Consequences of Forgiving
One of the paradoxes of forgiveness is that as we give mercy to those who showed no mercy to us, we are doing moral good. Another paradox is this: As we bear the pain of the injustice, that pain does not crush us but instead strengthens us and helps us to heal emotionally.
When we bear the pain of what happened to us, we are not absorbing depression or anger or anxiety. Instead we realize that we have been treated unfairly—-it did happen. We do not run from that and we do not try to hurriedly cast off the emotional pain that is now ours. We quietly live with that pain so that we do not toss it back to the one who hurt us (because we are having mercy on that person). We live with that pain so that we do not displace the anger onto others who were not even part of the injustice (our children or co-workers, for example).
Today, let us acknowledge our pain and practice a paradox: Let us quietly bear that pain and then watch it lift.
I was reflecting on all of the disorder within schools during 2015 and 2016. It has been reported that there were 35 shootings at schools in the United States in this two-year period. Think about that for a moment. The context of the shootings centers on innocent children, adolescents, and young adults (at universities) who are unarmed and innocent.
How many family break-ups were there in 2015-16 or acts of bullying that cut deeply into the very being of those bullied?
Forgiveness is a profound response to disorder. What do you think? Do you think any of those school shootings would have happened if the ones responsible for the mayhem had practiced forgiveness and rightly ordered their emotions from rage to calm?
What do you think? Do you think all of the family break-ups would have happened if both sides of the conflict practiced forgiveness? And perhaps the forgiveness needed to be toward people from years before because our left-over anger from childhood can follow us into adulthood and strike the innocent.
Forgiveness likely could have averted some of those break-ups if forgiveness toward each other in the present and toward parents from the past had been practiced. Forgiveness could have restored order……..and prevented disorder.
The same theme applies to bullying. If those who bully could only forgive those who have abused them, would the bullying continue or would the behavior become more orderly, more civil?
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for restoring order within an injured self, within relationships, and within and between communities. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful forces on the planet for preventing disorder.
It is time for individuals and communities to see this and to have the courage to bring forgiveness into the light….to restore and then enhance order while it destroys disorder.
The term quality of life refers to an overall positive sense of comfort, contentment, or happiness with one’s life as it is experienced right now. Quality of life encompasses one’s physical strength and health, one’s psychological adjustment to life’s challenges, the fulfillment of one’s purpose in life, and the amount of support that one senses from important others in one’s life. Forgiveness can increase benefits in all of these areas in people who take the time to work through the process.
In one rather dramatic example, Mary Hansen and I helped terminally ill cancer patients to forgive those who had hurt them in the short time of four weeks. This brief time period is unusual, but in this case, the people knew that they were dying, their energy was fading, and so they did the intensive work of forgiving those in the family toward whom they were still fuming. Some of the patients had held on to this unhealthy anger for decades.
Upon forgiving those who had been very unfair to them, these courageous people reported that their overall quality of life, including how they were feeling physically, was significantly improved. They even reported that their purpose in life became clearer to them because they were leaving their families more settled, more at peace because of the forgiveness that they were offering as they were dying. We saw how their actual physical condition deteriorated over those four weeks while, at the same time, their overall well-being— their reported quality of life— kept increasing. Forgiveness helped these individuals to die well.
Enright, Robert (2015-09-28). 8 Keys to Forgiveness (8 Keys to Mental Health) (p. 5). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
We now see forgiveness as a protection in at least five ways. As we forgive, we are protecting:
(A) our own emotional health;
(B) the human dignity of the offender, not because of what happened but in spite of it;
(C) our relationship if the other wants to reconcile;
(E) our communities from on-going anger that can pervade neighborhoods, separate people, and leave a blight that depresses economies.
After all, communities continually in contention do not receive tourist dollars, and governments often turn away, even if subtly, from such communities with high rates of violence. To forgive is to serve, to love, and to protect.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5565-5567). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Enright, Robert D.; Fitzgibbons, Richard P. (2014-11-17). Forgiveness Therapy (Kindle Locations 5562-5565). American Psychological Association (APA). Kindle Edition.
Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and a world renown psychiatrist, made the point that the only ones who survived concentration camp were those who somehow could find meaning in what they suffered. Those who saw their suffering as meaningless died.
In other words, finding meaning in this case meant to find life. What fascinates me about Dr. Frankl’s observations is that finding any meaning seems to count in staying alive. Whether a person saw the suffering as a way to toughen the self, or as a way to reach out to other suffering people was not the main point.
I wonder now, in reflecting on Dr. Frankl’s broad view of meaning in suffering, whether he had it entirely correct. Yes, it may be the case that any meaning can keep a person alive. Yet, what kind of meaning in suffering actually helps a person to thrive, not just to live? Perhaps people thrive only when they derive particular meaning from suffering. Of course, we do not know for sure, and any comment here is not definitive because it is open to scientific investigation and philosophical analysis. With that said, I think that when people realize that suffering helps them to love others more deeply, this is the avenue toward thriving.
How does suffering help people to love more deeply? I think there are at least three ways this happens: 1) Suffering makes people more aware of the wounds that others carry; 2) Suffering makes people more determined to help those others bind up their wounds, and 3) Suffering gives the sufferer the courage to put into action these insights and motivations to make a difference in the lives of others.
As people love in this way, there are characteristically two consequences which help them to thrive: 1) Those who deliberately love in the face of suffering grow in character, each becomes a better person, and 2) The recipients of this love-in-action have their well-being enhanced. As those who suffer see the fruit of their loving actions, this increases satisfaction with life, increasing thriving.
When we have been treated unjustly by others, this is an occasion of suffering. Let us cultivate the habit under this circumstance of finding this meaning: I have an opportunity now to love those who have hurt me. The one avenue to loving the unjust is to forgive them. Let us remember this meaning to forgiveness: “In my forgiving, I am someone who can love despite hardship.” As we say this routinely and come to know it is true, we may find that we have been given an opportunity to thrive as persons.