Syrian children have watched their parents die or have assisted in carrying out their parents’ bodies. What would you advise for these children?
We first have to realize that forgiveness belongs to those who rationally conclude that they have been wronged. Even if others say, “You have no right to forgive because there is no injustice here,” this does not mean that the children now are frozen in their decisions to forgive. Some, perhaps the majority, of children who have such a traumatic experience, may develop severe resentment. This resentment could destroy their lives in the future, even in the distant future because the damaging effects of resentment may not be manifested for years. So, if there is the poison of resentment and if the children, as they grow up, decide to forgive, they should do so. A question is whether they are able to identify specific people to forgive or whether they will end up forgiving a system and which system that will be.
For additional information, see Healing Hearts, Building Peace.
Is it ok to engage in escapism rather than the hard road of forgiveness when I have emotional pain because of another’s unfairness?
Temporary escapism is reasonable. It is similar to the psychological defense of denial. Psychological defenses in the short-run are good because they keep us from severe anger or anxiety. In the long-run, if all we do is use denial or escapism, then this is not allowing us to deal with the heart of the problem, which is to heal from what happened. As an analogy, if you have torn muscle tissue in your knee, and this requires surgery, you are not healing the knee by denying the extent of your injury. To forgive is to face the reality of deeply unfair treatment, the dangers of resentment, and your need of healing.
For additional information, see Why Forgive?
How can I say, “I forgive you” to a system that has oppressed my people for a long time. I am a “person of color” and it is my understanding that to forgive involves a concrete, flesh-and-blood other person. This is not the case with a system.
You are correct that you are unable to say directly to a system, “I forgive you.” It sometimes is the same with concrete, “flesh and blood” other people. For example, you can forgive from your heart without words to a person who abandons you, whom you now cannot see. When you forgive a system it can be from the heart and from the actions you take toward that system. After all, systems are made up of people and people create norms that can be hurtful to some groups in that system. So, you are able to forgive the system if this is your choice. It is more abstract than forgiving one concrete, “flesh and blood” other person, but you can extend kindness and generosity to the unseen others who established and continue with unfair norms. Of course, this does not mean that you give up the quest for justice. Forgiveness and justice exist side by side.
For additional information, see How to Forgive.
I am a victim of incest. My father has died and I refuse to go to his graveside. Does this mean I am not forgiving him?
Your not going to your father’s graveside does not necessarily indicate that you have not forgiven. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean that you are finished with all negative emotions. Classical conditioning may be happening here in that you associate the grave with the incest and it makes you uncomfortable or anxious. Staying away under this condition is understandable. If you are doing no harm to your father in that you are not talking negatively about him to family members or others, you may be on the path to forgiving.
For additional information, see Learning to Forgive Others.
My boss abruptly and without warning dismissed me from my position last week. Since then, I have had thoughts of revenge, not to actually do anything, just fantasy. Is this part of forgiveness or is this a symptom that I am unforgiving?
Fantasies of revenge show you that you are highly resentful of your boss’ actions. An initial period of anger, even intense anger, is common when there is severe injustice. The key now is what you want to do with that anger. Do you want to keep that anger and nurture it or do you want to be rid of it? If you want to be rid of it, then this may be the beginning of forgiveness.
A next step in forgiving is this: Are you engaging in forgiveness only to be done with the resentment or are you actually exercising the moral virtue of forgiveness by wishing your boss well? When you get to the point of wanting good for the boss, then you are engaging in the deep issues of forgiveness.
For additional information, see The Four Phases of Forgiveness.