Consequences of Forgiving
“It matters very little whether a man is discontented in the name of pessimism or progress, if his discontent does in fact paralyse his power of appreciating what he has got.”
Forgiveness can reverse the apathy and the pessimism and increase our appreciation of situations and other people.
We all quest after these three qualities of life: truth, goodness, and beauty. Too often, those who hurt us are not standing in the truth of who we are, they are not behaving in a morally good way toward us, and the outcome surely is not beautiful.
Those who hurt us leave a mess behind: a distortion of truth, goodness, and beauty.
Goodness conforms to truth. When we realize that all persons are special and possess inherent worth, our response of goodness should include fairness toward all as well as kindness, respect, generosity, and love.
Beauty is defined by goodness. If we are to respond to others with fairness, kindness, respect, generosity, and love, then we have to express this well from the heart.
So, how do we clean up the mess left behind by those who are cruel?
We should try to forgive with truth, goodness, and beauty. How do we do this?
In truth, we have to start forgiveness by understanding it clearly. Even when someone is cruel to us, the truth is that this person is special, unique, and irreplaceable. Even if this person has hurt us, he/she has inherent worth.
In goodness, even when someone is cruel to us, the challenge of goodness compels us to respond with fairness, kindness, respect, generosity, and love. Yes, even toward those who are cruel to us.
As we apply truth, goodness, and beauty to those who have acted unfairly toward us, we not only help to clean up the mess left behind but also we are doing our part to make the world a more beautiful place.
Today I was on an airplane from Atlanta, Georgia to Madison, Wisconsin. Two rows in back of me were a mother and her precocious and inquisitive four-year-old daughter, who asked, “Mommy, how do lady bugs protect themselves?” I doubt the mother ever heard a question like that. I never have.
It was such a tenderhearted question. Here is the little girl in an airplane and she is concerned about bugs and their protection. Because children are so vulnerable, I wonder if they are particularly sensitive to this issue of protection.
We should all be like children and have this sensitivity. Every person on the planet is fragile in a certain way and therefore needs protection.
Forgiveness is a form of protection. It can protect the dignity of the wrongdoer. It can protect the emotional health of the one harmed. Forgiveness can protect a relationship that is now at-risk. Forgiveness can even protect 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 the tourist dollars and governments often turn away, ever if subtly, from such communities with high rates of violence.
We are one-up on the lady bugs. They do not know of forgiveness. We surely must not forget about forgiveness as we go about our busy lives. We need the protection.
Many sites offer advice on how to control your anger. The Mayo Clinic, for example, lists ten tips. Among them are: take a time out, get some exercise, and forgive. Of course, the time out is a temporary solution. After the short time has elapsed the problem or its aftermath may be right there staring at you. Exercise can be a release of tension, but again the problem or its after-burn may be there to greet you the next day. Forgiveness, in contrast, offers a permanent solution to the emotional disruption. The seeking of a proper justice may be necessary to rectify an unfair situation.
The American Psychological Association is now saying that a continual expression of one’s anger (getting it off one’s chest, as the expression goes) is dangerous because it can accelerate the intense negative feeling. Forgiveness, in contrast, soothes that potentially destructive feeling.
Helpguide.org sees the situation quite similarly to the advice above: take some time out, exercise, and do not continually vent. This site, too, suggests forgiveness as an option.
Yet, how does one forgive? Proclaiming it as good and actually accomplishing the task are quite different. We have many resources here on our site to help with forgiveness-as-anger reduction (among many other goals). You can view our blog posts on anger. You can begin to get a sense of the forgiveness process. Finally, there are books and curriculum guides in our Store.
Forgive and live well.
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).
When we bear the pain we begin to see that we are strong, stronger actually than the offense and original pain. We can stand with the pain and in so doing become conduits of good for others.
Today, let us acknowledge our pain and practice a paradox: Let us quietly bear that pain and then watch it lift.