I was reading a wonderful book this week (The Artful Garden by James Van Sweden and Tom Christopher) and found it a surprising source of inspiration not only about gardening but about life and particularly the subject of goals. In the book, the authors profile …
Tag: change strategies
I was honored to be contacted recently by a publicist for producer Helen Whitney asking if I would be willing to review her latest book, Forgiveness: A Time to Love & A Time to Hate, and get the word out about her PBS documentary of the same name airing in April. The subject was a perfect fit for this month’s Ruly theme of change. Forgiveness is one of the most powerful and the most difficult changes. Forgiveness, or its counterpart, the unwillingness to forgive, can dramatically alter the course of our lives.
I am an enormous fan of PBS as well as Helen Whitney’s prior work—most recently her highly acclaimed documentary “The Mormons.” Whitney has spent much of her filmmaking career producing documentaries on various religious subjects, including “Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero,” Pope John Paul II, and life in a Trappist monastery. Despite her enthusiasm for the subject of the “spiritual landscape,” she approached her latest project with some reluctance.
“Given my intense engagement with spiritual themes, the subject was a perfect fit but it was also perfectly wrong. It was everything I had vowed not to do at this point in my life. . . . Forgiveness was vast, shapeless, emotionally and psychologically scarier than any of my earlier films. The intellectual and geographical boundaries seemed infinite.”
–Helen Whitney, Forgiveness
After two years of research and over eight hundred interviews around the world, Whitney created the film and book that ask us to begin a complex conversation on a subject that has no defined answers. While your initial expectation may be that this is going to be a sugary sweet film about how we should all forgive each other, you are in for a surprise. Whitney takes the conversation in several directions. There are, of course, incredible stories of forgiveness by grievously wronged victims. But there are also challenges to the whole notion of forgiveness. Are there some things that are unforgivable? Are there times that it is more appropriate to hold on to anger than to forgive?
As I thought through these questions myself in the context of the many personal stories in Whitney’s book, one of the most piercing insights I received was that until a person has gone through an event so traumatic that it requires an incredible, nearly impossible, act of forgiveness to overcome, one doesn’t really know one’s capacity for forgiveness (or one’s limitations). It is one thing to solve some minor grievance with a glib “forgive and forget” but entirely different to go about the process of recovery from adultery, crime, death or torture. It was also insightful for me to learn that although forgiveness is a central tenet of every major religion, there are significant differences among religions about how forgiveness is granted and who grants it.
The book is divided into two parts: the private realm and the public realm. The private realm section addresses personal stories of forgiveness, covering varied topics including infidelity, termination of employment, and criminal acts. In the public realm section, the focus shifts to public apologies and the healing process required to rebuild nations, using examples such as South Africa’s healing from apartheid and Rwanda’s healing from genocide. Given the transformations occurring in many countries, particularly in the Middle East, the topic could not be more timely.
The book has a very interesting writing style that I have never encountered before. It reads like a documentary film. Most of the text is comprised of long quotations from her worldly and eloquent interview subjects with just a few bits of narration and commentary in between. The quotes are all seamlessly woven together so that you have to stop and check every once in a while to confirm who is speaking. The effect is a highly personal conversational flow.
To whet your appetite for reading the book and watching the series, I wanted to highlight some of the most thought provoking quotes from the book:
“[F]orgiveness is the memory of lost possibilities, the enormous presence of absence, an ache for what could have been but is no more.”
–Helen Whitney, Forgiveness
“In my years working as a psychotherapist and a psychoanalyst, I’ve learned that you can’t simply say, ‘I forgive you’ and the heavens open up. It’s a slow and often painful process. To get to forgiveness, you have to first go through unforgiveness. It involves understanding the unconscious roots of a problem and that reasons you hold on to a grievance or to resentments, bitterness and hatred.”
–Dr. Glen Gabbard, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“There’s juice in not forgiving. I wanted to be angry. I needed to be angry and unforgiving and I held on to it. “
–Deb Lyman, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“[T]here is never complete forgiveness, there is always an awareness of what happened.”
