The other day I was talking with my 7-year-old daughter Selma about kids at school and bullies, etc. She had been very upset a few weeks prior to that because she was picked on at recess by some of her classmates because she couldn’t pronounce the Arabic letter ‘kh’ properly. She came home crying and we spoke to the teacher and the matter was resolved. Or at least I thought it was. Later I realised that she would still get upset when she thinks about it. So I thought I would try and teach her a new life skill which I only learnt last week!
My conversation with Selma
This is kind of how our conversation went:
Me: Selma, imagine that somebody passes you in school and bumps into you painfully, then runs off. And you can’t find him. What would you do?”
Selma: I would shout at him
Me: But he ran off!
Selma: I would run after him and yell at him
Me: you might not find him
Selma: I could tell my cousin Khaloody to find him and yell at him or I could wait until I see him again and then tell him not to do that again
Me: what else can you do?
Selma: I could tell the teacher what happened
Me: But you don’t know his name or his grade, so that might not help
Selma: I would probably cry
Me: Do you think these are the only options you have in that situation?
Selma: mmmm, i think so (?)
Me: What about forgiving him? Do you know what it means to forgive?
And that’s how we started a long conversation about forgiveness. The most important life skill that NOBODY teaches you.
Sweet sweet forgiveness
If you read as many self-improvement book as I do, you’ll understand the importance of forgiveness for personal growth. The basic theory everywhere is that the more you forgive the happier (and healthier) you’ll be.
And that theory is of course is part of all religions, including Islam.
But did anyone ever teach you HOW to forgive?
How do you forgive someone when they’ve violated you? How do you forgive another person who has stolen from you, lied to you, or killed a relative of yours. How do you forgive a parent who has abused you, a business partner who stabbed you in the back, or a spouse who had an affair?
We all know it’s great to forgive, and we all hear stories of great people who did it, including stories of our beloved prophet Mohammed who never slept upset at anyone…
But HOW DO YOU DO IT? I was dying to find out.
Last month, I was watching TV at home and the answer came to me.
There was a programme on Jazeera Documentary channel about a professor in the US who runs forgiveness classes at a university in California. The documentary also showed some schools in the US where they teach forgiveness to children. WOW! That’s when it occurred to me that forgiveness is never really a tool that we give our kids. And that’s what sparked my conversation with Selma…
The book that changed my life
I wanted to learn to forgive too! So after the programme, I went to amazon and searched for a book that can teach me how to forgive. This book is the reason I’m writing this blog. It completely changed the way I look at things. It actually taught me, step-by-step, how to forgive others even if they have been unfair to me. It is a priceless life skill that I am still sharpening as I go along.
This book is called FORGIVE FOR GOOD, by Dr. Fred Luskin. Dr. Luskin is the cofounder and director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project. I have utmost respect and admiration for this man. You can find out more about him on his website http://learningtoforgive.com.
So how do you forgive anyway?
There’s no way that I can explain it as well as he did in the book, but I’ll tell you about the things that made a difference to me.
The basic theory is that we are going about life with our own set of ‘unenforceable rules’. If you want to know what that is imagine a police officer sitting in his car by the side of the highway. He sees a car speeding past him. So he turns on his car to follow it but his car won’t work! So he gets really frustrated. While he’s trying his car again, another car speeds past him. He gets even more annoyed. He is trying to enforce his no-speeding rules but he can’t. So he decides to write violations for these people anyway although he can’t do much with them. For the next hour, he writes quite a few violations. These violation tickets will then either stay in his car or his pocket. Either way, they will have to occupy space from his surroundings and take up valuable space. Soon, their accumulation becomes a nuisance.
This is the analogy that Dr. Luskin uses to show us how each of us has his own set of ‘rules’ that we’re trying to apply to others, but when other people don’t stick to these rules, we write out tickets (by getting upset) and these tickets stay with us like unnecessary baggage. For example, if you don’t like people to be late, everytime someone is late, you get upset and you write a ticket in your head. All those useless tickets stay with you and cause you physical and mental damage in the long-run.
If you don’t believe me, try just paying attention to the ‘unenforceable rules’ that you have. Spend the day just noting how many times you get upset:
– when someone overtakes you on the road
– when your teenager comes home late although you told them to be on time
– when your wife is on the phone when you come home although you told her you don’t like that
– when your kids’ school teacher decides to punish the whole class for something only one kid did
– when your car breaks down although it just came back from the garage
– when your clients complain about your prices
– when your parents tell you that your parenting skills are not that great
And the list goes on….
