Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Forgiveness Project

"Could you forgive the unforgiveable?" Kate Kellaway, in the Observer:
"The Forgiveness Project...has no religious or political agenda. It has no agenda at all apart from the brave, unfashionable wish to turn the blame culture on its head, to share the stories of people who, in extremis, have discovered that 'the only way to move on in life is to lay aside hatred and blame'. It tells of victims and perpetrators from all over the world: South Africa, America, Israel, Northern Ireland.

"...These stories are tremendously moving but they are complicated too. Would it be unfair to suggest that Rice's sentiment sounds precariously close to revenge? Forgiveness can be uncomfortable. It may induce squeamishness, strain, disbelief in the onlooker and, perhaps, in the forgiven. It can seem artificial. It seems to involve an emotional double-jointedness, an ability to bend backwards further than an ordinary person is designed to go. And yet, at other times, something miraculous occurs. People seem to emerge into a new landscape, a clearing where negative feelings no longer consume them. I imagine that it is not an easy place to be. They are exposed, unsupported - for revenge and hatred were, in their ugly way, crutches - but they are free.

"...Adam Phillips, writer and psychoanalyst, suggests: 'Forgiveness is not an act of will, if genuine.' He is quick to see its darker aspect: 'It puts the forgiver in an immensely powerful position. There is word magic here: the belief that if you forgive, people will be absolved of their guilt. At worst, forgiveness is a tyrannical gift: your life in my hands. You'll feel better when I forgive you.'

"Marian Partington, whose sister Lucy was one of the victims of Frederick West, the Gloucester mass murderer, disengages herself from the word: 'I don't like 'forgiveness'. It is completely barnacled with aeons of piety. I prefer compassion: empathy with suffering.' If the word is to be used, she sees it as 'a verb not a noun. I get a bit suspicious of people who say "I have forgiven", as if it is something in the past...'

"After trauma, she believes, people often experience a 'frozen silence with no words. There are no words to describe this place'. Time involves a thaw and 'acceptance' and, in Partington's case, luminous words to describe her feelings, to break the silence."


Blogger Spiritual Emergency said...

Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself, when you are ready, if you are ready, only if you are ready and not a moment before. Forgiveness is seldom an absolution of responsiblity but it will frequently require an understanding of the motive that drove the actions.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes wrote a piece in her book Woman Who Run With the Wolves that I've turned to many times over. It can be found here for those who are interested...

The Boundaries of Rage and Forgiveness

5:59 AM  
Blogger bp_hockey_chick said...

I can't say that I forgive. I somehow equate that with absolution, and we all must bear responsibility for the consequences of our actions. But I do gain perspective and that perspective sometimes allows me to better understand the actions and motivations of those possibly needing forgiveness. I understand them better and my hurt and anger dissipate somewhat.

4:10 AM  
Blogger Raine said...

I was involved in a group once whose members had alot of difficulty accepting the word "forgiveness". Someone there gave a definition that was more acceptable to these members. He said that forgiving someone was not letting them off the hook. It was merely that we no longer wished them any harm. Food for thought

5:27 AM  
Blogger Spiritual Emergency said...

I think that's where a lot of people get stuck -- in the idea that forgiveness is a way of saying, "Whatever you did, it's okay." Yet, the mere fact that forgiveness is required to move beyond the action is a clean indication that it's seldom "okay".

I think those who are attempting to move on have to find a way to allow the "not okayness" and "the forgiveness" to co-exist, sometimes unhappily. This is why I agree that forgiveness is a charitable act done for one's self. If it is done for the other, it may well become not only a manipulative act, but also one that carries a boomerang kick. We forgive, it happens again, the burden of pain becomes ours to carry.

The following is my favorite excerpt from the link I provided above. It resonated for me and is a good guide for those who are struggling towards forgiveness on their own terms...


Forgiveness is an act of creation. You can choose from many ways to do it. You can forgive for now, forgive till then, forgive till the next time, forgive but give no more chances —it's a whole new game if there is another incident. You can give one more chance, give several more chances, give many chances, give chances only if. You can forgive part, all, or half of the offense. You can devise a blanket of forgiveness. You decide.

The Four Stages of Forgiveness:

To Forego - To leave it alone, not to overlook but to become agile and strong at detaching from the issue.

To Forbear - To abstain from punishing. To have patience, to bear up against, to channel emotion. To practice generosity.

