Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Pathway to Forgiveness

Published May 3, 2009
St. George Spectrum & Daily News

You know that person in your life who always seems to have something or someone to complain about? That person who tells the same story of aggravation and injustice over and over? That person you avoid? I was that person.

Wait! Come back! Read the last line of the preceding paragraph and note the past tense. I was that person, telling my dramatic tales of injustice and woe to anyone who would listen…my girlfriends, my family members, the cashier at the grocery store, that kid down the street who couldn’t pedal his tricycle fast enough to get away from me. Gosh, he was a good listener.

You might be wondering what caused such a dramatic shift in my emotional energies (and freed the neighbor boy from near-weekly torture). My answer came in the form of a university class, an Education Psychology course called Forgiveness and Anger Reduction.
On my less honest days, I say I took the course because I needed an allied course credit for my psychology degree and this one happened to be online, which fit my life. On my more honest days, I admit that nearly all the Ed. Psych classes I considered were online and would have counted. Apparently, somewhere underneath the whiner, buried deep below the grudge holder, there was a forgiving woman singing “Kumbaya.”

One of my first assignments in the class involved identifying a minor grudge from my own life and filling out a short questionnaire that explored the depth of my anger and hurt. The grudge I chose is one I will not share today. Upon reading the first few chapters in the textbook, I learned that I was “renting too much space” in my mind for this grudge, and every time I told my grievance story, I added on…a breakfast nook here, a gazebo there. Considering my “tenant” hadn’t paid the rent in months, was throwing wild parties every weekend, and had burned holes all over the purple shag carpet I loved, I was more than ready to throw the deadbeat out.

The first step I took in the mental eviction process was to challenge the unenforceable rule that lead to my anger in the first place. The concept of unenforceable rules was a new one for me. You mean people don’t have to be fair? I can only hope they will? Whaaaa? There was a bit of mental foot stamping, but eventually, I was able to accept the idea that no one in the world owes me anything.

Continuing the forgiveness program over the course of three and a half months, I painstakingly took my grudge out, turned it over and over, and saw more to it than I ever imagined was there. Through journaling exercises which included seeing my offender honestly, employing empathy, and giving the offender a symbolic gift (in my case, genuine well wishes), I suddenly saw my grievance for what it was: a situation that didn’t go my way, but one that also didn’t defeat me.

And there you have the heart of the forgiveness process, the transformation from victim to survivor, the realization that I was the hero of this tale. The moment I moved from victim to survivor, I had no more desire to tell the story at all, hence, it’s absence in this column. Instead, I find myself with an almost overwhelming desire to share the story of my transformation to anyone who will listen, because there are people in the world who are hurting, and what I know can help them.

I do leave the neighbor boy alone. He thinks I’ve been kidnapped by aliens and replaced by a clone, so there isn’t much opportunity, anyway.