Special Days

Thanksgiving Is Coming: Three Ways to Avoid the Family Dreads

In the United States, Thanksgiving is celebrated annually on the fourth Thursday of November.  It is a custom going back to the 17th century when immigrants and those native to this land celebrated together with a feast.  The tradition has continued for about 300 years.

Yesterday, while teaching a class on the psychology of forgiveness, I mentioned that next week the students likely will be getting together with family and extended family.  Some of the students rolled their eyes, others groanedturkeyday (as civilly as they could within a classroom setting, but the pain was obvious).

So, how can we avoid the “family dreads,” the restless, uncomfortable feeling of being face-to-face once again with those who have caused hurt and toward whom there may be some resentment?

Here are three suggestions:

1. First, acknowledge the pain.  Do not run from it.  After all, pain is a speedy little thing and always seems to be right behind us no matter how hard we run.

2. Practice now to see the inherent worth in that person.  That person has a built-in value even when behaving badly.  All people are unique, special, and irreplaceable.  Start realizing that now before you pass the mashed potatoes to him or her.

3. Stop the pattern of treating this person as if he or she were invisible.  Make eye contact.  Smile (after all, this is a person who is special, unique, and irreplaceable).  You need not say a thing. The eye contact and smile may be a good start.

And enjoy the journey that is life.  That journey was never supposed to be pain-free.  You can reduce the pain in you, and perhaps in the other, by recognizing the humanity in the other.  They are not invisible to you.  Show that you see them…and that they are special despite hurtful patterns in the past.


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9/11 and Forgiveness

I have been reading some comments across the Internet about how we ought to respond to the 9/11 attacks. Here are five of them:

1) Forgiveness is only for the unintended slights, not for the malicious who desired to hurt.

2) It is time to put it all behind us. Forgiveness does that.

3) Win the wars that we started after 9/11, then let us talk about forgiveness.

4) Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all value forgiveness in the Torah, the New Testament, and the Qu’ran. Let us embrace that common ground.

5) We should forgive. It is good for us.

I offer comments on each point:

1) Forgiveness is so easy when the other did not intend it. Forgiveness belongs to the heart torn apart by injustice, but it should never be forced. This has to be a time of gentleness as we in America and those who join us across the globe react in our own way. Some are still fuming, others mourning, still others trying to move on and forget, while still others have forgiven or are on that journey. None of these needs our judgement today.

2) Forgiveness does not necessarily “put it all behind us.” Sometimes, forgiveness puts it all in front of us, opening up the pain as we look at those who planned and executed the crime, and those who looked on in triumph or indifference. We can forgive those who, in the aftermath, did not call evil by its name.

3) Winning wars as a prerequisite for forgiveness confuses this: People can strive for justice and forgive at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive. When we forgive, sometimes what we request in the name of justice changes and for the better.

4) Those who embrace one of the monotheistic traditions indeed share this: The ancient writings across all three honor forgiveness. For those who recognize this, perhaps it is time to open the dialogue so that a deeper appreciation of “the other” emerges across cultures. Forgiveness education can help here.

5) “We should forgive” has a sense of pressure as I hear those words. We do not want to pressure others to forgive. “We should forgive” also has a sense of challenge. This I like. Let us challenge without pressure. We at the International Forgiveness Institute built this site for you, the reader, so you do not feel alone when it is time to forgive. We are here for you, even on the solemn days when forgiveness seems so hard and so many questions about it arise.

Dr. Bob

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Mother’s Day, a Tradition of Reuniting Families

What is the state of your relationship with your mother?

Has she always been there for you throughout your life as a mother should be — supporting, guiding, and loving you? 
Were there times when she was not such a “super-hero mom” and was more like a human being, capable of making mistakes?
Perhaps, you even felt completely abandoned and neglected as a child?

Maybe you have a great relationship with your mother because you’ve already forgiven her or haven’t really ever felt the need to forgive her. That’s great! I suggest you reflect on the ways she has taught you forgiveness and then thank her for this powerful tool and gift.

Many of us may still have some forgiving to do in order to restore or build better relationships with our mothers.

Why not start this weekend, when we celebrate Mother’s Day in the U.S. and Canada?

In fact, Mother’s Day may be one of the most appropriate days to forgive and promote peace. Part of the historical roots of this holiday date back to the 1870’s with Julia Ward Howe’s call to Mothers for peace during the U.S. Civil War. Later, this initiative for reuniting families and neighbors in a divided, post-civil war country was taken up by Anna Reeves Jarvis.

