Archive for May, 2010
With a quote and a video I posted on Facebook, a nice discussion on the subject of forgiveness took place. While forgiveness is certainly an educational process for the psychological well-being, this discussion touches the ability to apply interpersonal forgiveness skills in our personal lives in conflict situations between emotions and aspirations. I thought the elaborations are refreshing and genuine, for they coming in a capricious fashion.
“When you hold resentment toward another, you are bound to that person or condition by an emotional link that is stronger than steel. Forgiveness is the only way to dissolve that link and get free.” ~ Catherine Ponder
Grace: Uhm, what about bullies, predators & dictators? What should I feel? I’ve been giving it some thought.
Gordon: Mind if I jump in here? One of the hardest things we must do in life is to detach ourselves from those we love so that they can take responsibility for their own mistakes. It is when we become too attached that we stifle those we are close to. All parents experience this dilemma of having to let go of the people they love most in the world so that they can grow. But letting go is also necessary when those we love become alcoholics, addicts, users, abusers, etc., as anyone who has ever been to an Alanon meeting knows. Forgiveness in such cases is really a 2-part process. The first kind of forgiveness is the recognition that other people can hurt or control you only because you allow them to. In this sense, forgiveness means “No matter what X does, I will not let it affect my happiness.” The second type of forgiveness comes when the person concerned asks for forgiveness. This is only possible if the person acknowledges what he or she has done and realizes it is wrong. The forgiver has several options. One is when when the transgression simply no longer matters and can be forgotten. Another is acknowledging that the offender is moving forward with his or her life and is making an effort to improve. In extreme cases, forgiveness also means letting go completely and permanently. In the cosmic scheme of things, it matters more how we let ourselves feel about what others have done than the deeds themselves. There will always be injustice, victimization, abuse, and pain in the universe, but we can only rise above it within ourselves. Wasting precious time on resentment and anger serves little purpose and distracts us from far more important things.
Grace: I understand fully what it means to forgive & how important it is to forgive others for having hurt you in any way.
What I am still struggling here is…what about those who are doing great injustice to others? Maybe it’s my weird sense of righteousness, but I’ve never been the one to get over this feeling, even as a small kid, whenever I see someone getting bullied.
Man, as an 11-years-old, I even refused to talk to a best friend in class for months just because I caught her bullying another classmate. Of course, I forgave & forgive her very easily. We’re still best of buddies I just can’t get over these kind of acts.
Do we forgive Hitler? Do we forgive Mao? Do we forgive Ahmadinejad? It’d be very difficult to separate the acts from persons like these. They offend me not because they have hurt or harmed me, simply because I am human.
Jonathan Chen: This little video has stirred some in-depth discussion, which makes it very worthy of posting. The message in the video focuses on forgiving and letting go sentiments that directly impact our own mental state, left by those who are or have been part of our lives. As Gordon pointed out, each person will eventually have to be responsible for their own acts. Justice will work its way to punish criminal activities – at least that’s what it supposedly does. As someone who has access to a person who is on the verge of misdeed, we do everything within our capacity to help that person change before it is too late, so that we are doing our part the best we can, and we have inner peace in ourselves. The mental strength achieved via self-cultivation here is having a clear understanding about the purpose, not letting resentful emotion dominate the process.
Forgiveness and courage against injustice do not contradict each other. In fact, forgiveness strengthens our ability to fight injustice. By letting go personal emotions that cluster our minds, we’ll be able to grasp the grand picture, and have the focus and energy to make a difference. Pursuing justice against those committed inhuman crimes and enduring forgiveness for those who we care about lead to the same goal: peace.
Grace: That makes a lot of sense Without forgiveness, it’s how normal people would get radicalized into violent acts like terrorism, out of rage & anger at what they see & hear. I’m all for a voice of reason to get heard. Now I see what all those petitions & letters from the Amnesty are about.
