Forgiveness, Confucius and JFK

Anger. It happens. You don’t want to get angry, you don’t want to lose your cool, your peace, your “chi” – yet, someone or something catches you by surprise and you can’t help it. You get angry, furious, ballistic, savage, vehement and then some.

But this is not about that moment. The hard part comes much later, after you cooled off, after the introspection and the re-winding of the mental tape. In some cases (hopefully most – if not all), the anger’s gone.

You can’t even exactly remember how or why you got angry in the first place – and that’s easy. So, this is not about that moment, either.

This is about the case of persistent anger- that slow boiling torrent of steaming fury that refuses to go. The reasons are irrelevant. You can’t forget, you can’t forgive, and you don’t even want to. “To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it?” You know the Confucian quote, the theory, the research and yet you can’t let go.

You know where this is going, right? The antithesis: Forgiveness and mercy, the opposite of spite, vengeance, hard-heartedness, and mercilessness.

Dr. Christopher Peterson, from the University of Michigan, writes in his analysis of VIA: “…Perhaps it is useful to realize that forgiveness is not a favor to the other person but a gift to ourselves. It takes an emotional burden off our shoulders. Forgiveness liberates us from the past, although it need not entail forgetting what has happened…”

Sometimes anger is useful. It reminds us to be vigilant, attentive, introspective and stronger through the experience as we survive the hurt and grow through it all. It teaches us more about ourselves, and how we react to others offering invaluable lessons in endurance. But then, you have to let go, transform the anger, conquer it, and rejoice in the conquest of those who have made you angry – because though the process, your process, you will win.

In the end, you may choose to remember JFK’s eerily prophetic words:  “Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.”

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