The point is that these are YOUR rules and you will wear yourself out trying to apply them to the people around you. Each person is different and they will probably have their own set of ‘unenforceable rules’ that they’re struggling to implement every day.
Let me give you an example. Imagine you invited a friend out several times but that friend has ignored you (for whatever reason). Your unenforceable rule is that ‘it’s rude to ignore invitations’ so you get upset and keep that ticket with you because you can’t do anything about it. A week later that friend calls to apologise but you are too upset to answer so you hang up on that friend which makes you momentarily satisfied but brings up your anger all over again. Now that friend has an unenforceable rule that ‘it’s not nice to hang up on people’. So they go off and write you a ticket in their head and simmer in their anger. The problem is that these are two individual people who have their own set of rules and principles and each is trying to get the other to see their perspective. And in the end nobody wins. In the meantime, they continued to get upset over something that they had no control over. Their anger was affecting their health every minute.
Why shouldn’t you hold a grudge?
There’s a great quote that I read once and I forgot who said it. It says, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”
Research has shown that anger cripples health. A study mentioned in Dr. Luskin’s book shows that simply thinking of something that makes you angry for five minutes could depress heart rate variability and immune response. For angry subjects in this study, their immunity was diminished for 4-6 hours after their angry episode.
What is forgiveness?
According to Dr. Luskin, Forgiveness is the ability to live life without taking offense, without giving blame when hurt, and by telling stories that reflect peace and understanding. It is a choice that can be practiced in a host of situations.
Is your case ‘unforgiveable’?
If you think you are different because what was done to you is not forgiveable, think again.
This book will show you how:
- There is nothing that you cannot forgive
- Forgiveness does not mean that you forget it happened or that you condone the act
- Forgiveness means that you chose to not let that circumstance or person affect your life or your health.
- The downside of staying angry is that they keep us connected in a powerless way with the people who have hurt us.
- When you forgive you take charge of your own emotions and your own life and you become the main character and the hero in the story you tell.
- Forgiveness helps us stop wasting our time trying to change people who do not want to change.
- Forgiveness allows us to manage the effect of other people’s hurtful actions in our lives.
- The forgiveness steps in this book can even help people who’ve lost a family member to murder, rape victims, and spouses who went through ugly divorces. They can also help you manage your day-to-day anger and become a forgiving person who is not affected by anything!
4 Stages of Becoming a Forgiving Person
A great way to see this is through Dr. Luskin’s 4 Stages of Becoming a Forgiving Person.
Most people are in stage 1 or 2. My aim is to reach stage 4!
Stage 1 – people at stage one experience a loss in their life, feel angry or hurt, and tend to justify their negative emotions.
Stage 2 – At stage two, after feeling upset with someone for a while we realise that our hurt and anger do not feel good. We begin to see the consequences of our grievance on our happiness and wellbeing.
Stage 3 – at this stage, we are in control. We are aware that the length of time we experience a situation as a grievance is primarily up to us.
Stage 4 – At this stage you become a forgiving person. This stage comes as you make the decision to forgive first and let many troubling things go. You become resistant to taking offense. You take total responsibility for how you feel.
Wanna learn how to forgive?
You have several options
I would recommend that you first start by taking note of all the ‘unenforceable rules’ that you’re trying to apply to the people around you. Stop applying YOUR rules to others. You cannot change people who don’t want to change, and you’ll only upset yourself in the process.
Then you should remember that your life is like a TV screen. There are many channels that you can watch, so you don’t have to stay on the ‘my husband cheated on me’ channel or the ‘my parents were unfair’ channel. Even if you’re very upset, the sun will still rise every morning and it will still be a beautiful sunrise. So switch the channel!
Most importantly, start noticing what you have and be grateful for it. A gratitude list is always a great reminder. Click here to read more on gratitude.
There are a lot more things you can do. Dr. Luskin has a step-by-step programme that is AMAZING!
I strongly recommend you get the book – Forgive for Good
by Dr. Fred Luskin. And once you’re done with it, pass it down to your loved ones.
If you want a quick guide to how to forgive (although I highly recommend you read the book as well), go to his website http://learningtoforgive.com and see his 9 steps to forgiveness.
Must see this
In the end, I will leave you with these great forgiveness quotes that I found in the book:
“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontation still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.” Frederick Buechner
“Good nature and good sense must ever join. To err is human, to forgive, divine.” Alexander Pope
Click here to listen to my interview with the author on DARE TO BE HEALTHY radio
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