Ten abilities that may enable forgiveness

Letting go of the past suffering is a meaningful process, which requires that we search deeply inside to find our motivation and strengths to continue life with love and light in the heart. In this article, we discuss ten abilities that we may choose to develop as part of the forgiving attitude.   

To revenge or to forgive?

In the best slapstick GIF we’ve ever seen, according to James Vincent, London reporter at The Verge, we can observe a hilarious chain of events which ends with the revenge of one of the five players. 

The action starts when one of the players, whom James calls The Hitter, enjoys a snack while caressing a cute dog standing in front of him. The second player, The Stander, gets up from the bench to caress the doggy too. The bench tips over the third player, The Faller, who on his way to the floor, grabs the pants of the fourth player, The Spiller. The Spiller happens to pass by, carrying a pan of water in his hands. The tipping bench hits the pan of water which spills in the head of The Hitter. The Spiller turns around to pull his pants up while The Hitter hits him in the head with the pan.

Let’s imagine you are The Hitter. What would you have done if you suddenly got some water spilled over your head, while you enjoyed a snack and caressed a cute doggy?

 Would you have reacted differently if the water was warm or cold? Clean or dirty?

Would it make any difference if the person who spilled the water in your head was a complete stranger, your mother, your girlfriend or any other person important to you?

Scientific articles on human forgiveness show that the desire to revenge is built-in the human nature. The desire to revenge is evolutionary explained by the fear to be perceived weak in the enemy’s eyes.  Social psychologists have done studies showing that if two people fight in the street and there is the third person passing by, the fighters start fighting even harder.

The action in this GIF ends when The Hitter hits The Spiller. We don’t know how The Spiller reacts to the blow. Now let’s now imagine you are The Spiller. How would you have reacted if you got a blow in the head while pulling your pants up? You turn around and you see that it was The Hitter who caused you pain.

 

Motivation to forgive – Mandela’s story

 

The capacity for forgiveness is also built-in the human nature. The environment has a great influence on whether the capacity for revenge or the capacity for forgiveness are developed. One hypothesis for explaining the desire to forgive is the “valuable relationships” one. Primatologists believe that by forgiving and reconciling, our ancestors were more capable for group cooperation, which increased their evolutionary fitness. 

The hypothesis of “valuable relationships” may hold as well in the case of The Hitter and The Spiller. Maybe they are brothers and may decide to have a good laugh as a sign of forgiveness and reconciliation.

What if The Hitter and The Spiller are complete strangers who happen to be in the same place, at the wrong moment? What would motivate The Spiller to forgive The Hitter?  

When Bill Clinton asked Nelson Mandela how he brought himself to forgive his jailers, Mandela’s answer was “If I continued to hate these people I was still in prison.”

Mandela was part of a society torn by racial segregation, which gave more rights to the White South Africans than to the Black or other ethnicity South Africans. In 1963, at the Rivonia Trial, Mandela was accused to life sentence for revolting against the state.

After 27 years of prison, he became the 1st president of South Africa starting with May 1994 till June 1999. In 1995, the new South African government put in place a “truth and reconciliation” commission to investigate human rights abuses during the apartheid era when the rights of the Black and other ethnic groups were curtailed and the White minority rule was maintained.

Mandela had forgiven his jailers and wanted to help his fellow citizens forgive the abuses they had suffered during the apartheid era.

What motivated Mandela to forgive?

His dream society was the one where people of different skin colors and races live in harmony. He wanted a future of equal opportunities for all South Africans, as he declared in his speech at the Rivonia trial in 1964:

“During my life I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die for. ”

 

How about you? What wrong-doings did you suffer in childhood, school, romantic relationships, professional life, etc.? What aspects of the environment where you lived so far might motivate you to forgive?  

Choose one of the wrong-doings that had the biggest effect on your inner life. Would you choose an inner or an outside motivation so you can commit to forgiving your wrongdoer?

Defining forgiveness

Forgiveness has a unique connotation for each individual who suffered a wrong-doing. What do you think of when you hear the word “forgiveness”?

Researchers at GreaterGood Center define forgiveness a conscious decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance towards a person or group of persons who have wronged you, irrespective they deserve to be forgiven. 

When we decide to forgive someone, it doesn’t imply that we accept that the other person continues behaving in a way that could hurt us. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that we come up with excuses for the respective behaviour.

Forgiveness means taking responsibility for a non-violent attitude to the wrongs we suffer.

Benefits of forgiveness

Forgiveness liberates the soul…” says Morgan Freeman who plays Nelson Mandela in the movie “Invictus.”

The Bible teaches us to forgive others so that God may forgive us.

Buddha said: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one getting hurt.”

Researchers confirm that more forgiving people are in a better physical and emotional health. Practicing forgiveness helps to release all the hatred, resentment, hostility and anger that are accumulated as a result of ruminating over the transgression. On the contrary, dwelling on unforgiveness makes your blood pressure rise, face muscles become tense and heart rate increase. For example, people with unforgiving attitudes towards their romantic partners experience jumps in cortisol, the stress hormone which metabolizes fat in the body.   