Gordon: Grace, like you, I have always been a person who reacted strongly to injustice and oppression. For most of my life, I spent a lot of emotional and spiritual energy raging against the status quo. It wasn’t until I lived in Prague in the 1990′s that I discovered that all of the former dissidents I met there were profoundly unhappy people. The average Czech played along with the machine, paid lip service to the glorious martyrs of Communism, and looked forward to a time when they could make a decent living and live like Western Europeans. They emerged mostly unscathed from 60 years of totalitarian rule. But the dissidents all bore deep scars. It was a revelation for me because I had never questioned the notion that doing the “right thing” was always the best thing to do. I now believe that one must keep things in perspective and maintain a balance between anger at the way things are and acceptance (resignation?) that there are many things we cannot change in life. I hate to refer to a cliche, but I believe there is much universal wisdom in what is commonly referred to as the serenity prayer:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Because I was raised the way I was, I will always err on the side of outrage rather than complacency, but I can only hope that as time goes on, I will find more effective ways of channeling that anger about the way things are and choose my battles more carefully. Wisdom isn’t easily acquired.
Jonathan, it is interesting that you refer to self-cultivation, as this term is such a difficult one for most Westerners to grasp. In the current political discourse in this country, it has become virtually impossible to advocate forgiveness or even tolerance, and those who hold the most unbalanced and extreme views seem to get the most attention. As much as I want to believe that those responsible for the abuse and torture of millions will receive justice in the hereafter, I think that justice must happen in this lifetime to make a difference. The notion of truth and justice commissions, as happened in South Africa after apartheid, is perhaps the best example of how justice and forgiveness can occur simultaneously. But there are still far too many wrongs in the world which have not been made right, too many victims who have not been made whole, and I fear that the future holds more of the same. For those of us who care about such things, we will never be fully at ease.
Grace: Hmm, Gordon, rage is hardly ever in my realm anyway. “Peace” has been one part of my armor in spirit. Between anger and resignation, surely there is another way.
I think, for most people, ignorance is bliss and it’s probably best for them to stay that way until they’re fully prepared for a new level of awareness.
I’m afraid I’ve become too aware of everything but I have confidence that I’m strong enough to deal with any negativitiy that may come as part of the package. And, prayer has been one major part of my defence.
Back to the topic of forgiveness, I believe most peope can’t get pass this very first test — self-forgiveness, to be able to forgive their own selves first of all.
Jonathan Chen : Gordon, your personal encounters have significantly enriched your range of vision. Not many people have such rich experience and allowed the broader exposure to enhance their views. The state of mind you have arrived may be a result of the combined effect of serenity teaching and self-cultivation, because I sense you allow yourselves to a lot of thinking and reflection. The willingness of embracing diverse ideas is obvious in Grace too. I agree with you, Grace, that self-forgiveness is perhaps the start. It all comes to being able to make a judgment: does the resentfulness towards oneself or towards anyone else produce positivity.
Relying on serenity teaching and performing self-cultivation definitely reflect cultural differences. But for anyone who achieves a decent degree of serenity is most likely an effort of doing both. Sage, in Chinese, is what we refer for those who are with such statue. In real life, we all have emotions and feelings. No one is truly a sage. The courage and morality of those of us who reacted strongly to injustice and oppression should be applauded. As you pointed out, the next step is to ascend to the proficiency of channeling such energy for a greater impact, there the ability of enduring forgiveness to maintain broad minded becomes essential. I can think, in recent history, only a few with such capacity, among them the most noticeable, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., His Holiness the Dalai Lama. They are not just iconic figures, they have changed the world.
For those of us who want to accord a change for the better, we may not be able to see the immediate impact. We should believe in that our efforts are not to be wasted, because we are in the middle of a long relay that the baton has to be carried to pass to the next runner. I keep these words of JFK in a close reach all the time: “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.”
Grace: Yes, it’s a long relay indeed!! The great men & women have passed down the batons to us and we are to keep it going. It’s a group effort, the whole humanity. Individuals can only do so much