Basics of Forgiveness (Part 4)--Offering Kindness
I want to take a deeper look at what forgiveness is (and is not) to help us better understand how and why to forgive.
Let's start with the definition Dr. Enright, founder of the International Forgiveness Institute, uses in his book, "Forgiveness is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope."
"When unjustly hurt by another, we forgive when we overcome the resentment toward the offender, not by denying our right to the resentment, but instead by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love; as we give these, we as forgivers realize that the offender does not necessarily have a right to such gifts."
. . . but instead by trying to offer the wrongdoer compassion, benevolence, and love . . .
When I am teaching the Freedom Through Forgiveness class and we begin to look at the definition of forgiveness, some people assure me that they want to forgive, are willing to forgive, but there is no way they will ever be kind toward their offender. I don't argue or try to convince them. I just ask them to keep coming back.
How could I offer kindness?
Some people insist they CANNOT offer kindness. They believe the offender is beyond redemption or kindness. Part of the work of forgiveness is "seeing with new eyes." As people begin to look closer at their offender, they begin to re-humanize them. I know there was a time when I referred to a couple of my offenders as "monsters" and "subhumans". I did not need to offer kindness or love or basic respect to a monster. But as I grew in forgiveness, I began to see them as special, unique and irreplaceable. I began to see that EVERYONE has "inherent worth". As I began to see what "inherent worth" meant, I learned I do not have the right or power to take away someone's "personhood card."
Why should I offer kindness?
One reason is because we are "seeing with new eyes" and have identified the person as having inherent worth. (See previous paragraph).
Another reason is to consider how the gifts you are currently offering (neglect, distance, hate, anger, resentment, etc.) are working. Is what you are doing helping to relieve your pain? Is it helping you be the person you want to be?
A third reason is because it gives you back power. Some people talk about the feeling of control the offender has over them. We get hurt by someone. We then dwell and think about it. We get reminded of it. We think about how to plot revenge. We spend our energy on negativity and anger which actually drains us of energy. We turn from the energy drain to areas of energy empowerment--compassion, kindness, empathy, love. We begin to see that we have options and choices as to how we deal with our feelings, on what we think about, about how we react. We take back power.
What "counts" as kindness?
I think this is a great area to explore. Maybe kindness starts by not talking about the person to other people. Maybe it starts by acknowledging the person exists. Maybe it's a card. Maybe it's a prayer. Maybe it starts with refusing to dwell on the negative. Maybe it's a gift or donation to a charity. Maybe it's a text or a call. But remember, this is another step in the journey of forgiveness. Jumping ahead without doing the work will not help.
I know it doesn't make sense in our "I am offended" and "Get them before they get you" culture to offer kindness in response to hurt, but it is a better way to live. It is through offering kindness in response to hatred and compassion in response to hurt, that we can find freedom.
A Little Something Extra
If you are looking for a place to dig into forgiveness, ask Dr. Enright a question, become part of the "Drive For Others' Lives" campaign, read a cool blog, or see what books Dr. Enright has written, please check out the International Forgiveness Institute at https://internationalforgiveness.com/.
If you would like to subscribe to the Forgiveness Factor Community and receive a weekly Forgiveness Boost, please go to https://mailchi.mp/b441e8770b36/forgivenessfactorcommunity