(A video version of this post may be found here).
Forgiveness proves radical in and of itself, and I encourage each of you to promote the revolution that it demands. Moreover, I encourage each of you to take forgiveness to radical levels, in other words, to practice a doctrine of “radical forgiveness”.
We all get hurt. Doesn’t matter if an offense is personal, such as someone berating you for a mistake, or institutional, such as experiencing a subtle, unconscious bias from a coworker that hinders you in the workforce due to your gender or sex.
Radical forgiveness combines several key actions: You must understand why forgiveness proves valuable, make the choice to forgive a person or institution, understand the process and pitfalls of forgiveness, continually repeat your choice to forgive that person or institution as necessary, and if possible communicate your forgiveness to the person or institution that harmed you. Moreover, you must treat forgiveness as a skill that requires practice and commitment to excel at. Finally, you must remember that humility must stand at the core of all these actions to succeed.
One might casually call one or two of these items alone “forgiveness”, but by employing the term “radical forgiveness” I assert a more comprehensive and effective mode of dealing with offenses than the mere casualty of the word “forgiveness” implies. We speak here of something more substantial than a flippant “I forgive you” or “I can’t stay mad at you”. Rather, we refer to a context of forgiving significant pain, like divorce pain or business-partner-screws-you pain.
So why forgive in the first place? Primarily, the process heals you, and enhances the chances of healing the other party and a relationship. Forgiving helps you “let go”, to use a colloquial phrase. You surrender, sort of. Basically you acknowledge the pain, and declare that it will no longer impact your relationship with the other party. You declare that it will no longer weigh you down. The act of forgiving claims power over emotional angst. Not complete power, but it provides significant relief. Note that by forgiving you still recognize guilt, and you still must take steps to remedy the problem. Forgiving merely leaps far beyond forcing the other party to remain mired in that guilt.
Moreover, your particular deity might demand that you practice forgiveness. We won’t name names.
One must make an actual “choice” to forgive, as forgiveness starts with a choice. And one must often continually repeat that choice for a given hurt, since anger and pain well up so easily. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, clinicians talk about “turning the mind”. That is, injecting your presence into a runaway thought to turn your think toward more productive thoughts. Similarly, when a hurt wells up inside you that you have already delivered forgiveness for, “turn the mind” away back toward a spirit of forgiveness. Again and again and again. I guarantee you that this process heals.
And that’s just it, remember that radical forgiveness serves as a process, not just a destination. You wrestle with it along the way. You start out unhappy and end with greater peace, but don’t expect an easy ride. For instance, you might have to objectively face your role in a situation, to determine how actions you took that may have put fuel on the fire. Unpleasant, I know. For encouragement, just remember that this process enriches your spirit.
One can liken the process of committing and recommitting to forgiveness to the experience of the mythical Sisyphus as described by the post-war philosopher Camus. The gods condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of pushing a large boulder up a hill by day, only to watch it crash back down the hill every night. Sounds meaningless, right? But Camus declared that Sisyphus found existential meaning in the task itself. Similarly, I claim that you will find meaning in the radical forgiveness process despite its often two steps forward, one step back nature.
The sweetest spot in the process of forgiveness is letting the other party know about your decision, because it generates the most opportunity for reconciliation. But understand that sometimes one cannot do this due to safety or other considerations—use your brain here before you act! And know that the other party may simply not be able to receive your words, may not even find themselves in a place to comprehend them. This hurts, but don’t let it derail your journey to peace over a matter.
Basically, don’t think of this action as “offering” forgiveness. Think of it as “transmitting” forgiveness. Offers feel incomplete if not received, but a transmission projects whether anyone proves receptive or not. In other words, you will have done all you can, so don’t sweat over it.
Humility drives the process. Forgiveness serves as recognition that you yourself exhibit flaws, that you could easily make the same mistakes. It recognizes that you will perform actions in the future that will require forgiveness from others. To forgive effectively you must empathize with and love the imperfect humanity in the one you choose to forgive, which can only emit from empathizing with and loving the imperfect humanity in yourself.
The last point I want to make is that radical forgiveness is a skill, like tennis or playing a musical instrument. It takes practice and sometimes years to develop competency. But if you make a habit out of choosing to forgive, and nurture the habit as you go, I assure you the skill will blossom inside you! I recommend initiating the forgiveness process the instant someone hurts you, rather than wait until you are “ready” to forgive. This strengthens the habit and prepares you for rapid closure once you achieve that readiness. And this practice increases the chance of salvaging relationships due to its proactive nature.
I sincerely hope you find the concept and practice of radical forgiveness useful in your own life! Please let me know how it goes, or send comments and questions, by commenting on this post or through Twitter or Facebook. I look forward to hearing from you!
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