Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Forgiveness in Personal and Public Discourse.

"Civility Is Not a Sign of Weakness."  John F. Kennedy.

I meet monthly with a group of judges and lawyers for breakfast in a group known as "Daniel's Inn".  We sit in a local Coco's, order from a menu we now know by heart, and spend about an hour discussing the stresses of our profession from a spiritual perspective.  Our motto is "You Are Not Alone".   Because we are Christian lawyers, we understand that we are not alone because God is with us, and we have one another as a community of believers.

This morning's topic was generally how do we deal with the stress of often  antagonistic differences we have with those who do not see the world as we do.  There is no single answer we are given from these meetings.  It is a time of dialogue and exploration.  We share our personal stories of events that illustrate our own struggles, victories, and failings.  Over the years, the value of a "good meeting" I find is whether I continue to think about the issues after the meeting is over.  Then there is a possibility of new insight and change.

My reflections from this morning lead me to observe how relational I am.  I am wired for relations, and my physical, emotional, and mental health are all greatly influenced by how successfully I am connecting to other people.  My connections, business and personal,  can be so different than I in outlook, culture, values, dreams, interests, and personality.

These persons are the agents of my growth and happiness, just as I am for them.  The result of this "wiring for relationship" is that if my relationships are filled with anger, frustration, deprivation, insult, tension, or exhaustion, my physical health itself will ultimately collapse.  That is why so many of my clients come to me after a period of hostility at work with high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and anger.  Just as often, after months away from the distressing environment, they express relief to be away, despite the new stresses of unemployment.

I'm tempted now to flippantly ask:  "Can't we all just get along?"  The answer of course is no.  There inevitably will be conflict, hurt, and injustice in our relationships at work.  We experience the same dilemma even in our homes as we desperately need and yet do not receive the close, intimate connection we need from family members.  The challenge is to embrace the reality that relationships don't always function at the level of the ideal.  Then we can begin to work with the reality to improve those relationships.

The topic this morning at Daniel's Inn was "forgiveness."  I came to see, as I drove to my office this morning reflecting on the topic, that forgiveness is part of the process of "embracing the reality" of inevitable tensions in our relationships.  We fail one another.  We fail ourselves.  Everyday, we fail, falling short of being the "perfect" persons most of us strive to be.  Clients lie to me.  Judges operate from cynicism and bias.  Opposing counsel plays games, and obstructs legitimate discovery.  The court's research attorney misconstrues the law.  I fail to be as aggressive or foresightful as I need to be in a case. Morality means something completely different to one generation than to another.   We fail as surely as we breathe.  It is the human condition.

I saw today that forgiveness is the lubricant by which failing people are able to move past their failures to create better relationships.  Forgiveness is not agreement.  Forgiveness is not forgetfulness.  Forgiveness is not lack of self-protection.  Forgiveness, I think, is born out of two characteristics:  compassion and humility.  Compassion, because we see that "hurt people hurt people" and humility because we do not put ourselves in the position of God to condemn other people,  We can be humble because we can look at how we ourselves fail so often.

When we forgive, we give up vindication and hatred, we release resentment, and we open up a space in the relationship for reconciliation and peace.  The result may be that we experience better physical, emotional and spiritual health.  We discover that our resentment has "been a poison we drank, expecting the other person to die."  

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