EVA, THE ELEPHANT, AND EMPATHY
I wrote in the last post about Eva Mozes Kor, the survivor of the Twin Experiments carried on in Auschwitz by Mengele and others.
For many decades she has been on a mission to inform the worldwide public that the Holocaust (as it is presently defined) really did happen; and that Forgiveness, she discovered unexpectedly, is not only possible, but it is the key to a healthy personal life and a healthy, peaceful society.
Her organization is called CANDLES — an acronym for . . . I’ll have to look that up again. *
Based on comments I’ve received, I need to follow up on two issues with Forgiveness.
The first point that Eva drove home in the lecture I heard from her is that Forgiveness is not the same as “forgetting.” Forgiveness does not mean you have to try to Forget.
We are all probably familiar with the saying “an elephant never forgets.” But, you know, that doesn’t quite say what Eva Kor was saying. Perhaps it’s true that an elephant has a long memory, but this is a biological, instinctive ability that keeps the elephant safe.
The better saying would be: “an elephant doesn’t forget.” He just doesn’t, and neither do we.
Unless there is some pathology in our brain, most events stay in our memory somewhere, but especially events with strong emotional effect on us stay most acutely in our memory — and even with the ability to bring back all the emotions that we initially had.
And that became part of Eva’s lectures after she learned what effect Forgiveness had on her. She didn’t forgive her former tormenter and torturer for the effect it would have on her, but she experienced an unexpected and profound freedom after her simple, dutiful act of Forgiveness.
And then she found that her sincere and fruitful act of Forgiveness did not result in Forgetting!
However, underlying all this is: What is Forgiveness itself?
This quote from Eva printed in her brochure connects Forgiveness with the emotion of anger. She seems to say that anger is the opposite of Forgiveness — and has the opposite results.
That’s a start. Hold on to your anger, and it will be hard or impossible to forgive. The two are incompatible.
Here is a definition of Forgiveness from a (secular) psychologist: “Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky calls forgiveness a shift in thinking toward someone who has wronged you, such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased.”
So, let go of your anger, and let go of your desire for revenge.
Letting go starts with Lessening.
And: “When you forgive someone who has deeply hurt you, you let go of resentment and the urge to seek revenge, no matter how deserving of these things the wrongdoer may be.”
The person who wronged you is a “wrong-doer.” And he deserves . . . something, if you believe in justice. But let go of the need to see justice done — in most cases justice won’t be done! So you feel resentful. Let go of that too.
Remember: Letting go starts with lessening the feeling, Lessening it some more. Lessening it until you are just letting go. That’s the process; and in that process you are changing.
Perhaps you are becoming an elephant. Noble animal.
I’ve done a bit of reading to learn the definition of forgiveness, but it seems to be a very large word, and it’s probably not helpful to present a single-sentence definition that covers it all. But here is a quote that describes what I have taught others from time to time —
I was teaching an eighth grade class of farm kids once — big, strong, muscular, assertive, aggressive, tetosterone-filled farm boys. And their favorite sport was bullying the smaller boys in the class at lunch time. I felt like a very, very small person next to them, but I was their teacher. Teaching, lecturing, scolding, warning didn’t help.
But the one single statement that I made that did seem to help was this: (stop throwing punches) because you never know what dragons your victim is already fighting.
Huh? (They all said.)
When I explained that people act weak or mean or stupid or incapable or aggressively overcapable or they feel they have to bully others — that is a sign that there is something in their private, internal lives that they are fighting, and it’s always with them. I’ve written about these boys before. They all came from difficult home situations. All the big boys understood what it was like to have to face the Dragons at home. (Nothing like seeing a hulking six-foot tall strong farm kid look like he’s about to start crying.)
— Oh, the quote: “Keep in mind, hurting people often hurt other people as a result of their own pain. If somebody is rude and inconsiderate, you can almost be certain that they have some unresolved issues inside. They have some major problems, anger, resentment, or some heartache they are trying to cope with or overcome. The last thing they need is for you to make matters worse by responding angrily.”
So empathy is an element in making Forgiveness possible.
So – sorry – I have no helpful definition of Forgiveness for you. I think the definition of Forgiveness that will work for you is the one that you develop. I’m doing that too; it’s a process.
What I have found helpful is reading what some people have said about Forgiveness. I’ll share some with you, and I’ll put the best one first. At first I thought it was silly and sentimental, but then I liked the image — and then, I got it.
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.”
― Mark Twain
“Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat….. — William Paul Young
“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” ― Oscar Wilde
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” — Nelson Mandela
“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” ― John F. Kennedy (I don’t think this is as vengeful as it seems; like the elephant who knows this world is a hurtful, dangerous place, forgiving doesn’t mean keep on making yourself be a target. Know your enemies. As St. Paul said: “As far as possible live at peace with all men.” As far as possible.)
And here is a English Christian gentleman:
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” ― C.S. Lewis
Many more insightful quotes exist! But that’s your work to do. that’s part of your process.
* “CANDLES” is an acronym for Children of Auschwitz Nazi Deadly Lab Experiments Survivors.