Tagged: “forgiveness journey”

What is the difference between genuine guilt and false guilt?

False guilt occurs when you have not broken your own moral standards.  For example, suppose you have to meet someone soon and you forget your car keys, necessitating that you go back into your home, find your keys, get the keys, and now you are late for the meeting.  You did not intentionally try to be late for that meeting.  You made an error and did not willingly break a standard of honoring the other person.  Your acceptance of imperfection may be in order, but to deeply blame the self would be excessive and therefore in all likelihood is false guilt.  Genuine guilt occurs when you have broken your moral standards and now you are feeling guilty until you make amends.  As a final point here, sometimes unintentional errors can be serious enough to warrant guilt.  For example, if you are driving in your car and texting on your phone at the same time, resulting in an accident, you should have been paying more attention to the driving.  In that case, even without an intention to do wrong, the guilt would be genuine.

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I have tried every solution and still I am angry.  Even when I forgive, I am still angry.  Do you have any advice for me?

We are all imperfect forgivers and so once you forgive, you still may have some anger left over.  A key question for you is this: Is your anger strong and consistent or has it lessened and is not continually present?  As long as the anger is not controlling you, then you are doing well.  If, however, the anger continues to be strong and stays within you, I would recommend going back to the forgiveness process regarding this particular person.  Practicing forgiveness and persevering in this can reduce the anger even more.

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Forgiveness Is More than Seeing the Humanity in the One Who Offended

I recently heard a speech in which the speaker equated forgiving with seeing the humanity in the one who offended.  The one who was victimized sent a letter to the offender stating that the offending person owes the victim nothing.  The speaker said that the letter was sent to set the self free.  While these aspects of forgiving (seeing the other as more than the offense and writing the letter for one’s own sake) are both laudable and part of forgiveness, they do not, in themselves, constitute what forgiving is in its essence.

Had the speaker said something such as the following to the audience, it would be reasonable because the speaker would be instructing the audience that this is not the sum total of forgiveness: “I have worked at seeing the offending person as much more than his actions against me. I sent a letter to him to set myself free.  These are part of forgiveness, perhaps the best I can do for now, but there is much more to what forgiveness is than this.”  Otherwise, the messenger is engaging in the logical fallacy of reductionism, or reducing what forgiveness is to less than what it actually is.

Such a clarification is important for this reason:  Because forgiveness is a moral virtue, it is about goodness directed deliberately toward the other person for that offending person’s sake.  A letter sent for one’s own benefit is quite different from sending it to aid the one who offended. Again, the motive of self-healing is good, but there is more. The benefits toward the self are consequences of forgiving; these benefits for the self are not what forgiveness is in its essence.

Forgiveness is a response of mercy toward the one who offends.  It also includes the cultivation of compassion toward that person, the bearing of pain for the other, and the giving of a gift because that is what mercy does.  Forgiveness, then, is centered not only on insight about the other person but also on a deliberate gift-giving toward that person.  This does not mean that all who forgive reach this fuller level of forgiving, but it does mean that this is the goal.

When people are asked to speak to an audience, this implicitly sets up the expectation that the speaker has a certain wisdom about the topic so that the audience will get as clear an understanding of the topic as possible.  When the speaker then engages, without realizing it, in the logical fallacy of reductionism, this does not advance deep knowledge of that topic.

The take-away message of this blog post is this:  When you hear a scheduled talk by someone who is considered an authority on the subject of forgiveness, be very careful not to conclude that what the speaker is saying must be the truth and nothing but the truth because the person was asked to speak.  Sometimes, there is reductionism or patently false information given on the complex topic of forgiveness. Let the listener beware.

Robert

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TIME Magazine: Forgiveness is One of Mankind’s Most Important Innovations

Calling forgiveness one of mankind’s “most important innovations,” TIME magazine is doubling down on its 22-year infatuation with the moral virtue by declaring, Beset by a global plague, political turmoil, and social reckonings, it’s time for forgiveness to go viral.”

