Have you ever held a grudge? Are you holding one right now? Last week I wrote about the importance of fairness, but fairness without forgiveness can become an obsession. It can eat away at our spirits as we connive and strive to see justice done. Forgiveness is the mitigating factor that releases our bondage to enemy images and aggressive actions. It demands courage and integrity, but it is never too late to forgive. If, when, and how that happens is up to us; this Provision simply points out the value of forgiveness when it comes to making life more wonderful.
I confess to loving my eBook Reader, the Amazon Kindle. Since three people in my family now have Kindles, we’ve discovered one more cool thing about the service: if you buy a book on one Kindle, it is available, at no extra charge, on all Kindles sharing the same account. That cuts the price of a book by however many Kindles you own. How cool is that!
One reason I love eBook Readers is the ability to search your books for key words or topics. It makes research, as well as inspiration, a whole lot easier. I decided to take that approach for today’s Provision on forgiveness, and found plenty of material that I will share with you in a moment. First, however, I would set the stage by reminding you of last week’s Provision, Be Fair. That’s an important guideline for living, both in terms of how we treat others and in terms of how others treat us.
We know it’s important because it’s so primordial. “No fair!” is one of the earliest expressions of outrage mustered by young children, typically by the age of seven. In contrast to children between the ages of three and four, who are universally selfish, by the time children are seven or eight, they have developed a strong sense of equity. “One for me and none for you” just doesn’t cut it any longer. Instead, they are keenly aware of whether or not they and their siblings, playmates, or classmates are being treated fairly.
When unfairness enters the picture, it’s easy for children and adults alike to get very upset. Indeed, in its most extreme sense, perceived unfairness is the stuff that makes for wars. The whole notion of a “just war” is that it rights a wrong and follows certain rules of engagement (such as minimizing civilian causalities, which are perceived as being unfair compared to the treatment of enemy combatants).
In everyday interactions, a sense of unfairness can lead to grudges and general unhappiness. Some grudges are the stuff of legends: the house of Montague and Capulet (in Romeo and Juliet), the Jets and the Sharks (in West Side Story), and the Hatfields and McCoys (two feuding families in the West Virginia-Kentucky backcountry). Most grudges are privately held affairs, nurtured by gossip and enemy images. The longer and harder we hold on to them, the more miserable we become.
Perhaps that’s why, when I searched on my Kindle for the word “forgiveness,” it popped up most often in the books having to do with positive psychology and mindfulness. There is a connection between forgiveness and happiness. Listen to what two of the books had to say:
Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness:
“What does forgiveness mean, and is it worthwhile to learn and practice it? Forgiveness may be the one factor that can disrupt the cycle of avoidance and vengeances in which we often find ourselves. Advocated by many, if not most, of the world’s religions, forgiveness involves suppressing or mitigating one’s motivations for avoidance and revenge (which often bring with them accompanying emotions of anger, disappointment, and hostility, and, ideally, replacing them with more positive or benevolent attitudes, feelings, and behaviors.”
“Forgiveness is not reconciliation, pardoning, condoning, excusing, or denying the harm done. And the expression, “forgive and forget” is a misnomer since true forgiveness involves contemplating the injury at some length. How, then, do you know if you’ve forgiven someone? It’s when you have experienced a shift in your thinking, such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him or her good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased.”
“Forgiving is something that you do for yourself and not for the person who has wronged you. Clinging to bitterness or hate harms you more than the object of your hatred. (Buddha said, ‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting burned.’) Empirical research confirms this insight. Forgiving people are less likely to be hateful, depressed, hostile, anxious, angry, and neurotic. They are more likely to be happier, healthier, more agreeable, and more serene.”
“Of all the happiness-promoting strategies described in this book, I believe that forgiveness is one of the most challenging to carry out. But, as is said, ‘no pain, no gain.’ What you reap may be enormous. If forgiveness fits your personality, goals, or needs, then the following techniques can be helpful. Appreciate being forgiven. Imagine forgiveness. Write a letter of forgiveness (don’t send it, just write it). Practice empathy. Consider charitable attributions. Ruminate less. Make contact (send the letter, if it feels appropriate and healthy). Remind yourself of the importance of forgiveness.”
Jack Kornfield in The Wise Heart:
“In Buddhist communities, there is a ritual of forgiveness where the abbot and elders regularly bow to the community and ask forgiveness for any errors they have made in their teaching and leadership. Every year at the end of our two-month retreat we do this. We invite our students’ written suggestions and feedback. Then we move off our cushions and chairs and sit on the bare floor facing all the retreatants. We bow to them and their sincere practice. And then we ask their forgiveness for any way we may have harmed or misguided them. We tell them we did the best we could. Usually a lot of tears fall before the end of this ceremony.”
“Forgiveness is both necessary and possible. It is never too late to find forgiveness and start again.”
“Like the practice of compassion, forgiveness does not ignore the truth of our suffering. Forgiveness is not weak. It demands courage and integrity. Yet only forgiveness and love can bring about the peace we long for. As the Indian sage Meher Baba explains, ‘True love is not for the fainthearted.'”
“We have all betrayed and hurt others, just as we have knowingly and unknowingly been harmed by them. It is inevitable in this human realm. Sometimes our betrayals are small, sometimes terrible. Extending and receiving forgiveness are essential to free us from our part. To forgive does not mean we condone the misdeeds of another. We can dedicate ourselves to making sure they never happen again. But without forgiveness the world can never be released from the sorrows of the past. Someone once quipped, ‘Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past. Forgiveness is a way to move on.”
“In Buddhist psychology, forgiveness is not presented as a moral commandment — ‘Thou shalt forgive.’ It is understood as a way to end suffering, to bring dignity and harmony to our life. Forgiveness is fundamentally for our sake, for our own mental health. It is a way to let go of the pain we carry. This is illustrated by the story of two former prisoners of war who meet after many years. When the first one asks, ‘Have you forgiven your captors yet?’ the second man answers, ‘No, never.’ ‘Well, then,’ the first many replies, ‘they still have you in prison.'”
“For most people, the work of forgiveness is a process. Practicing forgiveness, we may go through stages of grief, rage, sorrow, hurt, and confusion. As we let ourselves feel the pain we still hold, forgiveness comes as a relief, a release for our heart in the end. Forgiveness acknowledges that no matter how much we may have suffered, we will not put another human being out of our heart.”
In those sets of Ten New Commandments that we talked about at the start of this series, the connection between fairness and forgiveness is clearly described in one: “Do not overlook evil or shrink from administering justice, but always be ready to forgive wrongdoing freely admitted and honestly regretted.” That, of course, makes forgiveness relatively easy. When wrongdoing is not admitted or regretted, forgiveness gets harder. Much harder. But that’s especially when forgiveness offers us freedom and a positive way forward.
My hope is that we will find room in our hearts both for equity and for empathy. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, leads to a sightless and toothless world. Yet forgiveness without justice leads to its own form of abuse and disfiguration. We need them both to make life work.
Coaching Inquiries: How ready are you to forgive? What has been bothering you and eating away at your heart? What combination of fairness and forgiveness will release your spirit? What and who could assist to get to that place?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
I’m so glad another reader mentioned your Passion poem. How did you know what I was thinking? That poem reaches inside of me and says what I am!!!! Thanks.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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