Tagged: “The Forgiving Life”

Becoming Forgivingly Fit

Because forgiving others is a moral virtue, we cannot reduce the act of forgiveness to a psychological technique.  For example, we cannot engage one time in “the empty chair technique” and have a deeply hurt forgiver sit in the chair of the one who acted unjustly and then gain full insight into that person’s wounds with a resultant overflowing compassion toward that person.  To clarify, there is nothing wrong with this technique, but we cannot think of it as complete.  As an analogy, if you will take out a gym membership to get into physical shape, your goal is not reached as you go on the treadmill one time or do 20 bicep curls only once.  To become physically fit, you need repetition, for a long time. 

It is the same with becoming forgivingly fit.  Your task is not accomplished by engaging in one set of actions, in one psychological technique.  Growing in any of the moral virtues takes time, perseverance, and a strong will to keep at it.  As Aristotle reminds us, we need three things to grow in the moral virtues: practice, practice, practice.

We can even engage in our forgiveness practice when we do not have a particular person in mind to forgive today.  Here is an example: As we forgive, we struggle to see the inherent worth in others.  So, as we interact with people today, even those with whom we are getting along, we can say to ourselves, “This person probably has a history of being wounded in some way by others in the past.  This person has built-in worth that cannot be taken away.”  As you pass by strangers in a store or on the street, you can say the same about them.  The key here is to train one’s mind to see the inherent worth in others so that you can then apply this learning toward those who hurt you, as you decide to forgive.

Here is another idea for growing in forgiveness fitness: Make a list of as many people as you can remember who have hurt you, from your childhood to now.  List who the person is, what occurred that was unjust, and your degree of hurt on a 1-to-10 scale.  Then order all of these people from the least hurtful (but still a challenge for you now) to the most hurtful.  Start with the one person who hurt you the least and go through the forgiveness process with that person.  When you think you have accomplished forgiving this one person, and it might take weeks, then go to the next person on the list.  Continue until you reach the person who wounded you the most.  You then may be ready to forgive this person because you have engaged in practice, practice, practice in forgiving and so your forgiveness fitness likely has increased.

Becoming forgivingly fit takes time, perseverance, and a strong will.  As in becoming physically fit, you will notice a difference inside of you that includes well-being and even a sense of wholeness.  What do you think: shall we hit the forgiveness gym now?

Robert

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I grew up in a household in which my parents got angry quickly and expressed their anger often. I am about to get married. What cautions do you see for me?

I would recommend that you have a discussion with your future marriage partner about the kinds of patterns that occurred in each of your families of origin.  Try to see the woundedness that was expressed in each family.  This is because both of you might reproduce those patterns of woundedness with each other in the years to come.  Your being aware of the wounds in your parents (and siblings), as well as your own woundedness from these, may help both of you from inadvertently passing those wounds onto each other.  Each of you forgiving family members for giving you wounds should help in this regard.  I wish you the best in your upcoming marriage.

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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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It is not possible to forgive someone who has died unless the forgiver believes in an afterlife, right?

One can forgive the deceased regardless of the belief system of the forgiver.  For example, the forgiver can say something nice about the person to others, preserving a good name, not because of what happened, but in spite of this.  The forgiver might donate some money to a charity in that person’s name, again as a generous act of forgiving.  So, one can forgive someone who has died.  Otherwise, the one who was treated unjustly could be trapped with an inner resentment that could last the rest of the person’s life.

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Is forgiveness for the self or for the one who behaved badly?

We have to make a distinction here between what forgiving is and what it accomplishes, or the consequences of forgiving.  Because forgiveness is a moral virtue, it always is for the other.  Why?  This is because the moral virtues, whether it is justice or patience or kindness, flow out from the person to others.  It is the same when forgiving another person.  Yet, one consequence can be self-healing.  Thus, the self benefits by being good to another person who was unfair.  Forgiveness is about the other person and so is for that person.  Your doing this to achieve an inner peace is one reasonable goal of forgiving, as are other goals such as wanting to aid the other and to improve a relationship.

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