Second, people who have more tendency to forgive report greater quality relationships and greater commitment to relationships. Try to forgive for the sake of having healthier and happier relationships.

Third, forgive so that you can understand better what it means to forgive. You are more able to teach a forgiving attitude to your children or others you care about.

The Journey of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a unique process of inner life discoveries for every individual who commits to forgiving. For most of us, forgiveness is an emotionally sinuous process, with moments when you think you managed to let go, followed shortly by moments when you find yourself in deep resentment about the wrongdoer.

In the moments when you feel disillusioned that you’ll never be able to forgive, it is time to strengthen one or more of the following abilities in yourself: intention, honesty, acceptance of grieving, expectations, empathy, identity, humility, patience and courage.

1. Intention

Choose your destination – What kind of attitude would you like to have in face of the everyday life challenges?

What is your emotional baggage resulting from unforgiveness?

Your life is now with its present challenges. Are you aware how this emotional baggage mixes with the emotions resulting from the present challenges and how it affects your life?

When you set the intention to forgive for a being able to love again, to trust again, to feel joy again, your psyche is prepared to deal with the resentment and other negativity resulting from unforgiveness.

2. Honesty

Identify your pain - What are your negative emotions caused by the wrongdoing? Try to label them and see what emotions are more frequent.

Be honest with yourself and observe how the pain of not being able to forgive is affecting you. Maybe your self-confidence is low, maybe you don’t trust anyone around you, maybe you become bitter, unhealthily angry and hateful in every day life.

How else does the pain affect your inner life?

How many years do you think that one can live with the pain and other negative emotions resulting from unforgiveness?

For the English historian of Jamaican origins, Colin Grant, it took about 30 years to finally forgiving his father who rejected him. The forgiveness happened when Colin wrote the memoir “Bageye at the Wheel”, in which he explores the emotional differences between his world and his father’s.

Be honest with any negative emotion you might have struggled with for the last 5, 10 or 20 years. Sometimes, it may take a life-time to forgive.  


3. Accept the grieving

Accept your grieving, be willing to go through sadness, anger, pain, loss, fear, guilt whenever you are aware feeling that way.

How do you know when you don’t accept your pain? When you see yourself as a victim, thinking Why did this have to happen to me?, I always end up being hurt, etc. Perceiving yourself as a victim keeps you stuck in the moment when you suffered the injustice.

Instead, try to find an outlet for your pain, which doesn’t involve hurting yourself or others. Find meaning in your grieving. Find your ways to cope with the grieving. For example, some choose to do service to others in need. Some choose to talk about their emotions to someone they trust or complete strangers.

Prayer is a coping technique for many people who seek forgiveness or to be forgiveness. For example, in the biographic novel Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, describes the first time in her life when she prays to God. She starts her prayer by saying, “I’m a big fan of your work” . She hopes that by praying she would get an answer to her indecisiveness of whether to stay married or not. A few months later, after divorcing and after a failed romantic relationship, Elizabeth embarks on a one year trip of self-discovery around the world.    

What way would you chose to cope with your grieving?  

4. Expectations

When you commit to forgiving one person, it is best if you set the expectation of yourself to develop the habit of forgiving in general. Next time when another person causes you harm at emotional or physical level, it may come more natural to you to let go of the resulting resentment and other negative emotions.

Also, in the daily interactions, review your expectations of things that other people should have given to you and they chose not to.  

What are your expectations from the most important people in your life (e.g., family, friends, lover, etc)? Can you remember one expectation you had on one person and in what ways that expectation caused you suffering?

5. Empathy

Practice empathy – think into more detail about the life of the person who hurt you. How his childhood must have been? How much love and affection he must have received as a child? What situations he must have gone through as an adult? What must have made him hurt you? 

As we can see from the empathy game we played in the beginning of this article, there can be different versions of the story if we put ourselves in the shoes of The Hitter or of The Spiller. Similarly, by developing your cognitive empathy regarding the wrongdoer, you may understand more about his world. You will inevitably take more distance from your pain.  

You may even realize you have something in common with your wrongdoer, like Nelson Mandela did. Mandela befriended a white jail guard who “reinforced my belief in the essential humanity of even those who had kept me behind bars”.

6. Nothing personal

When someone hurts you, it says a lot about the level of consciousness of that person at that moment, his interpersonal skills, ideals and goals in life. He didn’t hurt you because of You, he hurt you because you happened to be in his way at that moment.

The slapstick scene we discussed in the beginning is a good example. The Hitter just happened to be in the way of the Spiller. The Spiller didn’t even mean to spill the pan of water in The Hitter’s head. In a similar way, persons with lower levels of consciousness have sometimes no choice but to react in a hurtful way towards the closest people.

In 1995, Mandela invited for lunch a man called Percy Yutar. Yutar was the state prosecutor at the 1963 Rivonia treason trial and asked the death penalty for Mandela. While enjoying their lunch, Mandela told to Yutar that he forgave him because he was only doing  his job. 

