Misconceptions

What Finding Meaning in Suffering Is Not

When you find meaning in your life and in the suffering that you endured you are not doing any of the following:

You are not denying anger, grief, or disappointment because of what happened to you.  It did happen and your negative response Pillow over head2is what we all go through.  To find meaning is not to put the pillow over your head and hope the pain goes away.

When you find meaning you are not playing games with yourself by say, “Oh well,  I can just make the best of what happened to me.”  Yes, you can make the best of what happened, but if this is your meaning in what you have suffered, you are not going after that woundedness inside of you.  The “oh, well” approach is so passive.  We need a more active approach to the pain.

When you find meaning you do not sugar-coat the injustice and distort reality by saying, “All things happen for good reasons and so I will try to see the good in what was done to me.”  Let us be honest: Maybe there was not any good in the injustice itself.  What you learn from it will have goodness, but the event itself?  Maybe you will find no good in that injustice against you and that is all right.

Robert

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For Scientists: A Critique of the Enright Forgiveness Inventory in China (EFI-Mandarin Version)

A colleague of ours recently attended a national conference in which a Master’s thesis in Canada by Hanson (2005) was extensively discussed.  The author asserts that the Enright Forgiveness Inventory (EFI) inadvertently assesses tolerance and not forgiveness in China.

The conclusion was reached by having university students rate the items regarding what the students think the scale’s intent is. The consensus was that it assesses tolerance and not forgiveness. Thus, Hanson questions the validity of the scale in the Chinese culture. We have four rebuttals to his conclusion.

Chinese symbols for tolerance

Chinese symbols for tolerance

First, as Hanson points out in the document, Chinese students have far more exposure to the concept of tolerance, based on Confucianism, than to forgiveness, thus possibly biasing them in that direction when making their judgements.

Second, a good scale’s intent will not be obvious to participants, otherwise social desirability can confound the results. As pointed out above, we deliberately chose items, in the initial construction of the instrument, that had no relationship with social desirability and a strong relationship with the one-item question about forgiveness.

Chinese symbols for forgiveness

Chinese symbols for forgiveness

Third, we have a study in Taiwan reported in the “in press” book entitled,  Forgiveness Therapy (APA Books), which clearly shows as high a correlation as is possible (when using a one-item scale) between participants’ EFI scores and the degree to which participants have forgiven the person targeted on the EFI.  Although Taiwan and China have traditional and simplified versions, respectively, of the Chinese language, these are nonetheless more similar than different and people in each of these cultures can understand one another. In other words, a study in Taiwan can help shed light on Hanson’s assertions in China.

Fourth, items on the EFI such as feeling “tender” and “caring” and seeing the other as “loving” have little to do with tolerance (a respectful putting-up-with) and much to do with forgiving.  If someone were tolerating and not forgiving, he or she would not score high on these items, thus reducing the correlation between the EFI and the one-item forgiveness question.

We critique the Hanson effort here so that the unsuspecting researcher who consults his thesis is not misled by his conclusion.

Robert

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The Will to Power, the Will to Meaning, and the Will to Love

Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century popularized a view of the world that he called the Will to Power.  His was a response to the emerging NietzchkeDarwinist view of evolution that there is a Will to Survive by all living things, not deliberately conscious (because, for example, blades of grass or turtles do not consciously reflect on such a will to survive).  For Nietzsche, the Will to Survive was not, well, powerful enough to explain how living organisms and systems work.  Grasses do not only struggle to live, but to expand territory by pushing out other living forms for a larger habitat.  Thus, even grass has the Will to Power, to control or even to (again unconsciously) dominate.

