Did you go to a church service marking Easter this morning? If so, did you pray the Lord's Prayer?
In that prayer are the ancient words, "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us." If you are Christian, you have no doubt said those words hundreds, or thousands, of times. If you are Jewish, or Muslim, or Buddhist, you also recognize mercy and forgiveness as true and central tenants of your religion.
But how far are we willing to go to forgive others? What level of
forgiveness can any one of us manage?
What about the driver who rudely -- and perhaps unsafely -- cuts you off in traffic? Or the person who uses you at work to get ahead?
What about the burglar who ransacks your house or steals your identity, destroying your sense of security and privacy?
What about a drunk driver who kills a member of your family?
What about the hijackers who flew the planes on 9/11, or the Nazis who ran the death camps?
It's a truly difficult question that we struggle with in small -- and huge -- ways every day. CBS Sunday Morning did a feature on forgiveness today, exploring the complicated, multi-layered act itself.
"I want his family to feel the pain that he's inflicted on all of us," said one victim of Bernie Madoff's illegal investment scam. And that seems fair, doesn't it? We feel pain, so those who caused it should feel the same pain. It's not quite "an eye for an eye" -- it's more that we want them to feel the pain that WE felt when we lost OUR eye, and it seems like the only way they could would be if they lost theirs as well.
The story spent a lot of time with parents of two members of the University of Wyoming cross-country team. The boys were two of eight who were killed in 2001 when a drunk driver slammed into their vehicle late one night after partying. The driver, who survived, does not remember the crash. He is in jail, coming up for parole in a couple of years.
"If I forgive him, then my son died for nothing. I don't want these eight boys to die for nothing," says one father.
On the other hand, one mother said the following: "I can't deal with it without forgiving," and, about the driver, says this: "I want him to have a life. My son has no life."
She has even given anti-drunk-driving talks with the driver who killed her son.
Where do you stand on the forgiveness scale? Would you be more like this father, or this mother? Or do we feel both of their impulses equally?
The latter may be the most true, according to a psychologist and author interviewed for the program. Human beings can driven by two different impulses at the same time, he said. "Revenge and forgiveness are two sides of the same coin."
Revenge comes from the desire part of the brain; forgiveness comes from the part of the brain where empathy lives. We hunger for revenge in the short term, but often need forgiveness for our mental health in the long term.
Forgiveness is central to many faiths. CBS Sunday Morning spoke about it with scholars from Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity. One of the philosophies they agreed on was that vengeance is left to God; forgiveness is left to us.
However, forgiveness doesn't have to have a religious angle. The Mayo Clinic -- a preeminant medical hospital and research facility -- says that forgiveness is a choice that affects our health.
"Forgiveness is the act of untying yourself from thoughts and feelings that bind you to the offense committed against you. This can reduce the power these feelings otherwise have over you, so that you can live a freer and happier life in the present," writes Katherine M. Piderman, Ph.D., staff chaplain at the Mayo.
"Researchers have recently become interested in studying the effects of being unforgiving and being forgiving," she writes. "Evidence is mounting that holding on to grudges and bitterness results in long-term health problems. Forgiveness, on the other hand, offers numerous benefits, including:
Lower blood pressure
Better anger management skills
Lower heart rate
Lower risk of alcohol or substance abuse
Fewer depression symptoms
Fewer anxiety symptoms
Reduction in chronic pain
Greater religious or spiritual well-being
Improved psychological well-being."
Here's her full article, which also deals with how forgiving is not necessarily forgetting:
And here's a link to CBS Sunday Morning:
What about you? Do you struggle with the concept of forgiveness? Is there a line that separates actions that you can forgive from those you can't?
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