When you suffer a wrong-doing in professional life, it is slightly easier to understand that there is nothing personal because it is your professional identity which is harmed. This is a good time to ask yourself what do you identify yourself with. Do you identify with your job, with your family, with your country, etc?

Think of this scenario in professional life, when your boss criticizes you in front of your team for making a poor report. How would you feel the moment when you hear the criticism? If you take the criticism very personally, it might be an indication that you identify partly with your profession.

7. Humility

Humility is defined as the quality of having a modest view on one’s importance. How you consider humility, as a virtue or as a sign of weak character?

Seneca, a Roman philosopher and dramatist, said “Errare humanum est”, which translates into it is human to make mistakes. Practice humility by reminding yourself that both you and the ones who wronged you are humans, with bigger or smaller imperfections. We thus avoid the feeling of superiority to the faults of those who wronged us and judge less their intentions.

Can you think of an experience when you hurt someone with your words, for example?

By practicing humility, we learn to understand more than we try to make ourselves understood. Madela’s life was an continuous practice of humility in service of his society torn by the racial segregation, as he declares, “I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you, the people”.


8. Patience  


Finding peace in your heart after a being hurt requires lots of patience. In general, how patient would you say you are, on a scale from 0 to 10? How willing are you to build patience in yourself?

The American poet, Mary Oliver describes in her poem, Patience, how the moon cycle inspired her to be more patient.  


What is the good life now? Why,

look here, consider

the moon’s white crescent

rounding, slowly, over the half month to still another

perfect circle —

I used to hurry everywhere,

and leaped over the running creaks.

There wasn’t

time enough for all the wonderful things

I could think of to do

in a single day.  Patience

comes to the bones

before it takes root in the heart

as another good idea.

I say this

as I stand in the woods

and study the patterns

of the moon shadows …

 

 

What or Who could inspire you to learn the ability of being patient when forgiving?

9. Self-compassion

The wound in your heart resulting from being hurt needs your kindness. Embrace your pain as if you embraced a frightened child. Smile to your suffering and validate it. Say to it, “Yes, I know it sucks to suffer but I am here with you.”  

10. Courage  

Courage in forgiveness means to continue life by being true to yourself, your values and principles. For example, courage may mean to continue life with goodness in your heart despite witnessing human cruelty. Courage may mean praying for the wrong doers to find their peace and start spreading goodness.  

Mother Theresa wisely portraits what being courageous in forgiveness means.

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies. Succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight. Create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous. Be happy anyway. The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough. Give your best anyway.

 


After losing someone you loved dearly, to be courageous may mean accepting your shuttered inner life and hope for the rebirth of a new you, a better you, as Elizabeth Gilbert writes in the biographical novel Eat Pray Love, “Ruin is a gift, ruin is a way to transformation”

Considering the circumstances where you’ve been hurt, in what ways could you show courage to forgive?

Choose your motivation and preferred ability and let forgiveness begin! :)

More reading material, useful self-help guides that enable you realize at what stage of forgiveness you are and what to expect next:

 

Robert Enright’s 4 phases model of forgiveness 

 

Fred Luskin’s Eight nine steps to forgive  

 

Jack Kornfield’s 12 principles of forgiveness 

 

When toddlers push parents buttons

On a scale from 0 to 10, how satisfied are you with yourself as a parent? What is your reaction when your children have bad tantrums or other crises? We, parents, like any other human beings, may have accumulated negativity and this can be a hindrance to constructive communication with children. Luckily, we can learn to go beyond negativity and help our children grow happy and loving adults, who in their turn can help others.   

“We would like to believe that only a disturbed parent responds in a way that is damaging to a child. Unfortunately, even parents who are loving and well meaning also blame, shame, accuse, ridicule, threaten, bribe, label, punish, preach and moralize.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child.

When my second child was born, the elder brother’s jealousy for mother’s attention was sparked. The new baby born is now an active 15-months-old toddler who cries when I hug his brother. The initially simple and crude jealousy manifests in more complex and violent ways. I find myself yelling more often and getting frustrated with the lack of improvement in the interaction between my boys.

“Parenthood is an endless series of small events, periodic conflict, and sudden crises that call for a response. The response is not without consequence: It affects personality and self-regard for better or worse.”, Dr. Ginott, Between Parent and Child

Being a stay-at-home mother, I’ve experienced all too well how fast and how often I need to respond to conflicts between siblings. Inappropriate responses such as my emotionally stirred reaction to the boys’ argument set an undesirable example of how to solve dispute. Furthermore, shouting, threatening or punishing may lead to further frustration in children, and thus the conflicts can become more frequent.

We may want to help our kids understand that it’s perfectly fine to have negative feelings but it’s not fine to shout or hit others around just because we feel bad inside. In order for children to learn how to deal with their negative feelings, they need guidance from us.

The challenge for us parents is to overcome our own emotional unbalance so that we can communicate effectively with our children. The following 8 steps may help in getting in touch with the inner space inside us where there is peacefulness and from where we can connect and talk to our children:

Step 1

Have no expectations that kids will behave as adults (maybe it’s for the best they don’t behave like us). Kids are playful, creative, imaginative and without boundaries. They like eating while standing instead of sitting. They like to jump in pools of water even if they don’t wear the proper shoes. They express awe in a loud voice.

