, which calls for its pound of flesh from the other. Once we have developed the virtue of humility, which gets us out of our pride-trench, we are free to begin forgiving, which can actually eliminate the resentment so that it no longer has power over us.
“A little hatred goes a long, long way. It grows and grows. And it’s hungry. You keep feeding it more and more people, and the more it gets, the more it wants. It’s never satisfied. And pretty soon it squeezes all the love out of your heart and all you’ll have left is a hateful heart.” –Jerry Spinelli in Love, Stargirl
In other words, hatred is an insatiable monster that demands its supposed due. When people hate, they can all too easily create the rationalization that the other deserves bad things, deserves to be punished…..and by the one who hates.
Hatred clouds the mind as it freezes the heart. And it does so slowly enough that the one now with the clouds and freezings was not even aware of this progression from a sunny mind and a warm heart. Yet, it can happen. Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; the final scene in Dr. Seuss’ The Butter Battle Book; the list is long.
Eventually, hatred becomes self-righteous; the person believes deep within the self that the hatred is not only justified but also moral. It becomes a quest and even a way of life…….until it turns on the one with the self-righteousness and the sense of the moral quest…..and destroys him.
With hatred, forgiveness is not allowed to grow. With courage, a person can begin to see hatred within and stand against it, giving forgiveness a chance to grow and to redeem and to lighten and to unthaw.
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.