Walter Jacobson, M.D.

Walter Jacobson, M.D.

Posted September 9, 2012

Published in Lifestyle

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Practice Forgiveness to Heal Yourself & Save the Planet

Read More: forgiveness, healing, save the planet, self-inventory

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The world is having a nervous breakdown. Despite incredible technological advances and mind-boggling innovations that make it easier for us to communicate and cooperate with each other, there is more miscommunication and divisiveness than ever before.

Why? Because we have not advanced emotionally or spiritually at the same pace as our technology. And because a great many people who are in positions of power are, sadly, deceitful and corrupt.

Athletes take illegal performance enhancing drugs to give themselves an unfair advantage over their opponents. Businessmen ignore regulations designed to protect human life and the environment in order to advance their profits. Politicians say anything, regardless of whether it’s true or not, in order to win elections. The take-home message is that it pays to cheat.

As cheaters succeed in exponential proportions, the fabric of our society unravels and its foundation erodes and decays.

What can we do about it? To change the collective mentality of our society from deceit and irresponsibility to truth and accountability, we must first heal ourselves. We must first get our own house in order.

Once we have done this, we can then role model our behaviors for our family, friends, peers and strangers alike, helping them to make the wiser and more humanistic choices that we have made.

It all starts with each one of us doing a rigorously honest self-inventory. We look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we’re proud of that person we see looking back at us. Are we honorable? Are we ethical? Are we honest? Are we generous? Are we charitable? Are we compassionate? Are we tolerant and accepting of others? Are we forgiving?

We acknowledge the imbalance in our lives. We recognize the choices we have made that have failed us and derailed us from a path of righteousness.

We look at our relationships, whether they be in our business, in our everyday dealings with others, or in our home with our loved ones. We ask ourselves, who have I hurt? What did I do that was wrong? What did I do that was judgmental and unloving.? What did I do that was selfish and petty?  Who have I abandoned or betrayed? Who am I still angry at? Who have I refused to forgive?

We make the decision to take responsibility for our words and our actions, to tell the truth no matter how inconvenient or unprofitable it might be, to admit when we our wrong and to apologize.

Admitting when we are wrong and apologizing does not come easy to many of us. We think it makes us look weak. We think it will cast us in a negative light and that people will devalue us. We perceive it to be shaming and humiliating.

The irony is that admitting when we are wrong and revealing our vulnerabilities is actually a reflection of great inner strength. It is one of the most courageous and self-empowering things we can do.

When we admit our wrongs, apologize, and make amends, we are releasing our emotional baggage, cleansing ourselves of guilt, shame and self-loathing. It is incredibly liberating.

Consequently, when we have difficulty admitting our mistakes and apologizing, we remind ourselves that it’s the right thing to do and that regardless of whether our self-disclosure increases the esteem others have for us or not, we are increasing the esteem we have for ourselves, and that this is what matters in the long run. Not what others think of us but what we think of us.

It’s not enough that we admit our wrongs and ask for forgiveness from others. We must also forgive others. When people come to us asking for forgiveness, we should do the best we can to be gracious and compassionate, to let go of our anger, resentments and judgments, and to forgive them, regardless of what they did to us and how badly they hurt us.

Why? Because, again, it’s the right thing to do. It’s the loving thing to do, it’s the Godly thing to do. And, last but not least, because it’s in our best interests to do so. It heals US when we forgive others. When we forgive others, we let go of our anger, resentment and bitterness, and we free ourselves of a great emotional burden that keeps us stuck in the past, in a perpetual state of perceived victimhood long after having been victimized. In other words, we forgive others for our own peace of mind.

Forgiving others is easier said than done. Many of us are reluctant to forgive others because we think that if we forgive them, we are sending them the message that: (1) We're okay with what they did, (2) We're letting them off the hook and not expecting them to be accountable for their actions, (3) We're weak or foolish, or (4) We're inviting further abuse and victimization.