As soon as we become aware of any expectation, it’s best to ignore it, take a deep breath and think to ourselves, “Kids are kids”. This does not mean that we should allow kids any kind of behaviour such as, writing on the walls, jump from the top of the cupboard, or play with knives.

By ignoring the expectations on kids’ behaviour, we avoid moments of unnecessary fury. Instead, we become more creative in explaining what is acceptable and what not.

For example, when my eldest son used to drop water on the floor, I was very much tempted to shout at him “Don’t do that!”. Instead, I said, “There is water on the floor. The water can damage the floor. Let’s wipe it off together.”Did he keep on spilling water on the floor? Yes, many times and I reacted in the same way to him.

Nowadays, he stopped doing that. I don’t know if he understood my explanation. However, in the long run, I hope he understands that there are consequences to our actions and if we make a mess, then we are responsible to clean it up.

Step 2

Expect that anger is unavoidable. In such moments, we may shout something undesirable, such as “If you hit your sister one more time, I’ll pull your hair”. Such statements are threats, which if we don’t keep, then kids learn that we don’t really mean what we say. And if we do really mean what we say, threats become acts of physical violence which can traumatise the children and disturb the wellbeing of the whole family.

Bursting out in anger is unavoidable but anger should NOT be expressed in acts of physical violence. For other ways of expressing anger, such as blaming, labelling, ridiculing or accusing, we can apologise and openly talk about it with our children.

Each time when I become aware that I overreact, I apologise to the boys and explain what is happening. For example, “Mommy didn’t sleep well last night and is a bit tired today.” Apologising shows respect towards the child. At the same time, the child gets the message that shouting is not a constructive solution. Raising the voice does not give us what we want and furthermore, it can hurt the person we’re yelling at.

Step 3

Become aware of our emotional state when interacting with our children. For example, we can be emotionally unbalanced because we just had an argument with our partner. When we turn our attention to our children, we may overreact to what they do or say. We may take the negativity out onto our kids. Awareness can help us disconnect from the negative emotions and tune into our children inner lives. They will feel the connection and they’ll feel safe to be next to mommy or daddy.

Step 4

Increase awareness of the present moment. When we feel the anger is taking control, it’s time to start taking deep breaths. If the tension is still at its peak, verbalize what we feel about the particular crisis. For example, “I am so angry because you pushed your brother”. When the fury is fading away, I usually turn towards the toddler and ask him to forgive his brother.

A crisis is a good opportunity to teach important values to children. For example, I want to make sure that my boys will eventually understand that violence against another human being is not accepted. Since neither boy can talk articulately, I can’t expect them to explain in words what feeling drives them to resort to violence. The best guess is that it is the jealousy. But what if it isn’t that? What if there is something else that one of siblings did and the response comes under the form of hitting?

Instead of guessing and going on and lecturing based on what my guess is, I chose to state only that it is not allowed to hit each other.In addition to non-violent behaviour, there may be other values that we may want to share with our children and our behaviour and communication should reflect those values (i.e.,love, forgiveness, etc).

Step 5

Let empathy towards our children shine through the anger. If we want to understand something about our children, we’d better focus on questioning why they behave the way they do and not on what they do. When there is physical violence between siblings, being empathic can help us see the conflict from both kids’ perspective: from the perspective of the child who hits and from the perspective of the child who is hit. What is the reason for which a child hits his sibling? How does he feel hitting his sibling? How does a child feel when is hit by his sibling?

Step 6

Set up a strategy to follow in moments of crises. Even if we may not always be able to put it into practice, at least we can keep it in our minds to help us keep calm.

For now when my kids are at the toddler and pre-school age, the strategy for handling bad tantrums consists of three steps: 1. I explain why I can’t grant a particular wish, i.e., eat chocolate for breakfast. 2. When the heartbreaking cry starts, breathing helps to calm myself down. Words are unnecessary. The kid can’t listen because he wants one thing only – to have his wish granted. 3. Maintain eye contact once in a while and look compassionately at the child. When the storm is over, he asks for milk, which is always granted to him as a sign that we made peace.

 

With every new situation, we take stand based on what feels natural to us. But it also has to be an attitude from which our children can feel that they are understood. Think about how you feel when you tell to your partner that you’d like to buy a dress but it’s slightly expensive. How would you like your partner to react? Would you like him to say, “Honey, I think we have enough expenses already, forget about the dress.”, or, “I would also want to buy loud speakers, so let’s both buy whatever we want”, or “I wish I could buy that dress for you. I am sure you would look gorgeous! Maybe next month, you can buy it.”.

When feeling understood, children, like adults, feel loved. They become thus empowered to find acceptable solutions to manage their lives. They learn to be responsible for the choices they make.

Step 7

Spend short moments of daily relaxation. It is crucial to relax daily during short breaks and gain the much needed emotional balance and patience. It can be more efficient to relax 10 minutes every 2 hours than wait for that one evening in the week when we can go to a Pilates class or for a coffee with a friend.