The internationally acclaimed news publication first introduced the science of forgiveness to its readers on March 28, 1999, in an essay titled “Should All Be Forgiven?” That widely-cited introductory overview of forgiveness—one of the first ever in a publication designed for the general public—helped usher in a plethora of forgiveness-related articles since then that reported on the superabundance of new research projects focused on forgiveness.

“In the past two years, scientists and sociologists have begun to extract forgiveness and the act of forgiving from the confines of the confessional, transforming it into the subject of quantifiable research,” the TIME article in 1999 sermonized. “In one case, they have even systemized it as a 20-part ‘intervention’ that they claim can be used to treat a number of anger-related ills in a totally secular context. In short, to forgive is no longer just divine.”

The “20-part intervention” in the TIME quote (above) is a reference to the Enright Process Model of Forgiveness that was just being developed at that time by Dr. Robert Enright, a University of Wisconsin-Madison clinical psychology professor and forgiveness researcher. Dr. Enright had founded the International Forgiveness Institute four years earlier.

For his leadership work with that early model and for his development of innovative forgiveness interventions, TIME magazine crowned Dr. Enright “the forgiveness trailblazer.” Shortly after receiving that recognition, The Los Angeles Times editorialized that Dr. Enright is “the guru of what many are calling a new science of forgiveness.” The Christian Science Monitor called him “the father of forgiveness research.”

Fast forward 22-years and you will discover an updated and enthusiastic TIME magazine essay with this headline: “After a Year That Pushed Us to the Brink, It’s Time for Forgiveness to Go Viral.” The dictionary definition of “going viral,” of course, is when an idea is of such significance that it spreads quickly and widely on the Internet. In this case, it also refers to the actual implementation of that idea which is described in the article much like a miracle cure:

“It is a powerful solution backed up by both cutting edge neuroscience and age-old wisdom. It leads to greater cooperation, eases conflict, increases personal happiness, lowers anxiety and is completely free. It’s called forgiveness.”

One of the studies cited in this latest article is a comparison of various forgiveness interventions. Among those available for testing, the study concludes, Dr. Enright’s interventions are the most effective. “Using theoretically grounded forgiveness interventions is a sound choice for helping clients to deal with past offenses and helping them achieve resolution in the form of forgiveness,” according to the study. “. . . the advantage for individual interventions was most clearly demonstrated for Enright-model interventions.” (Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: a meta-analysis)

That recent TIME article also makes a direct comparison between the success of the forgiveness coalition and the “mindfulness and meditation” movement:

“Like forgiveness, mindfulness and meditation have been shown in many circumstances to reduce stress levels, mitigate heart disease, and lower blood pressure. Can we create the same level of cultural penetration for forgiveness? Our future may well depend on it. Beset by a global plague, political turmoil, and social reckonings, it’s time for forgiveness to go viral.”

The latest TIME article was authored by Andrew Serazin, President of the Templeton World Charity Foundation and Chair of the Forgiveness Forum, a series of global conversations on the mental and physical health benefits of forgiveness.


Editor’s Note: To illustrate the dramatic upward trajectory of the forgiveness movement, when Dr. Enright began exploring the social scientific study of forgiveness in 1985, there were no published empirical studies on person-to-person forgiveness. Today there are more than 3,000 published articles on that subject according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), many of them authored by Dr. Enright during his 35+ years of forgiveness research and intervention ingenuity.


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Thank you for clarifying that to forgive is a moral response, but it is not a response of dominating the other.  Yet, I have a follow-up question: Might forgiveness actually be morally superior to, say, acrimony or hatred?

Let us make a distinction between the person who forgives and the act of forgiveness itself.  Those people who forgive are not acting in a morally superior way, but are lowering themselves in humility, as I explained before.  Yet, the act of forgiving is far superior in a moral sense than acrimony, getting back at the other, or hating the other.  Why?  It is because forgiving builds up and hatred has the potential of tearing down.  So, the person is not feeling morally superior; the forgiving act itself is considerably morally superior than the option to hate.

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