Let this Mother’s Day be an opportunity to carry on a tradition of reuniting families by starting with your own family, and with your own mother. There’s no greater gift you can give than love, and forgiveness is one of the most powerful and generous forms of love. An easy way to start might be to get to know your mother a bit more. Take some time to sit down and talk with her; ask about her life. What was her life like growing up?  What was her relationship with her own mother and father like?
What trials and obstacles has she had to overcome? Then ask yourself some questions from what you have learned.  What did your mother learn (or not learn) about mothering from her own parents?  How did that upbringing translate into her style of parenting with you?  What past hurts might she still be carrying? You might be surprised at your own change of view towards your mother as you take into account the entirety of who she is and what she has gone through. Her faults and past hurts don’t excuse or take away any of the hurts given to you, but they do give a fuller perspective of who she is and why. And through forgiveness, you can come to see her first and foremost as your mother.
Amber Flesch
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A Reflection on Resolutions

Another year, another set of resolutions. While we are on the topic, I have a question for you: “What did you resolve in the new year on January 1, 2011?” A show of hands, please from all of you who even remember what you resolved to do or improve in the 2011 calendar year. Another question: “For those of you who do remember what you resolved on January 1, 2011, did you follow through with the resolution?”

The questions above were asked to test your strong will. By that I mean your inner determination and behavioral manifestation of staying the course, finishing the race. When was the last time you heard a thorough-going discussion of the strong will? We talk in society about free will and good will, but rarely about the strong will that helps us stay the course.

To forgive requires a free will to say yes to the path of mercy and love, a good will to embrace mercy in the face of unfair treatment, and a strong will so that you do not stop persevering in forgiveness. To persevere in forgiveness is one of the most important things you can do for your family, your community, and for yourself. Without the strong will, you could easily be like the rowboat, once tethered to the dock, now loosened from the moorings as it slowly drifts out to sea. As the cares of the world envelope you, the opportunity to cling to the forgiving life may slowly fade until you are unaware that the motivation to keep forgiving is gone.

This New Years Day, my challenge to you is to resolve to have a strong will as a forgiver. This means that you will remember what you resolved; you will follow through with the resolution. You have the opportunity to make a merciful difference in a world that seems not to have a strong enough collective will to keep forgiveness alive in the heart. The choice is yours. The benefits may surprise you.

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The Holidays and Heartache

Christmas, Hanukkah, Christian and Islamic New Years

Merry Christmas, Eight nights of joy, wishing you a year full of goodness

Peace, Shalom, As-Salamu Alaykum

Tis the season for family and joy……and some heartache. November, December and part of January are accompanied by celebrations in which a smile is worn on the face and an ache silently and privately is carried within the heart. For many, wherever there is family there is a mixture of joy and sadness on special occasions.

We are here at the International Forgiveness Institute, and at theinstitution of our first blog post, to let you know that there is a cause for great hope when the heart is aching. Forgiveness, of course, is no cure- all, but it is better in some ways than the heartburn medicine or headache remedies that are downed like water and food during the holiday season. Perhaps this is the year that you will take the following resolution seriously: I pledge to myself and to others on this site that I will take the first step to mend one broken relationship in my family or circle of friends. I will do my part to mend the broken heart of one member of my group.

How do you do that?

First, we recommend that you see your part in that one person’s broken heart. Have you contributed to his or her wounds? If so, make that resolution to go to the other with a warm heart and offer an apology for….well….whatever it is that you said or did. We recommend that you approach this courageous task with deep and gentle humility. After all, this is a holiday season when nerves are a bit more on edge, fatigue comes washing in upon us more readily, and our patience is thinner despite the warm words said and received. Therefore, expect some surprise from the other person. He or she may not be ready to receive your gift of apology. If this is the case, please try to bear their surprise, their ambivalence, their outright ignoring with a gentle strength. Your bearing up under the other person’s lack of readiness is yet another gift you can give this year—-not only to him or her but to others as you do not let your disappointment come rolling out of you to them. Rest in the knowledge that you have done a courageous, loving thing—-to bring peace.

Second, we recommend that you start one small process of forgiving one person in your close circle. Chose a person who has hurt you and choose to give him or her one gift this year—the gift of mercy wrapped up as forgiveness. Try to see him or her in a true context, as a person, someone who is unique, special, and irreplaceable. Someone who, like you, may be wounded inside. Someone who, like you, needs love in the heart. Be a love giver now, even if it is a struggle, even if you are apprehensive. Forgiveness quietly reaches out in this kind of ambivalence because it is strong. The love of forgiveness is stronger than any injustice that anyone has ever given to you. You might find that as you pledge to heal another person, the gift waiting for you is your own emotional healing as well.

It is time to love. It is time to love through forgiveness. Take the first step and let us know how it is going or how it went for you. We are here to listen and to help.

Peace, Shalom, As-Salamu Alaykum

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