I don’t know what can help you relax, but as far as I am concerned, meditation is a good way of creating inner space. The method of relaxation is less important, the effect matters – that of creating inner peacefulness. We can thus become more patient when bad tantrums come out of a blue.

For a few weeks already, I started doing a daily 10 minutes meditation focused on nature’s beauty. It is a project I plan to carry on for half of a year. I will share the details in the following blog post for anyone who may be interested in this type of meditation.

Step 8

Dedicate time and effort for the development of parental abilities so that we can keep up with the developmental stages of our children. For example, I find parental self-help books on how to communicate with kids to be sources of inspiration that provide new perspectives to parenting. Talking with other parents about how to become better parents, writing a diary of the most tensed moments with our kids, etc, may helps us expand our consciousness as parents and build bridges to our children hearts.

When the next moment of crises comes, let’s all do a small exercise. First, think how the situation may look through the eyes of our children. Second, how would we want to be treated if we were the child in that situation.

I wish to you a meaningful journey of parenthood!

How can we understand others better?

Can you really understand someone in terms of what she’s feeling, what behaviours she may adopt or what perceptions of the world she might have? To push the limits of human empathy, it may be helpful to consciously ignore everything you think you know about yourself and the ones around you and get curious again.

If we could all do that, the world would be a place where people lived in harmony, understanding each other’s inner worlds.

In reality, it’s more challenging to understand another human being on a deeper level, even those close to us! You may think that the longer you’ve known someone, the more evidence you have collected about what kind of a person she is. The historical facts show that she is decent and reliable.

Moreover, with the help of your empathic skills, you can feel how she feels and together you feel as one. But when you disapprove of her behaviour and get disappointed, you may feel that there is a world apart between you and her. Two close people turn into strangers.

You may not be aware of the fact that the disagreement regarding a particular behaviour can be rooted in moral values, cultural beliefs and other social conditioning that we are raised with and affects what we like and how we perceive the world.

Therefore, if we truly want to understand others, we need to become aware of our personal conditioning. For example, in Western cultures, when someone dies, it can be considered disrespectful if the close family of the departed one are wearing other colour than black. In Asian cultures, people wear white at funerals, which symbolises passing into heaven.

Now, what would happen if at a Western funeral, the wife of the deceased man wore red? Probably the rest of the close family would stop talking to her.

Getting rid of our conditioning may be a mission close to impossible for some of us. It may require years of meditation and spiritual search, which is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Alternatively, we can try to understand other people needs and desires and how they change over time. We do have the empathic skills that can be practiced to ask the appropriate questions about what others like and how they see the world. Once we are informed in this respect, we can learn to accept them without any judgement.

Maybe the widow wanted to express through red the intensity of her love for her dead husband? Or that she will still love him beyond death?

Above all, what counts the most is to look beyond behaviour and feel the true nature of a person. If the widow has a truly compassionate and loving nature, which reflected in the relationships with the rest of the family, then maybe the family members will focus on her affection and be less judgemental about her red garment.

You may also like reading:

Why we should be careful about judging others

Why you owe to yourself to find your true self and what it implies

Why we should be more careful about judging others

Being judgemental about everyone and everything that happens around us limits our abilities to understand the diversity among the human beings. Judging the behaviour of neighbours, work colleagues or friends in front of others with whom we are in close relationships can be a personal choice to maintain the bond with those close to us. Even more, women who gossip are happier, according to a study at the University of Michigan. But, being judgemental with the loved ones can ultimately affect negatively everyone involved.

I doubt there is a human being who likes to be judged. At least, I and the persons that I know dislike to hear criticism from others regarding our actions and behaviours.

Why does it bother us to hear that we did something wrong in other person’s opinion? Are we afraid that our freedom of expression is being constrained? After all, it’s simply a point of view expressed by someone. Whatever the reason, we do get hurt by criticism and without being aware, we fight judgement with judgement.

Everybody is fast at judging others, and I am not an exception. It is human to observe and form opinions about the people around us, and especially those close to us will hear more of these opinions with less sugar coating. For example, a wife can tell to her husband, “You did wrong when you didn’t inform me about being late”.

The Bible strongly advocates for not judging others, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” (Luke 6:37), “who are you to judge your neighbour.“(James 4:11-12)

“One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgement on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” (Romans 14:1-13)

The point of reference for judging is our inner world of beliefs, principles, and emotions. When other people actions don’t fit with our reality, we disapprove them.

We could try to refrain from speaking out loud our judgemental thoughts, especially to those people close to us. But if our tongues are tingling with words of judgement and we speak our mind, it’d be for everyone’s best to do it with reservation and with the presumption that our opinions are not the objective truth.

In the above example, when the wife scolds her husband for not informing that he’d be late, it would make a huge difference for the mood of both of them if she humbly assumed that she does not have complete information about what happened in her husband’s mind and what experience he had. So, she would be wiser if she asked, “So, what happened?”