The truth is that forgiveness is strength, not weakness. The truth is that when we forgive others it doesn’t mean that we are doormats or suckers, or that it's okay to victimize and abuse us again.  It doesn’t mean we condone their actions or are suggesting they not be held accountable. It doesn't mean we have to be friends with the person we're forgiving or that we have to tolerate their presence or behavior. Forgiveness simply means that we're letting go of our resentments, our judgments, and our need to make others feel guilty for what they’ve done.

This last point is very important. Many of us are unwilling to forgive others because they have hurt us and we want to hurt them back. We want them to feel the pain they caused us. So we withhold our forgiveness as a way to hurt them and punish them.

The problem with this is that when we withhold forgiveness we are also punishing ourselves because our anger and resentments interfere with our happiness and peace of mind.

Additionally, when we withhold forgiveness we are essentially attacking others with our unforgiveness and harsh judgments of them. And when we attack others, even if we feel it’s justified, on some level we don’t like ourselves for it and it increases our guilt, shame and self-loathing at a deep, unconscious level which causes us to sabotage ourselves in a variety of ways we’re not aware of.

The point of all this is to get clear that forgiving others is in our best interests. If we understand this, then it behooves us to find ways to forgive others even when a big part of us doesn’t want to.

It behooves us to look at situations from as many different angles as we possibly can, and to find ways to humanize rather than demonize others, in order to soften our hearts, let go of our anger, and forgive them.

For example, most people are not intentionally malicious or mean-spirited when they say and do things which we perceive as hurtful and unloving. For the most part, they just aren't thinking. They say and do impulsive, thoughtless things that they later regret.

If we choose to keep this in mind and give others the benefit of the doubt, by considering the possibility that they were not out to get us, and that they meant us no harm, despite what they did being inconsiderate or unkind, it makes it easier for us to forgive them.

When we have difficulty forgiving others, we remind ourselves that when we said and did thoughtless, selfish, inconsiderate and unloving things to others in the past, we wished them to understand that we meant no harm and to forgive us, in which case it behooves us to forgive them when the shoe is on the other foot.

A corollary of this is to remind ourselves that regardless of how far we may have spiritually grown and matured, we weren't always where we are now and it was helpful to have others support, encourage, nurture, tolerate, accept and forgive us, rather than assault us with blame, shame and guilt.

When we are having difficulty forgiving others, we focus on our blessings and on being grateful for what we have in our lives despite what has been done to us. Gratitude can take the sting out of any offense and make it easier for us to let go of our resentments in order to forgive.

When we are having difficulty forgiving others, we remind ourselves that "but for the grace of God go I," that under other, less fortunate circumstances, we might have found ourselves in desperate situations doing unworthy and unloving things to others, out of fear and a belief that they were necessary for our survival.

With humility, we remind ourselves that stressful circumstances can make fools and devils of us all, such that good people do bad things, and, therefore, that it's best to put our harsh judge's robe in the closet and don a cloak of compassion and mercy instead.

When we try to walk in another man's shoes, to get a sense of the difficulties he's endured, how he's been damaged in his life, and how he's been programmed from childhood experiences to take and not give, to attack and not love, and to withhold and not share, it provides us with the opportunity to see the offender in a more compassionate light, which then enables us to turn down the intensity of our anger over what has been done to us, to be more empathetic, and to apply the principles of forgiveness.

For example, if we know someone was abused as a child, that can make it easier for us to understand their bad behavior and forgive it. Along the same lines, if we're aware of the current circumstances in the offender's life, such as being unemployed, having no savings, about to be evicted, with a wife and two children to care for, that can make it easier for us to understand why they behaved badly, and to forgive them.

It can help us to forgive others if we perceive offenders as part of God, despite their ungodly behaviors. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, "We love men not because we like them or because their ways appeal to us or even because they possess some type of divine spark; we love every man because God loves him."

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