All of us, I feel fairly certain, believe that forgiveness is a positive quality. But the fact that religion has been the traditional basis for finding forgiveness has made it seem quite often that there’s something saintly, or at the very least unusually gentle, compassionate, and selfless in those who can forgive…
Since the current project is to create a wave of forgiveness with a global reach, I think forgiveness needs to be brought down to earth.
To begin with, forgiveness comes at the end of a process, not at the beginning.
In order to forgive yourself or another person, three obstacles must be overcome. Let’s call them the three dragons of judgment, anger, and blame. Each has had powerful effects in everyone’s life. Millions of people feel justified in clinging to their own dragons, and it takes conviction to realize that nothing about judgment, anger, and blame actually serves anyone’s self-interest.
The reason that we cling to our dragons is out of a belief that they somehow serve us.
Judgement has the benefit of making you feel righteous, justified, morally superior, and on the good side of “us versus them” thinking.
Blame has the secondary benefit of shifting responsibility to someone else, escaping moral scrutiny, and having no need to examine your part in the conflict.
Anger has the benefit of justifying revenge, providing an outlet for hostility and aggression, and keeping you safe from fear, which is a much harder emotion to deal with than anger.
As a practical matter then, the process of forgiveness is about choosing to renounce these secondary benefits. Why make such a choice? Leaving aside the people who have inculcated forgiveness as a moral or spiritual virtue, someone has to actually experience the advantages of forgiveness.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and fortunately, almost everyone who has walked the path to forgiveness testifies that they feel much better personally without the burdens of judgement, blame, and anger.
Second-hand testimony is a helpful motivation, but realistically, it’s a minor factor compared with the personal sensation of defeating your own dragons.
I’d like to encourage anyone who wishes to become a unit of peace in the world to consider walking the path of forgiveness, and so as a practical matter, let me simplify it—in essence, the following things are necessary.
A Path to Forgiveness: 7 Key Steps
1. Find your own peace through meditation, yoga, or other contemplative practice.
2. Renounce the illusion that you can change someone else’s morality or worldview.
3. Know that you can do more to change the world by who you are than by anything you can say or teach.
4. Take responsibility for non-violence in your speech and actions.
5. Address the issues of judgment, blame, and anger in yourself.
6. Associate with like-minded people who are committed to peace and forgiveness.
7. Adopt a vision of the highest possibilities for humankind.
If you pay attention to one or more of these steps every day, you will bring the power of self-awareness into play, and self-awareness is the level of the solution.
Talking about forgiveness, struggling to overcome your own judgement, blame, and anger, even vowing to have no enemies in the world – these are good intentions that need a level of peace consciousness in order to be truly lasting and effective.
Catch part 2 tomorrow!