Instead of snappy judgement, we could give credit to the other one that he acted based on his best abilities at that time. We empower the people we love when we show them that we trust them to manage their lives the best they can.

Admittedly, we would behave differently in the same situation, but everyone reacts in their unique way to the same event.

Therefore, by spelling out our judgements on the loved ones puts us on a higher moral ground and belittles their abilities to manage their life. This may result in relationship conflict where negative emotions, such as the sense of disapproval take time to sort out.

Relationships improve when we accept the differences in behaviour and actions between us and the loved ones. Asking questions with empathy and compassion sharpen our insight into the world of others and help us see that there is richness in looking at life through the lens of others.

Next time when we are tempted to be judgemental, let’s first try to understand the other one and then judge. If after understanding her husband the wife still wants to express her opinion, she could say, “I would have felt better if you called.”

You may also like reading:

The art of helping through conversation

How can a family relationship continue after a big disappointment?

Why we should stay cool in front of others envy

Time to take, time to give

 

The Happiness Safe Haven – the love for the people around you

Happiness means different things to different people. For some people, happiness is but an illusion. To me, in order to be happy, you need to choose to be happy and learn how to balance between the things that make you happy. Out of all the things, finding ways of expressing love for the people around is a constant source of happiness.

A more stable source of happiness

Wikipedia defines happiness as “a mental or emotional state of well-being characterised by positive or pleasant emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.” In this range of positive emotions, I would include for example satisfaction, peacefulness, cheerfulness, exhilaration and excitement.

Aristotle wittily observed that happiness is the only thing that human beings want for its own sake. Health, love, money and any achievement are wanted for the sake of happiness.

In the pursuit of money or professional goals, happiness is postponed until you become rich or you’ve reached your goals. And when the moment comes, you can’t be happy because you want even more or you want something else. As Henry David Thoreau, an American author, poet and philosopher said well, “Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will elude you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

I like to think of happiness as a garden where I plant seeds of love, compassion, empathy and gratefulness. Care and dedication are needed so that the seeds grow into beautiful flowers, which spread their scent into the soul and colour it with their colours.

The love you have inside does not need to be chased. It only needs to be put into light and nourished.

Cultivate your ability to love

There are many people around you who need your love: your partner, children, parents, friends or simple strangers. Cooking a special dinner for your family in the middle of the week, taking your child to his favourite playground, bringing a bouquet of flowers to an elderly work colleague in a cloudy day are all acts of love which fuel compassion and empathy in you.

Compassion and empathy help you to grow into a human being with constant consideration for the people you interact with. Ultimately, thinking how to make others happy is making you happy.

Whenever you have heavier issues to tackle in a relationship, use all the compassion that you have. How would you want others to tell you about their worries? Choose your words carefully. Careless and harsh words will hurt you both.

For example, in a marriage, it’s needed to acknowledge all the things that your partner does to make you happy. Being grateful for what you have is a basis for improving or just letting be what there is already.

To me, a happy life is based on the wise choice of thoughts, words and actions so that they create positive energy inside and around you. And when there is no sunshine in your life, hold onto all the love you have and embrace the strong belief that underneath all the troubles you may go through, the joy is lurking to shine through when the time is right.

Now about you? What is happiness to you?

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Living without desires?

 

 

What to focus on when friends bail out on you

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets”. Matthew 7:12

It comes a time when we need help and those we previously helped are the first persons we run to. Unlike expected, reciprocity is not guaranteed. What kind of attitude should we embrace then?

Should we bear grudge?

Rumour spread in my native town that the wife of my math teacher from high-school had been fighting with a rare type of stomach cancer for years.

He is one of the few teachers who instilled the passion for knowledge in me. As a token of appreciation, I decided to pay a visit and see for myself how they cope.

His wife was in the hospital, fighting for her life. He was in the garden in front of their house, making phone calls to raise some money for her medication.

He’d sold all his possessions. He had nothing more to sell. His last resort solution was to borrow money from relatives and friends.

Much to his surprise, individuals whom he had helped under different circumstances, conjured up excuses for not being able to lend money.

The genius mind teacher that I knew had been replaced by a wounded beast with hatred in his heart.

“My heart got sick the day when a former student who is now quite a well-off man declined any help.”, he said. “For three years, I had taught him private classes for free.”

“Life is treacherous. People are treacherous.”

These are the words of a 70 years old Romanian singer who was asked to describe some of her core beliefs in an interview.

My first reaction was to pity her for having such a gloomy outlook on people. Contemplating more on it, I concluded that she adopted a rather cautious attitude.

Indeed, human beings can be cruel, violent, savages, liars, contemptuous, gossipy, mean, etc. Bearing these negative characteristics in mind, we are less vulnerable to others’ behaviour.

At the same time, human beings can be empathic, highly moral, compassionate, kind, and loving. Such individuals can be firm adepts of the Golden Rule, which states that we should treat others the way we would want them to treat us.

In my view, humanity is in a constant fight against the bad with the good in us and outside us. As Albert Einstein said, “The world is not dangerous because of those who do harm but because of those who look at it without doing anything”.

