In your experience, are people more critical of others who are unjust or of themselves when they break their own standards?
I find that people are more critical of themselves than they are of others. Many people find it difficult to welcome themselves back into the human community once they have behaved badly. I discuss this issue in a Psychology Today blog centered on self-loathing here:
Power makes me a man. Forgiveness makes me a wimp. Hey, I like those 2 sentences. Maybe you can use them in your forgiveness talks. Really now, don’t you think that humans are made for power……you know, the survival of the fittest.
There is a big difference between power **over** others and power **for** others. The former leads to domination, which might lead you eventually to have to forgive yourself for treating people as pawns in your quest for domination over them. On the other hand, power **for** others means that you use what influence or skills you have to make a better world for others. This can require strength of character, patience, altruism, and even suffering for those others. So, which form of power are you discussing: power **over** or power **for**? This distinction makes all the difference.
〈This is an excerpt from my book, 8 Keys to Forgiveness, W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.〉
When you sacrifice for others, you are doing a lot more than acting in service to them. They may be bleeding emotionally inside, and you then bleed inside to help them stop bleeding inside. For example, Brian’s mother, Yolanda, was overly-controlling toward him and his partner, Simone. Instead of distancing himself from Yolanda, he spent time gently giving her examples of her not letting him, in her own mind, develop independence in adulthood. This took energy, a checking of his anger so it did not spill out to her, and some suffering on his part to help her to understand.
Of course, we have to exercise temperance here too. Sacrifice does not mean that you do damage to yourself. The paradox is that as you sacrifice for others, you experience emotional healing.
Dr. Frankl, in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, provides a remarkable case study of the kind of meaning one can find in sacrificing for others. His example is not in the context of forgiveness. I relate it to you so that you can see how sacrifice works and becomes an aid to the one who is doing the sacrificing. An elderly physician came to see Dr. Frankl because of the loss of his wife 2 years earlier. Dr. Frankl saw that he was psychologically depressed. His question to the physician was this: “What would have happened to your wife if you were the one to go first?” With that question a bigger picture opened for the physician. Had he gone first, then it would have been his beloved wife who would be visiting Dr. Frankl for her depression. By her going first, she was spared years of grief. The physician then understood that he could willingly take on the suffering on behalf of his wife……….
Can you see how a sacrificial attitude, within reason, could aid you in forgiving and in overcoming resentment? I say within reason because you do not want to overdo this either. If a person refuses to hear what you have to say, or refuses to accept your sacrificial gestures and begins to use you, then it is time to reexamine the approach. None of these approaches is foolproof. If you see benefit in the sacrificial attitude and related behaviors, then what is your particular plan? What will you do that is hard for you to do in service to the other? How long will you give this undertaking? Do you see even a glimmer of evidence……that the other is open to even small change? Be sure to monitor your coping level during this exercise so that the sacrifice does not lead to an even greater resentment. If that begins to happen over a period of time, then it is time to reevaluate this particular approach in your case. If, on the other hand, it seems to be working, then stay at it as long as you can and as long as the other is willing to work with you in changing behaviors.
Reflect on the possibility that without your forgiveness, that person may never learn to live well. You may be playing a part in helping him or her grow deeply as a person. How might that be? He or she is being given a chance to see what genuine love is and to see it in action. Your sacrificial approach may even be playing a part in the very survival of this person. Of course, you do not want to go so far with this sacrifice that you do damage to yourself. Instead, the point here is that as you give of yourself, within reason, this giving might prove to be emotionally healing for you. When you are ready, write down your answer to the question of how you may be aiding the other’s healing.
Dr. Frankl then gives the reader an insight that is worth remembering: Sacrifice changes as soon as it is linked to a sound meaning that underlies it. The physician now had a meaning for going on, and his willing acceptance of outliving his wife was a sign that he loved her and wanted her safe.
A newly-released video interview with forgiveness expert Dr. Robert Enright called “This is what forgiveness is not” is now available to view at no cost on the website Inner Change.
The 3 min. 22 sec. video was recorded by a film production studio based in Switzerland that has cinematic staff in the US and more than a dozen other countries around the world. It is one of 13 short video segments that Inner Change has recorded with Dr. Enright and which it will release over a 2-year period. Thus far, five of the Dr. Enright interviews have been made available:
- This is what forgiveness is not – Dr. Enright outlines four aspects of what forgiveness is not:
- It is not excusing or condoning.