Viktor Frankl, a psychoanalytic psychologist, imprisoned in concentration camps during World War II, had a direct response to Nietzsche by saying that the primary human force is the Will to Meaning, a will to make sense out of life and particularly out of suffering.  Finding meaning, not a specific meaning common to all people, but finding a meaning itself has the survival value.  As people think of life as meaningless, then they die.  Yet, this contentless Will to Meaning has a contradiction in it.  It cannot be opposing Nietzsche’s Will to Power if, in finding meaning, one person’s meaning for life is to gain more influence over another.  In other words, Frankl’s deliberately contentless theme of the Will to Meaning must accommodate the content in some people’s minds that the Will to Power is their own personal meaning to life.  It is the way the world works, at least as some people try to make meaning out of a cruel world.  Yet, Frankl’s view, I think, is a developmentally more sophisticated worldview because it makes room for much more than the brutish vying for dominance and control in the world.

Jesus Christ, in contrast to Nietzsche and Frankl, has a different worldview.  It is the Will to Love.  Others, of course, have said this, too, but we must be scholarly here and give credit to the originalJesus - forgiven 2 proclamations.  This Will to Love consciously repudiates the need to dominate, to seek power.  Even if Nietzsche is correct that the Will to Power typifies the untrained, under-developed will of humanity, Christ’s challenge is to overcome that.  Nietzsche, in other words, takes what is and mistakenly presumes that this is what ought to be.  Frankl, in contrast, takes what is (we are presuming for now that the Will to Power is a natural tendency in humans) and is showing us that we can fill in the blank with other, perhaps better content when we ask, “What is the meaning of life and suffering for me?”  Christ, in contrast to Frankl, and in common with Nietzsche, commits to one particular content—in this case, love—as the central Will for humanity.

It seems to me that we have a developmental progression here in terms of a greater fulfillment of humanity, the fulfillment of who we are as persons.  We start in the mire of a Will to Power and can do great damage if we stay there, and if the world stays there.  The Will to Meaning is a transition in that it takes us out of the inevitability of seeking power.  The Will to Love, which honors the life of all, is the highest of these world views.  Why?  Because it is the only one of the three that is intimately concerned about all life.  If humanity will survive, our questing after the Will to Power is a dangerous path because in its conscious, extreme form, it destroys others so that one’s own domain can expand.

To those like Nietzsche who think that love and the equality of persons is a weakened view of humanity, my response is this:  How are you distorting the moral virtue of love?  How are you misunderstanding it?  To love is to help with the survival of all others, not to destroy for one’s own survival, dominance, and control.  In the seeking of others’ betterment, one finds vitality and joy and gives the freedom to others to do the same. The Will to Love is the only assurance of survival and the thriving of all, including the self.

Which of these world views will you bring to others today?

Robert

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Our Follow-up on “Phony Forgiveness”

Timing is amazing sometimes.  We posted a blog essay yesterday (just below this one) on three reasons why quick forgiveness is not necessarily “phony forgiveness” and we then came across this story: “Parents no longer forgive shooter of teen.”

Apparently, parents of a slain youth retracted their forgiveness toward the man who shot him.

We would like to claim that their first overture of forgiveness seems very sincere based on the news story. We have to remember our second point in the earlier blog post: psychological defenses are sometimes strong when tragedy strikes. As they lessen, anger rises.  Now the deep work of forgiveness might begin….in time.  And one more point: Even a retraction of forgiveness is not necessarily a final word on the matter.

Robert

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“Unless You Forgive the Situation”……Can One Forgive “the Situation”?

We came across this expression recently while browsing the web.  The author wanted to make a point about the forgiver’s well-being by encouraging forgiveness…..of a situation.

Can a person forgive a situation?  No.  That is not possible.  Why?  Forgiveness is a moral virtue (as are justice, patience, and kindness as examples).  All moral virtues are toward other people or living beings (we can be compassionate to a wounded dog, for example).  Moral virtues do not point toward storms or earthquakes.  Why is that?  The purpose of moral virtues is to serve, to make better, to uplift in goodness.  We do not serve thunderstorms or try to make earthquakes morally better.  We do not uplift a dying tree in moral goodness either.

This does not mean that we do not try to restore a tree or to prevent damage from earthquakes.  It does mean that our response to **situations** is of a different kind than our response to other **persons. **

Robert

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VOLUNTEERS NEEDED FOR RESEARCH PROJECT

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