The question is how can the good Samaritans maintain the goodness inside when others won’t lift a finger in their times of need?

After all, any kind person can feel embittered, angry, disillusioned and betrayed when being mistreated by peers!

Staying aware throughout the emotional meltdown

When being hurt, it is darn difficult to remember not to take others’ treatment to heart. Most of the times, others’ behaviour reflects sides of who they are.

  • They may have their own problems, maybe not be as urgent or crucial as ours, but nevertheless prioritised.
  • They may have a partner who is in charge with the family finances.
  • They may be modern embodiments of Dickens’s Scrooge, too greedy to lend a penny.

The bewilderment of the refusal may cloud the awareness of the unconscious expectation, which we place on others the moment we help them. Some of us take it as a moral obligation to return the help subsequently.

Yet, not every person has high morals. So, when we treat others the way we would like to be treated, we need to be aware that we choose to do that. Because we believe in that.

Spreading goodness is a value in life. Like any other value, it is not absolute. If others choose to live by other values, we need to learn to let them be.

Alignment of life circumstances

When the help is not reciprocated, we can safeguard our wellbeing by thinking, “Well, he can’t help me now. But maybe someone else will.”

Maybe there is a timing of the Universe regarding what people can be helpful, where and when. There is a stroke of fate when we cross our way with others whose life circumstances are in alignment with ours.

Preferably sooner than later, we will find our way out of the tornado of negative emotions and marvel at the mysterious dynamism of life based on the Law and the Prophets.

If you experienced similar situations, how did you react towards the persons who didn’t treat you as good as you had treated them before?

 

When Is the Last Time You Did Something for a Stranger?

In some situations, helping others is not a question of having fun. It is a question of moral duty, which we have as human beings. There are two ways to look upon this moral duty: must-to-do or want-to-do thing. It may be beneficial to our happiness and personal growth if we embrace the latter attitude.

I don’t have time for myself, so much less for others

New York Times reported on a study done by Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and four psychologists that finds that women perceive the time with their parents being similar to work. Tasks such as helping with the housekeeping or planning family gatherings with their parents are found to be less pleasant for women. Other studies find that modern women experience a sink in their personal happiness due to the increase of tasks they need to manage. (link to the article in the New York Times)

Some of us find time to go to the gym. Others invest time in finding out how to cook healthy food or where should they go in the next holiday. How about investing a tiny bit of time into cleansing our inner lives? Imagine how our lives would be with hardly any consuming thoughts.

As paradoxical as it may sound, it may help a great deal to get more involved in the community of humankind where we signed up when we were born. Being present for others around us means observing life as it happens. At first, it may be challenging because we are too engaged with our daily problems. Even when we don’t have a problem, our mind creates one.

The great news is that learning how to be aware of the people around us can be turned into a habit, just like any other habit. Starting with baby steps may be a wise decision. For example, we can start by learning to become aware of the people we pass by in the street.

A few days ago, something wonderful happened when I was travelling with my baby by bus. A middle-aged woman stopped right in front of us, gave an energising smile and said, “Hello”, to my baby.

He is usually looking at the other passengers with the curiosity of a child. The others do their best at avoiding eye contact, God knows where their thoughts are taking them. This woman not only noticed my baby’s eyes but greeted him with a spontaneous joy. For a few seconds, we stood there smiling at one another, forming a triangle of sunshine.

What happened after this short connection with a stranger? The numbness I felt was replaced by aliveness. My inner world turned into a space of joy and peace.

Our empathy, warmth and affection need training, just like our muscles

Make a baby smile.

Listen to an elderly person in the street.

Make room for spontaneous meetings with friends.

Keep company to your ageing parent when seeing a doctor.

Actions like these are maintaining the aliveness and spaciousness in us. Yes, it is very important to focus on our lives and to achieve our dreams. Yet, the meaningful and happy life is within our reach when we develop the habit of giving and receiving empathy, human warmth and affection.

There is potential for happiness in each one of us with so much creativity and positive energy. If we take some distance from our everyday problems and focus, for a change, on what happens around us, then we’ll find ways of releasing this potential!

 

The Dormant Richness Inside Each One Of Us

Where does happiness come from?

“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”, Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Father of USA.

Most certainly, it is easy to agree with Benjamin Franklin’s view on happiness. We all have our small joys in life, such as watching a TV series or going to an ice-hockey game in the weekend. The problem is that we don’t perceive these small joys as real and long-lasting happiness. Instead, our minds are wired to chase the happiness, which comes from the “good fortune”. And this is how we go through life feeling empty, depressed, miserable, self-disillusioned and bitter.

The hope helps us survive the bottom line. We will be happy when we find love, when we get our dream job, when I get promoted, when we become a mother, when our sexual life gets better, when we are rich, after I divorce, etc. Yet, all these future expectations are beguiling and the very source of unhappiness. For example, if you do become rich, there will always be room for making more money. Therefore, the chase after happiness continues and the present is a struggle. Or, if you do get promoted, you may be disillusioned to realise that it is not bringing as much happiness as you expected.

