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Forgiving and Flourishing

The Power of Empathy Heals Hearts and Minds

There’s never an excuse for bad behavior but there is always a reason. I’ve come to this conclusion after years of struggling to understand the actions of others as well as those of myself when I’ve behaved in ways not in line with my personal code of conduct.

We are all born with basic genetic tendencies and we all encounter different life experiences. Thus, each person’s behavior is a product of these two variables. Since becoming “enlightened” by this concept through my own devices, I’ve become less judgmental, had less anger toward others who have tried to harm me or whose behavior or beliefs differ from mine. I don’t always succeed in detaching myself emotionally from upsetting situations as they are occurring, but the goal is worth the effort and it becomes easier to be forgiving once the crisis is over.

So many see the world in terms of black and white, right or wrong. Viewing the world in this way isn’t healthy for us as individuals, or for society as a whole. It’s the stuff that conflict is made of, around the globe and within our bodies. Angry thoughts toward someone with whom we disagree or who has hurt us likely harm us as much if not more than the person who caused the hurt.

Studies are showing that learning to forgive, exchanging empathy for anger, is one of the most positive actions we can take toward improving our health.

Most faiths promote forgiveness, though unfortunately not all of their members actively express the concept.

A shining example of faith-based forgiveness was related to me several years ago. A friend of mine was involved in a tragic accident when she crested a hill and hit a horse and buggy driven by an Old Order Amish family, resulting in the death of a child.

 A week later, a group of Amish buggies pulled into her driveway. Already distraught over causing the child’s death, she opened her door with concern. Her fear was unfounded, however, as the relatives of the child had come out of concern for my friend. They assured her they held no ill feelings toward her and wanted to make sure she would be alright. Taking positive action regarding another human who was hurting, no doubt also helped them to heal from the loss of the young family member.

Of course, my friend hadn’t purposely caused injury. Forgiving those who have caused deliberate harm is obviously much more difficult, but is still essential in healing the hurt.

Gregg Braden, (best-selling author, former computer systems designer, and expert at bridging the wisdom of our past with the science, medicine, and peace of our future), in his book Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer speaks eloquently on this topic:

“The question is this: ‘Am I ready to move beyond a ‘gut’ reaction or an old belief that ‘someone must pay’ or ‘I need to get even’ in order to right a wrong?’ In other words, are you ready to move beyond the type of thinking that justifies hurting someone because they’ve hurt you?

“If you answer yes to this question, then the blessing is for you and you’re going to like the results you experience! If your answer is no, then your path is to find out why you would choose to hold on to a belief that keeps you locked into the hurt that leads to the very suffering you’re trying to heal.”

Forgiving those who cause serious mental or physical pain to ourselves or to others is extremely difficult. Friends may not understand when we extend a hand to those who have hurt us or someone else, especially when we forgive those who have caused extreme harm. But that shouldn’t stop us from acting with empathy. Forgiving others can become our own reward, bringing us improved health and peace of mind.

             Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against                                             the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil. 

                                                         – Pope John Paul II

The quality of mercy is not strain’d. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

-William Shakespeare

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