I have two specific goals in mind:
- To effectively apply it to a few ongoing situations in my own life, not to mention my overall personal growth
- To analyze it from an objective viewpoint in order to answer the toughest questions about forgiveness, like why and how
Apropos that this analysis should happen now. Why, you ask? Because it is Yom Kippur, which is the Day of Atonement for those of Jewish faith. It is a time to forgive and to seek forgiveness. Christianity, as well, holds forgiveness as a main tenet of the faith; it is a prominent topic in the New Testament of the Bible.
In reality, forgiveness is something we should be engaging in every day. Through prayer, through our actions, and our relationships with those around us. It can begin with the smallest acts.
- Someone bumps you in the Starbucks and spills your coffee. Forgive it.
- Someone steals your parking spot in the mall parking lot during a busy shopping weekend. Forgive it.
- A friend says something awkward that hurts your feelings. Forgive it.
Stop and think about that. I know many of you might be thinking about what you would do to that person to retaliate. Who hasn’t at some point? Why is that so easy to fight back, so to speak, and so difficult to just forgive it and let it go?
It’s difficult because we are human. As humans, our first instinct is to protect ourselves from injury, physical as well as emotional. We engage in “soft” protective behaviors, like sarcasm, cynicism, indifference. Many of these methods of protection are learned behaviors that have evolved as a means to shield us (in a socially acceptable manner) from the potential danger from others. After all, we can’t be out there punching or physically attacking everyone who slights us.
Every time we engage in one of these protective behaviors, however, we unfortunately deny ourselves the proven benefits that forgiveness can provide. MayoClinic.com has a great article called Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness that lists the benefits of forgiveness, many of which are proven in various scientific studies. Also, check out Forgive to Live: New Research Shows Forgiveness is Good for the Heart by Amy Westervelt. Benefits listed in both sources include:
- Physical health, including sounder sleep, lower blood pressure and blood sugar spikes, and more balanced levels of blood cholesterol
- Emotional health, in the form of reduced risk for depression and substance abuse
- Psychological health, like healthier relationships
- Spiritual health, like a stronger connection with yourself, other people, and your higher power.
The best benefit of all is that forgiveness not only frees the other person from the burden of guilt, but it frees you to move on to bigger and better things. Because, while you continue to hang onto the pain of what someone else has done to you you allow that act and that person to have control of you. In essence, you cage yourself within a set of thoughts and ideas that have the potential to hold you down. Thoughts like these have a potential to gain strength and power, ultimately draining you of energy and holding you down tighter.
Who would want to live like that?
With all of the evidence and positive benefits, engaging in forgiveness on a daily basis is practically indisputable. Too bad it can’t be shrunk into a pill and prescribed. The health industry might make a fortune.
Until then, it’s a fully manual process, taken on by choice. As mentioned above, it goes against human nature to forgive injury. But, humans have been known to assume much more difficult tasks for fewer rewards and greater risk to themselves. Like climbing Mt. Everest or riding the Tour de France. If a human being can focus on a goal like that, for far fewer benefits and at much greater risk, why not something like this?
It’s all about choice.
I really liked two of them:
- Realize that the hate you may feel towards the person who hurt you probably doesn’t affect them the way you want it to
- Stop telling the tale of how you were wronged
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