January 10th, 2022

Redo: Forgiveness is an unfortunately underutilized cure for heartache and pain. We all at some point in life will suffer from an intentional or unintentional wrong that leaves us wounded, angry and potentially vengeful. This triad of dangerous feelings will usually worsen our sense of self if we act upon them or hold them close. How many movies have we seen or books read that show the lead character suffering from anger held too tightly?

An acute or, worse yet, chronic unremitting sense of anger and wounding will engage our sympathetic nervous system's fight or flight mode to protect us from further harm. In an effort to save ourselves, we are likely to run away from the stressor or attempt to compartmentalize it, aka wall it off. How often does this work? Rarely!

In the Daily Stoic Newsletter, the authors state: "The great C.S Lewis observed that we all find forgiveness to be a lovely idea...right up until we have someone to forgive. It's true. Forgiveness is one of those virtues that's easy to talk about, but incredibly hard to practice. Particularly when we are hurt, or when we have been seriously wronged. Yet, isn't that sort of the point? Forgiveness wouldn't be that impressive, it wouldn't be that meaningful, if it came naturally. If it could be so easily tossed off."

This statement sums it up very succinctly.

I have lived long enough now to know that most great things are not easily attained. Hard work and the act of giving away is the route to happiness and self esteem.

How do we model and teach our children to forgive, love and heal? Do we ask them to sit and meditate on the pain to release it? Do we tell them to suck it up buttercup? Do we show them that we are never vulnerable as mom and dad? Are we perfect? When someone cuts us off in traffic, do we cus and verbally castigate them in front of our child?

I remember a few years ago when I was crossing the street to the gym and a woman in her toyota camry came whipping around the corner nearly running me over. She then proceeds to yell out the window at me for being in the road. She takes off and parks off in the distance. Little did she know that I was in a great mood that day with nowhere to be. I ran full speed in her direction and stood behind her car with my phone and took a picture of her license plate. She got out and yelled at me for taking a picture. I politely said that I needed the picture to report her behavior just in case this is a habit. If not, no biggie. She needed a paper trail based on what she did. Speaking calmly, which further unnerved her, I said that I could have been a mother with children crossing the street.

Boom! Behavior shift. She was clearly a mother or a grandmother. It hit closer to home. She goes on to say that: "I am so sorry", "I am late for work", "I don't normally do this". I went on to say that I am over it and I am grateful that she sees the risk in her behavior.

Not knowing whether this action or a lack of action was the right answer (but it felt very right), I never lost a moment of sleep or had any frustration that day. Forgiveness was key. Now you might say that there was little to forgive and I would agree. However, every little forgiveness makes bigger forgiveness events later easier to achieve.

I am always amazed at how these topics seem to hit me all at once. Not only did I receive the Daily Stoic email today, but during my morning run, my buddies talked about how Nick Saban, the current University of Alabama Football coach, would give his players second chances to right the ship with a great many success stories to show for it. Think about that. He could just boot them off the team. No adult moral guidance. Send these kids out into the world more broken. To what end? Instead, forgiveness leads to growth and betterment.

So what is forgiveness? When looking for definitions of forgiveness, I found this one: Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. ... Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. (Berkeley.edu)

The Bible is littered with forgiveness ideology. Christ taught over and over again to turn the other cheek, treat others as you would like to be treated. Don't we all want to be forgiven? I can guarantee you that my life would have been very different if my parents had not loved and forgiven my stupidity over time as there was plenty of it.

I go out of my way to make sure that my children and my patients know that they are loved and forgiven regardless.

Consequences still exist for poor quality behavior, but love and support are not taken away. This is the critical piece. To effectively change a behavior, a person must be able to recognize the problem, feel motivated to change, and have the support system in place to follow through on the change. I think that our world could do with a lot more love and forgiveness. Hate, anger and wounding never serve a persons well being. These feelings just grow, fester and destroy.

Think of the recent excellent movie, I Can Only Imagine (PG). The young man, Bart Millard, is in a nightmare family environment with every negative bullet coming his way as emotional and physical abuse from those that should love and protect him. To trust after what he went through is so difficult. Yet, faith, friends and his pain sublimed into music produces the ultimate forgiveness and release that not only heals the young man but also his abusive broken father. This is forgiveness personified! If you have not watched this movie, that is your homework for this week. Watch it, reflect on it and discuss it with your age appropriate kids.

Other great movies on this theme are:
1) Good Will Hunting (R)
2) Pay It Forward (PG13)
3) Invictus (PG13)
4) Wonder (PG) (favorite)
5) Dead Man Walking (R) A more difficult movie. Not for the light hearted.

To forgive is to heal and live stronger tomorrow,

Dr. M