Tagged: “Anger”

I have calmed down a lot toward my ex-partner. Does this mean that I have forgiven him?

Forgiving is much more than just calming down.  This is the case because some people calm down because they have dismissed from their life the one who was unfair.  When a person calms down, there is not necessarily a sense of goodness toward the other, only an inner state that is no longer angry.  Forgiveness is an active virtue of trying to be good to those who were not good to the forgiver.  A calm inner world is not necessarily that.

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I just do not have the confidence to forgive one of my parents from issues of long ago. I keep telling myself that I will not be able to get it done. What can you suggest to me that might boost my confidence?

First, I suggest that you look back on your life to concrete examples of your forgiving others. Have you had at least one successful attempt in your past? If so, you have shown yourself that you can forgive.

Even if you have never forgiven someone, you can start now with someone who is easier to forgive than your father. Try to recall someone who has hurt you in the past, but who has not hurt you severely. Start the forgiveness process with him or her and keep at it until you have forgiven. Once you succeed with this person, then try another, again who has not hurt you gravely.

Once you have successfully practiced forgiveness on these two people, keep in mind the path that you walked and now apply it to your parent. The practice may give you the confidence you need.

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My anger is what motivates me to solve problems and to uphold justice. Forgiveness is the “opiate of the people,” reducing anger and thus reducing our motivation to seek and to find fair solutions. Can you convince me otherwise?

This is a good challenge and so I thank you for the question. There are different kinds of anger. One kind, which I call healthy anger, is expressed within reasonable, appropriate limits and can energize us to seek fair solutions. You are talking about healthy anger.

We also have the kind of anger that sits inside of us and chips away at our energy, our well-being, our very happiness. This kind of anger we could call resentment or unhealthy anger. Forgiveness targets this kind of anger and helps to reduce it so it does not destroy the forgiver. As a person forgives, he or she sees more clearly, not less clearly, that what happened was unfair. Thus, someone who forgives is not likely to fall into an unnatural state of lethargy regarding the injustice.

So, keep your healthy anger and fight for justice. Forgiveness is not a foe of justice, keeping it at a distance. Instead, justice and forgiveness can work side by side for a better world. If you think about it, don’t you think that you will be better able to fight for justice if your energy is not brought low by unhealthy anger? Forgiveness can be of considerable help here in aiding the person to control the kind of anger that can thwart the quest for justice.

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I have heard some say that “forgiveness is a decision.” By that they mean a person decides to be good to the one who was unfair. Is this what forgiving another person is?

Actually, no, forgiveness is not only a decision to be good to the one who was unfair.  Forgiveness is a moral virtue and as Aristotle tells us, all moral virtues are more complex than only the cognitive process of making a decision.  All moral virtues also include the motivation to do good, the feelings of goodness, and behaviors that express that goodness. To call forgiveness only a decision is to engage in the logical fallacy of reductionism, making forgiveness less than what it actually is.

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What advice do you have for parents when there are conflicts between siblings? What are the dangers to be avoided?

Sometimes, when parents want the children to forgive one another, the parent engages in a superficial ritual such as this:

“What do you say?” (directed toward the one who acted unjustly).

The parent waits for the words, “I am sorry.”

The parent then asks the one who was hurt by the other, “Now what do you say?”

The parent waits of the words, “I forgive you.”

Parents have to be careful that they do not equate forgiveness, in the children’s minds, with a language-ritual of “sorry” and “I forgive.”  This is the case because forgiveness originates in the heart and the one who was treated badly might need a cooling-off period.  It is best if the children are drawn both to forgiveness and to being forgiven rather than being forced into these.

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