We are all connected and so one person’s actions are not necessarily independent from others’ actions. Is this true? Some Eastern philosophies say this. Some Western psychologies say this, too. For example, family systems theory surmises that a misbehaving child likely is being influenced by pressures within the family generated by others’ behavior both inside and outside that family. Psychodynamic theories in psychology say that an adult’s actions can have causes going back to how he or she was treated as a child.
Given all of the interrelated ideas above about our being interrelated in our actions, we can then make at least two moves in explaining people’s behavior: 1) no one can truly help certain actions because of others’ influences over us or 2) we all have free will and choose to act rightly or wrongly even if others’ make it hard to be good.
If we take the first turn on our journey of understanding persons, then we weaken such ideas as “right and wrong,” “justice,” and “forgiveness.” After all, how can we say that one person acted wrongly? if we are all so interconnected, then this person is not acting with any kind of genuine volition. In a certain way, his misbehavior can implicate his father, who can implicate his mother, who can implicate……..On it goes until we all share the blame which weakens the case against the original person and his actions under consideration.
If we take the second turn on our journey of understanding persons, then we strengthen such ideas as “right and wrong,” “justice,” and “forgiveness.” After all, the person, even though pressed in on all sides by others, has choices. One need not, for example, hit another person because of frustration. One’s mother has not so abused this person that she was left with one and only one option. Yes, the mother’s misbehavior (whatever it was) may make it difficult for the daughter to control her temper, but control it to a degree she can.
Free will. Independent choices. Break the laws of morality (you will not take the life of an innocent person, for example), and you do wrong. If the wrong is done to me, I can forgive. If the other does not have free will, then an apparent wrong is just that—-apparent. Do I then forgive a person for a wrong? The conclusion is no longer clear. We will have to re-define forgiveness in this case to keep the word. Forgiveness becomes a kind of acceptance of all along with their actions, no matter how wrong they might appear to be. We still retain such words as “compassion” and “understanding,” but the word forgiveness itself begins to fade.
The late (and great) Lewis Smedes in 1984 wrote one of the early books on person-to-person forgiveness, Forgive and Forget. In that book he coined the term “seeing with new eyes” to describe what happens when we forgive. To “see with new eyes” means to begin seeing the person who has been very unjust to us as a person, as someone who is bigger than his injustices, as someone who is worthy to be called a human being, not because of what he did, but in spite of that. To “see with new eyes” means that you train your mind to see the inherent worth of all, including people who hurt you. “Inherent” is built-in, unconditional, requiring nothing for its fulfillment. Worth suggests something or someone of great value, precious, and special. All people have inherent worth because they are special, unique, and irreplaceable, and bad actions on anyone’s part do not subtract one ounce of that inherent worth.
Recently, I had the privilege of talking with a 16-year-old girl (young woman, actually) who had made up her mind. She would tell her father what she had done. She would accept the consequences—-she would be thrown out of the house. Her father was not going to accept the fact that this young woman had erred. She was expecting a baby. “My father is very strict. He will not even think twice about this. He will toss me from our home as soon as I tell him. I have gained a child and lost my father.”
With the suggestion of “seeing with new eyes,” given to us by Dr. Smedes, there is no reason why she should lose her father and the father lose a daughter and a grandchild with one wave of his dismissive hand.
“May I make a recommendation?” I asked. “Before you speak with your father, I strongly recommend that you have a series of conversations with him “about one idea I learned recently.” That one idea is the inherent worth of all people regardless of who they are, where they live, how much money they have, how healthy they are, and even regardless of their behavior. I would start with people of different ethnicities, for example. Discuss with your father how people tend to pre-judge a person just because he or she is part of an ethnic group different from the one who is judging. I would then turn to the issue of poverty and ask your father if a very poor person is less worthy of respect than Donald Trump. I would eventually turn deliberately to political figures whom your father does not like. I would keep working with him, if you can, until he sees that these political figures possess inherent worth, not necessarily because of their political beliefs or what they do in the political arena, but because they are human beings and all people are special, unique, and irreplaceable.