- It is not forgetting but remembering in new ways.
- It does not necessarily mean reconciliation although it could happen if the other becomes trustworthy.
- When you forgive, you do not throw justice away, you bring it alongside.
- The Essence and Definition of Forgiveness (2 min. 15 sec.) – In this interview, Dr. Enright defines forgiveness from an interdisciplinary, cross-cultural, and interfaith perspective that basically includes what Socrates would call the “essence” or “core” of forgiveness.
- How I Became Involved in Forgiveness Studies (4 min. 16 sec.) – Dr. Enright explains how after years of studying moral development at the behest of his employer, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he asked himself, “What might make a difference in the world in people’s lives?” The answer he came up with in 1985 was “the virtue of forgiveness” which he saw as a way to heal from the injustices we all face.
- The Two Paradoxes of Forgiveness (1 min. 0 sec.) – In this brief segment, Dr. Enright outlines the two paradoxes (apparent contradictions that are not contradictions) of forgiveness: 1) by forgiving, you are giving unexpected goodness to the person who hurt you; and, 2) in the process, you become stronger and emotionally healed.
- Learning to Forgive in the Small Things (3 min. 19 sec.) – By practicing forgiveness with the smaller hurts in your life, what Dr. Enright calls “exercising your forgiveness muscles,” you can become forgivingly fit and more easily handle the larger injustices in life.
The Inner Change website includes interviews with psychologists, spiritual teachers, activists, and neurologists. Those interviews are part of the website’s “Peace Video Library” where visitors can “discover what it means to be fully human, what resources we all share, how we can tap into our full potential as humans.” Other website features include musical meditation segments following each video and a collection of more than 30 music videos all with original songs recorded at Chernobyl (the site of the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster in the Soviet Union) and the nearby ghost town of Prypiat in Northern Ukraine.
In Memoriam: Anne Gallagher, Seeds of Hope
It is with deep sadness that we announce the passing of a true patriot for peace, Anne Gallagher of Dublin, Ireland (August 7, 2013).
Anne started the peace organization, Seeds of Hope, in Ireland as a way to counter the after-effects of The Troubles. Even though the peace accord was signed in 1998, hearts were still embittered by the struggles that began to erupt in early 1972 with Bloody Sunday. Some of Anne’s friends and relations took up combat and were part of paramilitary organizations in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Anne, in contrast, sought dialogue as a way to peace.
Anne was instrumental in the International Forgiveness Institute’s transition to forgiveness education in Belfast. She tirelessly set up meetings with us at various schools such as Ligoniel, St. Vincent de Paul, and Mercy Primary School. Because of Anne’s endorsement of us, doors flew open and within about one month of trying, we were accepted into schools within the inter-face areas of the city (where contentious groups live segregated lives but in close proximity to one another)..
I recall vividly in 2003 sitting with three ex-combatants who wanted to know more about forgiveness education. They were unsure if it was a good idea. Anne set up the meeting. You see, we needed their permission to go into a particular school because some of the ex-combatants informally controlled their neighborhoods. One of them, battle-tested, said to me, “My son is in that school. Forgiveness will make him weak.” I swallowed hard and asked, “Do you want your son to grow up and live as you have?” He bowed his head and with love in his heart for his son said, “No.” It was then that he gave us permission to enter the school.
Anne was always close to danger like this. She did not care, even though some of her brothers were scared for her. Yet, she had a spark in her eyes and a conviction deep within that peace must be sought even if it meant putting oneself on the line at times.
Anne Gallagher represents peace in Ireland. We at the IFI will do our best to keep alive her vision for Seeds of Hope in each human heart. Peace be with you now, Anne.
Author’s Note: Read about the Northern Ireland Troubles, about Bloody Sunday, and about learning to forgive in the “Seeds of Hope Ex-Prisoners Think Tank Report” co-authored by Anne Gallagher (whose four brothers became involved in the Northern Ireland conflict and served long prison sentences, one being shot dead upon his release.)
— Anne Gallagher photo by Brian Moody