Are there any chance for us human beings to be happy at certain points in our lifetime?

Research on happiness has flourished in the last ten years, offering to individuals self-help tips on how to find their own happiness. Here are few books, which I consider worthy of mentioning: Sonja Lyubormiski, The Myths of Happiness, and Robert Biswas-Diener and Ed Diener, Unlocking The Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Scientific studies show that we can at least reach happy moods and irrespective of what causes these happy moods, they “lead people to be more productive, more likeable, more active, more healthy, more friendly, more helpful, more resilient, and more creative.” (Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, pp. 265)

Have you ever made this test to observe people from the distance? If you did, I am sure you agree that you can spot the unhappy ones by the way they carry themselves. Especially in the case of us women, the gloomy atmosphere in our minds reflects in our body movements.

Has it ever happened to you to adopt new ways of thinking for few days and think you are finally happy just before you slide back into the old way of viewing the world? Is sustainable happiness but an abstract concept that exists in the work of psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky?

Can we reach a steady level of happiness?

How we relate to happiness differs from one individual to another, depending on our genetical heritage, our childhood and adulthood experiences. However, I strongly believe that we all can find our glimpses of long-lasting happiness by digging out the dusty characteristics which make us human.

Compassion, empathy, love, gratitude, altruism, soul-to-soul connection: they all live in us, the problem is that they have been forgotten. The age of science has brought wonderful advancements into the world at the cost of taking us away from who we really are: human beings.

If we want to be happy, we need to take a good look inside and cultivate the seeds of all these characteristics that make us human. Yes, it hurts when we feel that there is not love in our life. While we are waiting for love, we’d benefit from turning our face and soul towards the people around us and offer them the crumbles of love that there are in us. When we hear about a sick person who needs money for surgery, why not donating few euros from our income? Why not joining a group of people with similar interests?

Life happens now and we fool ourselves if we think we have control over it and we’ll be happy tomorrow. If we can control something, well that something is the humanity in us. The happiness will follow it.

 

Marriage, more than one to one relationship

There is a saying, which says that when you marry a person, you marry the entire family of that person. It made sense to me but I didn’t really know what it actually means. Untill few days ago when I listened to my father in-laws observations regarding what I should do or shouldn’t do as a mother. The more I listened to the written words of advice, the more I felt an increasing pain in my stomach. My breathing became heavier. I looked at my husband as he was informing me about his father’s observations and I had no clue about how to start discussing with him about this sensitive issue. For the first time, I felt it on my own skin that being married is not only about me and my husband. This time it was also about learning how to tango with the in-laws. Other times have been a lesson of waltz with my own parents.

This time I was hurt by his parents and I didn’t know how to react so that I would not hurt my husband. After all, he only had the role of middle man in this whole issue. Being the fiery person that I am, I was afraid that I would say things that I don’t really mean. It goes without saying that when I opened my mouth, I blurted out. Exactly what I was trying to avoid, it actually happened. My husband got sad. The baby started being cranky and I had to take him out for a walk.

The pain that I felt in my stomach was still there. In addition, it extended in my chest. Luckily, the little one fell asleep in his pram. With each step, I took a deep breath and looked at the sky in search of inspiration for a peaceful solution to this family conflict. Then, out of nowhere, Belinda Carlisle’s song, Live Your Life Be Free, started playing in my mind. In a strange way, this song helped me to put myself together. I  remembered I am the best mother for our baby despite what other persons may think or feel about it. I use all my love, creativity, playfulness, and self-awareness that I am capable of in order to raise our baby.

I took few more steps, few more breaths but my soul was restless. Anger was still residing in me. I invoked God’s help, “How do I show my husband that I love him even in moments of conflict?”

Respect him. What else? “Empathy” this word came from the depth of my being. He had nothing to do with his father’s opinions. The culprit was my father in-law. He ignited my anger.

“Put yourself in his shoes”, my inner being suggested. “For few minutes pretend you are your father in-law”. And so I did. In the end, he only wanted to help his child, who is my husband and his grand-child, who is my son. He expressed his point of view, which is only that: a perspective into our life. A point of view on our life, which will be followed by others. I wiped from my mind the points raised this time. I let them be whispers of a wind that blew shortly on our life. My body felt lighter. No more hard feelings, no more anger. I returned home when our baby woke up. My husband and I hugged.

This conflict made me realize that empathy is crucial for my self-control and the amiable management of the family relationships. I found enriching the exercise of imagining I am my father in-laws for few minutes. I am relieved that next time when I look in his eyes, I’ll do it with serenity.

After this experienxe, I got curious on this issue of empathy and family relationships and I did a little bit of research, to the extent that my baby allowed me. I found a book worth taking my time, Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ,by Daniel Goleman. I picked up on one underlying idea that it is human to experience emotions such as anger as long as we express them with self-awareness, self-control and empathy. I loved the quote from Aristotle: “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not easy”. Daniel Goleman uses scientific research into emotions to explore how intelligence can be incorporated into emotions to result in more caring societies. For me as a mother, wife and human being striving for becoming better,I discovered in this book a source of acquired wisdom.