–Dr. Janet Reibstein, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness.
“[W]e had to discover that it wasn’t about fixing what was broken [about going back to how things were before], rather it was about changing it into something else, something new, and then finding new ways of relating.”
–David Long, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“[F]orgiveness is not always possible or appropriate and . . . the anger used to energize and seek justice can be as transformative and liberating to the human spirit as forgiveness.”
–Helen Whitney, Forgiveness
“Forgiveness had rendered me inactive for many years, because this tremendously detrimental cheap grace I had granted . . . left me powerless, with an inability to acknowledge my anger and allowing injustice to continue. . . . If I’d remained that place of easy forgiveness the truth would never have emerged.”
–Terri Jentz, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“For someone who feels dogged by emotional pain or humiliation, anger makes them feel alive . . . If they feel unable to influence the course of their own destiny, anger can often create the illusion of control.”
–Lesley Karsten DiNicola, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“Unless we can find something else the affirms the value of our life, the past events will always haunt us. . . . [T]he loss of a sense of value is like death.”
–Helen Whitney, Forgiveness
“Pain doesn’t just go away, anger doesn’t just disappear. It comes up in different ways, at different times. Maybe there’s a temporary forgiveness or temporary understanding that we come to, and then it flitters away and we have to chase after it again. But it’s a pretty good place to get to when you can say, ‘I do understand. I have compassion for what you did . . .’ “
–Dan Glick, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“[T]he past did happen. . . . I am aware of that. It’s just that I was no longer defined by it. I think this what we mean when we say that someone has paid their debt. It means that we are no longer defining them by one moment in their life and its consequences.”
–Kathy Power, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“Forgiveness is an awkward term for me. It gives too much power to the forgiver, and it requires too much humility on the part of the person being forgiven. I like to think of humanizing a relationship, of discovering humanity in another on the basis of a shared sense of what’s right and wrong, a sense of connection that enables us both to move forward in a liberated way.”
–Albie Sachs, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“Sometimes we can genuinely forgive. Certainly, as time passes, most of us have less need to think about the harm, to obsess about it, or to feel the hurt; we can move on, time does do that. But it doesn’t necessarily take it all away. One of the hopes is that forgiveness will short-circuit the process and make it possible to do it in less time. Maybe sometimes it does. But maybe we’re only fooling ourselves.”
–Walter Reich, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
“Getting rid of your anger is like giving away a part of yourself. When your anger lives in you, slowly it melts into your blood and your emotions, it shapes how you think about people, about life, and so relinquishing it is like losing a part of your body, your character, a part of who you are. You have come to feel that it’s your right to hate. Giving it up means you lose your cutting edge, you become vulnerable, and feel like a victim again.”
–Antoine Rutayisire, quoted in Helen Whitney’s Forgiveness
Helen Whitney’s work is fascinating on many levels. Clearly, if you need to forgive or are seeking forgiveness, its insight will embolden you. It will challenge your own views on the subject and require you to examine your fundamental concept of human nature. The work is a wonderful starting point for a book club discussion or religious class. Even if you aren’t looking at the grand spiritual plain and you just enjoy a compelling story and the human response to extreme situations, Forgiveness will not disappoint.
Below is the trailer for the film airing in two parts on PBS Sunday, April 17 and Sunday April 24 at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. Likely, it will also be available for viewing online at pbs.org for a limited time as well.
As I was preparing for this post, coincidentally, I glanced at the wall calendar we use for scheduling family appointments and found that the featured quotation this month was from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the subject of forgiveness.
“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.”
–Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
While Martin Luther King Jr. was not mentioned in Helen Whitney’s book, clearly forgiveness has played a crucial role in all of our lives and its themes are woven in our histories and our future.
How has forgiveness impacted your life? Will you be tuning in to watch Forgiveness? Please share in the comments.
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