Why do you advocate all the time for forgiveness when the research on assertiveness shows that it is effective in stopping another’s inappropriate behavior? The passivity of forgiveness just does not compare to this.
Why should we take sides on this? For those who reject forgiveness, there are other approaches. For those who view assertiveness approaches as too harsh, there is forgiveness.
Regarding research, we respectfully disagree. You can find the research based on forgiveness therapy with adults at: Peer Reviewed Experimental Studies. You can find the research based on forgiveness education with children and adolescents at: Journal Articles on Forgiveness Education. As you will see, the research shows that those who forgive experience considerable emotional healing.
Finally, forgiveness is not a passive activity. It is an active struggle to love through pain, hardly an inactive approach.
By Leslie Neale, Chance Films, Inc.
Would you become friends with the person who shot you or killed your only son?
For most of us this is unimaginable.
There are those, however, who in order to understand the crime have reached through the bars to connect with and then surprisingly befriend the criminals who devastated their lives.
This is the premise of my newly completed film, Unlikely Friends, a feature length documentary narrated by acclaimed actor, Mike Farrell, telling the heroic journey that five victims of horrific, violent crime choose to walk.
The seeds of this film were planted many years ago when I met Nelson, a bank robber featured in my first documentary, Road to Return. Nelson told me he was consumed with an overriding compulsion to go back to the bank he robbed once he was released from prison and APOLOGIZE.
He told me the story of sitting around a conference table in a small town community bank tucked in the rural banks of Louisiana, sharing pictures of one another’s families with the bank’s employees and swapping stories of their lives. They were all crying. The teller, who Nelson held a gun to 12 years prior, finally looked up at him with tears streaming down her face and said, “Thank you. Thank you for coming back here and apologizing because for 12 years I have not been able to get you out of my mind, and I have lived in fear you would come back and kill me.” I thought to myself the brilliance in that simple act of forgiveness. I immediately understood the implications, not only for his heart to be unburdened from the weight of knowing he harmed innocent strangers but also for the victim to be released from the terror of that nightmare. She was finally able to let go of her obsessive thoughts and fears.
This story convinced me to make a film on the concept of forgiveness, to explore how it might be used to affect positive change within our criminal justice system.
Nelson told me that it took him eight years to realize the damaging effects of what he had done. He had left a couple of precious stamps on his bunk “his only link to the outside world” and another inmate stole them. He vowed then to apologize to those he robbed if and when he got out.
The cornerstone to any true and lasting rehabilitation is taking full accountability for what you’ve done. Victims and offenders coming together in victim offender dialogues can be the catalyst for that connection to be made. Forgiveness is not expected from these dialogues but when it happens, it is life changing for both.
Debbie wanted the death penalty for Gabriel, the man who killed her only son. She says she was eaten up with anger and bitterness before she forgave him. In turn, Gabriel shares that her forgiveness affects every action he now takes–if she can forgive him, then he can forgive all the daily transgressions that occur around him in prison. Most of us think theses stories are the exception. Yet, I was surprised to find more stories than I could tell. There are many people who have forgiven acts that most of us deem unforgivable–and the numbers are growing.
Guest Blog by Leslie Neale, Chance Films, Inc.
This might help you understand what it is you are doing when you forgive. We are in a dark room, which represents the disorder of unjust treatment toward you. As you stumble around for a match to light a candle, this effort of groping in the dark for a positive solution represents part of the struggle to forgive. As you now light the candle, the room is illumined by both the light and warmth of the candle. When you forgive, you offer warmth and light to the one who created the darkness.
You destroy the darkness in your forgiving.
Now here is what I am guessing you did not know about the light of forgiveness: That light does not just stay in that little room. It goes out from there to others and it even continues to give light across time. For example, if you shed light and warmth on a person who has bad habits, he or she might be changed by your forgiveness and pass it along to others in the future.
Now consider this: If you give this warm candle of forgiveness to your children who give it to their children, then this one little candle’s light can continue across many generations, long after you are no longer here on earth.
I am guessing that you had not thought about forgiveness in quite this way before.
Forgiveness brings joy? Where did I come up with that, the skeptic might ask. Well, our forgiveness research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, since 1993, has shown that as people take the time to forgive others for deep injustices the following tends to happen for the forgiver: lower anger, anxiety, and depression, and higher self-esteem and hope for the future. Are these fancy psychological ways of saying, “My joy has increased”?
Maybe not. Perhaps there is much more to forgiveness than a change in one’s emotions and in one’s perceptions of the self. In reflecting on this issue lately I have come to a new conclusion: Forgiveness brings joy because of what the future holds for those who routinely forgive as part of The Forgiving Life.
Here is what I mean. When we forgive and make it a part of our very being, we start to give a high priority to love in our relationships. By love, I mean the kind that is in service to other people for their good. We first love through forgiveness by looking back, by seeing who was back there in our past to make us miserable, and we respond by trying to love them, not for what they did, but in spite of this.
Eventually, we realize that not only can we go back to our past and love those who may not have loved us but also we realize that we can bring that love into the present. We can exercise this love-as-service-to-others not only toward those who have offended us, but also to all whom we meet today. We can smile at the person who looks lonely as we pass him or her on the street. We can offer kindness to a co-worker. We can love.
Even more eventually, we come to realize that our future is very, very bright. When we get up in the morning, our way of relating is through love. And it will be that way tomorrow and a hundred tomorrows from now. We have learned to love and it is now part of us, regardless of the injustices we might face.
Forgiveness may bring joy when we have some emotional relief from others’ unfairness. Forgiveness brings more decided joy when we live a life of love. Try it. You can’t wait to get up in the morning once you live life through the lens of future forgiveness.
What do you dream of?
I’ve seen people do some funny things in their sleep. Recently on an overnight trip, I was awarded the amusement of seeing my friend and roommate for the night, Molly, a professional ballerina, dreaming of what she loves doing most…dancing. This was apparent by the graceful rising and falling of her leg suspended behind her in mid-air. What a lovely dream she must be having, I thought.
Are your dreams full of dancing and merriment like my friend’s?
Or, are there signs of distress and despair such as the case in Michael’s story recounted in the book, “Forgiveness is a Choice” by Robert Enright (p. 180)?
“Michael describes his sense of well-being in terms of his dreams. Following his father’s physical abuse, he had been tormented with two decades of nightmares in which he hurt others.” After forgiving his father, Michael writes, “I began very quickly to lose episodic nightmares and began to dream more happily in color.”
Could a lack of forgiveness be contributing to a lack of happiness in the dreams, thoughts, and attitudes of your unconsciousness?
Our unconscious thoughts deeply affect our outlooks, perceptions, and attitudes of every day life – our levels of stress, emotional peace, our interactions with others, and our physical health. Our dreams can be one sign pointing to an underlying discontent due to past hurts or injustices that we have chained ourselves to. An unhealthy lifestyle can be another sign as it was for Felicia. Here is the testimony she gives after forgiving her mother:
“Yes! Release and liberation, emotional and physical. An internal peace, relaxation, openness, acceptance of myself and others. A new sense of purpose and exploration. No more excessive alcohol use. Better eating and exercise patterns — lost about 20 pounds. I’m enjoying life and its challenges more. Also, seeing the beauty around me instead of ‘burying’ myself with my eyes closed!”
What are the signs of discontent in your life?
How are the chains of resentment and pain from past hurts keeping you from dancing, enjoying life, and reaching your full potential?
But more importantly, are you willing to set yourself free from those chains?
I hope so…and I hope you believe you are worth it; You deserve enough happiness and peace to be dancing in your dreams!