I would then turn to a person in the family—a cousin or an uncle or anyone who annoys your father. I would ask him to work with you to see this person as worthy of respect, possessing inherent worth because he or she is a person, regardless of his or her behavior. Once you think he “gets it,” I would turn to one prominent young woman outside of your family, perhaps an actress, who has hurt her own life and career because of drug use. Have your father reflect on the fact that she possesses inherent worth even though she engaged in unfortunate behavior that hurt her career and reputation. Once he “gets it,” then turn to you, not at first in the context of your pregnancy. Instead, simply focus on you, a precious person who possesses inherent worth regardless of what you do or think or say or feel. Then when he gets this, you might consider at that point telling him about your situation. This could take days or weeks to build up to finally discussing one aspect of who you are, a young, pregnant woman, worthy of everyone’s respect because of who you are.
“Seeing with new eyes” is built up one new thought at a time. As of this post, the young woman is on her way home. What will the next chapter in her father’s and her life look like? Forgiveness can give new life.
Star Journal, Rhinelander, WI – For many parents, losing a child in a car crash caused by a drunken driver would set up a lifetime of anger and resentment. For Patty Bonack, that was never a thought.
“Even when I learned she (Jenny) was killed by a drunk driver I had a powerful feeling of forgiveness come over me,” Patty said. “I attribute that to the Holy Spirit working in my heart. I don’t think I could have felt that way on my own.”
Jenny was on her way home from work in Madison on Aug. 31, 2009, when her car was T-boned by a car driven by Jesse Ruegsegger. His blood alcohol level was .24. The 29-year-old Ruegsegger eventually received an eight year prison sentence with nine years probation and Patty was glad for that.
“Even though I had forgiven him, I still wanted him to pay for what he did,” she said. “I wanted him to know how much harm he had done to our family.”
Since then, Patty has not only forgiven Ruegsegger, but made him a part of her life. That journey to embrace the man who killed her daughter has resulted in a book, The Man Who Killed My Daughter: A Story of Tragedy and Triumph that was just recently released.
“I wrote a children’s book a long time ago that I never published,” she said. “But this time I felt a strong pull to write this book. I wanted to write about the power of forgiveness and how it has affected my life.”
After reaching out to Ruegsegger’s family, Patty was contacted by a production company that had been commissioned by the military to film an educational video about drinking among military personnel. The film’s producer wanted Patty to be featured along with Jesse Ruegsegger.
“I figured something good was coming from Jenny’s death,” said Patty. “Maybe someone watching this film would think twice about drinking and driving and save someone else the pain we were going through. I think it will make a big impact on soldiers.”
Read the full story: “The power of forgiveness after a tragedy”
Suppose that each of us had a little red light on the top of our heads. Further suppose that whenever we are feeling beaten down by the injustice of another, that little red light started to blink.
We all kind of hide behind a veneer of civility—well dressed, well mannered….and sometimes dying even a little bit inside.
No one sees the “dying even a little bit inside” because it is hidden. Others really do not want to see it……It is an inconvenience to see it.
Yet, it is there…..for all of us at one time or another.
That little blinking red light would be a sign to us that we are all hurting. It would be a concrete sign that mercy is necessary….even more so than civility.
That little red light would be our teacher….and perhaps soften our hearts…..and help us to learn that offering mercy should be our first response, not our last one after we all dress up in our finery, with our impeccable manners…..that keep the hurting invisible to us.
Try to see that little blinking red light on the top of each person’s head today even if it is not there. Try to see it anyway.
Unless we eliminate the anger in the hearts of those who bully, we will not eliminate bullying.
It is our contention that bullying starts from within, as anger, and comes out as displaced anger onto the victim. Our new Anti-Bullying Forgiveness Program targets this anger and then reduces it, thus reducing or eliminating the displaced anger which comes out as bullying.