To Forget - To avert from memory, to refuse to dwell. To forget is an active, not a passive, endeavor. Conscious forgetting means willfully dropping the practice of obsessing, intentionally outdistancing and losing sight of it, not looking back, thereby living in a new landscape, creating new life and new experiences to think about instead of the old ones.

To Forgive - To abandon the debt. It is a conscious decision to cease to harbor resentment, which includes forgiving a debt and giving up one's resolve to retaliate.

How does one know if one has forgiven? You tend to feel sorrow over the circumstances instead of rage, you tend to feel sorry for the person rather than angry with him. You tend to have nothing left to remember to say about it all. You understand the suffering that drove the offense to begin with. You prefer to remain outside the milieu. You are not waiting for anything. You are not wanting anything. There is no lariat snare around your ankle stretching from way back there to here. You are free to go. It may not have turned out to be a happily ever after, but most certainly there is now a fresh Once upon a time waiting for you from this day forward.

5:10 PM  
Blogger Rowena Hullfire said...

Forgiveness is not the same as saying what the offender did was okay. It does not let the offender off the hook for restitution. It does not grant absolution; after all, I am not God or a priest. Forgiveness does not have to be connected to the repentance of the offender, who may never repent. Forgiveness is an act of the will, not an emotion. If you have to wait to feel warm and fuzzy about a situation to forgive, you will wait forever. One forgives without expectation of return--no repentance or gratitude or restitution. Forgiveness is unconditional. It does not even have to be communicated to the offender.

In a serious offense, the hurt person must grieve first, at least through the anger stage, past the desire to hurt, for revenge, "payback is a bitch." While angry and desiring to hurt, one can intend in one's mind to forgive when it becomes possible. One hands the offender's outcome over to God, karma, fate, or natural consequences. It is not my job to be the deliverer of karma. When God said, "Vengeance is mine, said the Lord," that means it belongs to God alone, and not his followers.

You can forgive while in pain; you don't have to wait for perfect peace. You can forgive while still receiving ill treatment from others. You can forgive others who are oblivious to their bad action. It is difficult, but Christians can identify themselves with Christ, unite themselves with Christ on the cross, bloody and spat upon and slandered, the Suffering Servant, pleading, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Forgiving does not make things just the way they were before the bad action; the person who forgives is sadder but wiser.

Forgiveness is connected to mercy. If we desire mercy from God and others, we need to extend mercy to others. It is so easy for us to see the sins of others and gloss over our own, rationalize, and minimize. It is so easy to be merciless to others who offend us, and to desire easy mercy from others when we realize we have done wrong. If we desire mercy, we must challenge ourselves to be courageously merciful.

Even when forgiving as a sheer act of the will, through clenched teeth, the effect is good. Releasing others releases you. A burden is lifted, immediately or over time. You decide not to relive the hurt of the past, but to live in the clear light of the present moment. You do not use the grievance as a reason/excuse for your own poor choices. You can pray for your enemies, especially the unrepentent person whom you have forgiven. You do not wish them to be off the hook, nor do you wish revenge; you pray that their conscience is enlightened to see their bad action and how they've hurt others, and you pray they have a heart to be moved to sadness and repentance and the commitment not to do that again.

To those who have not experienced a serious offense, this forgiveness seems highly irrational. It doesn't seem logical to forgive one's rapist, or the murderer of your loved one. The bitterness created by the desire for revenge is not a good place to stew in for long. It takes courage and a leap of faith to forgive, but then one is free of the bitterness. The sorrow and the hurt can still be there, but it's the bitterness that corrodes the mind and the soul. Once forgiving is done, it is actually an easier path, because the bitterness is a heavy burden. Once it's gone, peace and joy can return.

Forgiving doesn't mean forgetting, as in wiping the slate clean as if it never happened. It means not dwelling upon it, but one can keep the wisdom learned. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. What I learned about some people who seemed to be my friends, who engaged in slander, detraction, and character assassination behind my back...after I forgave them and released them, I still had to live and work among them. I don't have to be stupid and pretend they are the people I once believed them to be. No, I have new knowledge about where the new boundaries of trust are. I know what they are capable of. It's like the story of the nice snake who promises not to hurt you...and later on bites you. Hey, I'm only being a snake. It's my nature. That really isn't as angry as it sounds, it's just accepting what is. Accepting reality.

If you cannot forgive generously out of mercy, at least forgive selfishly through gritted teeth so you don't have to continue living your life stewing in ugly bitterness. (The generosity part will come later.)

7:58 AM  

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