Tagged: “forgiveness is a choice”

Forgiveness: the Keystone of Human Values

Forgiveness can be “one way to reduce conflict and hostility, as well as to promote understanding and respect, to diminish unresolved hurt and pain that burdens many.” [1] Forgiveness is a choice, a decision, an act of bravery requiring courage; it is hard work.

That’s how Fr. Brian Cavanaugh characterizes forgiveness after researching and teaching forgiveness for 19 years, reading every piece of forgiveness literature he could get his hands on, and receiving feedback from hundreds of presentations, workshops and retreats.

A member of the Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular (TOR), Fr. Cavanaugh has now written a scholarly yet intriguing and entertaining treatise on the subject. It was published earlier this year as a 2-part series by Pioneer Magazine, and can be accessed through these links:

“Forgiveness: the Keystone of Human Values”

Pioneer Magazine is published by the (PTAA) which was founded in 1898 in Dublin, Ireland. The Association’s mission is to address the problems in society caused by excess alcohol consumption and drug usage. Its vision is to “help to build a society where people live to their full potential and alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, avoiding the ills that arise in society from excess in its use.” Pioneer Magazine is a monthly publication now in its 67th year.

You can access and order any of the nine books Fr. Cavanaugh has written by visiting “Books By Fr. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR.” You can also view and download his amazing collection of photos including hundreds of flowers, sunrises and sunsets, fall foliage, and winter scenes all on his website at “Fr. Brian’s Photo Galleries.” 

[1] McCullough, Michael E., Kenneth I. Pargament and Carl E. Thoresen, eds. (National Institute of Mental Health). Forgiveness: Theory, Research and Practice. New York:  The Guilford, 2000.

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I suffer from chronic anxiety. Will this alter how I go through the forgiveness process relative to those who are not suffering in this way?

Sometimes our anxiety comes from not feeling safe. Sometimes our not feeling safe emerges when others treat us unfairly. In other words, you may be expecting poor treatment from others now, even those who usually are fair.

A first step may be to think of one person who may have hurt you and at whom you still harbor resentment. You can forgive through the exact same pathway as described, for example, in the book, Forgiveness Is a Choice. With anger lessened, anxiety can diminish. Of course, this will vary for each person. We have to be gentle with ourselves as we learn to forgive, to give up anger, and to know with some confidence that we can meet the next interpersonal challenge with forgiveness, helping us to meet these challenges with less anxiety than in the past.

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Does forgiveness always start with feelings of anger? What about feelings of disappointment? For example, someone is angry when robbed by a stranger. In contrast, a mother is disappointed with a teenager who promised to clean her room, but did not.

Forgiveness does not begin with our own emotions. Forgiveness begins with an injustice by another person. Sometimes we react with anger, at other times with disappointment, and at other times with sadness and mourning. Even if we do not feel any of these emotions, if a person has done wrong, you are free to forgive if you choose to do so.

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The New Criticism of Forgiving: It Places the Burden of Healing on the Victim

We are once again addressing a criticism of forgiveness that is showing up now more frequently than we would have predicted. The criticism might discourage some people from forgiving and so we need to address it because we think it does not hold up upon careful scrutiny.

A post on person-to-person forgiving appeared on the Salon.com website on Sunday, August 23, 2015. One commentator, with a lengthy response, had this (in part) to say:

“People are waking up to the cruelty of promoting forgiveness, just as they are waking up to the cruelty of promoting ‘prosperity consciousness’. In both cases, a burden is placed on the victims to fix themselves rather than fix the injustices of society. People are told they won’t ‘heal’ unless they forgive. That is a lie.”

Let us make four points regarding the above quotation:

1) Forgiveness is a choice and therefore it is not “promoted” by mental health professionals. We have to distinguish between the rhetoric of news media and genuine attempts to help.

2) Because forgiveness is not “promoted,” mental health professionals, who understand this, are not being cruel.

3) The notion of a “burden” to “fix” oneself is incorrect. To reiterate the same argument made on May 6, 2015, suppose a person hurts her knee while running. Is she now placing a “burden” on herself, or perhaps is the medical establishment placing one, as she undergoes surgery and rehab? She is hurt and now needs to do the work of healing. If someone is treated unjustly, doesn’t he have to accept the “burden” of striving for justice if this is his choice? Either way, forgiveness or justice, those injured have to do something. To blame forgiveness as an unfair move that is burdensome is incorrect. Instead, the effort to rehab a knee or to rehab a hurting heart through forgiveness can bring healing.

4) The commentator dichotomizes forgiveness and justice, claiming that either one forgives or seeks justice. It does not seem to dawn on many critics that people do and should let forgiveness and justice grow up together.

The new criticism does not stand up upon close examination. People who are injured by others should practice caution when hearing this criticism.

Robert

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Do you think that people who go through the forgiveness process and experience emotional healing have an obligation to now help others to heal through forgiveness?

As we have said on other occasions, forgiveness is a choice of the one who was treated unjustly.  Over time, as I write in the book, The Forgiving Life, people develop such a love of this virtue that it becomes a part of them.  It is at this point that some people now feel obligated to forgive and to pass that knowledge on to others.  If this obligation to help others starts to develop in you, please remember that you have chosen to make this your obligation. Others still may not feel the same sense of obligation as you and we should not condemn them for that.

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