Mastering the Art of Forgiveness
Our Blind Spots
By Dr. Robert Leichtman
Blind spots are those gaps in our awareness, sensitivity, and concerns that allow us to think and act in ways that sabotage our welfare and annoy others. We may even be aware that we are upsetting some peope but assume no responsibility because we see nothing wrong with our actions. We believe the problem is the foolish expectations of others.
The origin of our blind spots arises from the deadly fact that we often fail to be aware of what we do not know but should know. This gap in our knowledge and awareness makes them challenging to detect and often more difficult to correct—even after we are aware of them. It is far too easy to assume that what we don’t know or can’t do is unimportant or unnecessary.
A common blind spot is seen in the person who seems almost immune to criticism or insults. It is not that they lack a conscience. Instead, they are comfortable with a wide range of loud voices, crude language, and intrusive gestures. They have what is called “thick skin” so that very little bothers them. Unfortunately, these types also tend to appear insensitive or even rude to others for the same reason. If they notice they are bothering others, they assume it is because such people are too sensitive, bordering on neurotic.
Blind spots are frequent in the area of manners and social customs. These can be a landmine for many people. However, the more subtle and less recognized blind spots occur in our understanding and values. For instance, many have little knowledge or appreciation of our cultural heritage, spiritual life, or the influence of great archetypal ideas as recorded by influential scholars and religious leaders. Others have a gap in their values respecting our national heritage or the sanctity of life. Some people have no interest in living for something greater than their well-being. They demonstrate all the problems that result from advanced self-absorption.
This knowledge is considered irrelevant by many who blandly assume nothing important happened before their birth and nothing much since. Therefore, they have no context for understanding current issues and social problems. Because of this defect, they often profess amazingly naïve views and ideologies.
Why do we deny our blind spots?
Large groups of people are mystified about why they have annoyed people. The fundamental cause of this irritation is often their assumption that everyone has the same values, interests, and preferences they have—or should have. The convenient but false belief is that others should duplicate our likes and dislikes. Therefore, what we easily tolerate will also be accepted by everyone else. What we find unbearable will offend everyone.
Unfortunately, these assumptions are fatally flawed. Many conflicts arise because of these misunderstandings, and we will tend to be poorly motivated to correct this ignorance. More love and kindness poured on these fundamental misunderstandings will soothe but not solve the primary problem. Wisdom is the key to these odd but very solvable issues.
This additional understanding can begin by deepening our capacity to grasp how other people might think differently from us. They may have diverse perspectives, interests, and priorities. Their focus of concern can be quite unlike ours.
For instance, the top priority for some is to remain peaceful and comfortable. Others insist that being organized, correct, and in control of ourself is most important. Still others want to keep situations and people in an intellectual limbo so they can debate nebulous opinions forever, never resolve issues, or be held responsible for specific standards or goals.
Of course, just because someone objects to what we might believe, say, or do does not mean their ideas should be indulged. Some individuals are overly sensitive and make ridiculous demands. But at least we need to consider the possibility that we have a blind spot or two before resorting to justifying everything we do. It is amazing how many never consider the possibility they might be wrong or just profoundly ignorant in a few areas. They are the ones who remain puzzled about why life is so difficult and relationships so stressful.
Recognizing our blind spots
Significant differences exist between those who cling to their usual feelings and habits and those who continually aspire to better understanding and behaviors. The first will prioritize defending their current practices and ignoring their weaknesses. They will go on to perfect their reasons for doing so, including how they can be sure those who disapprove of them are merely neurotic, ignorant, or bigoted.
The second group that seeks self-improvement is more comfortable with the concept that they need to change in many ways. They can accept the need to grow, find new lessons and meaning in old experiences, and seek fresh insights into their personality and lifestyle. They will learn from the example of those more graceful and sensitive.
Eventually, pragmatism and conscience will call all reasonable people to attend to their self-doubts and patterns of distress and failure. How well we recognize our need for improvements will determine how much we learn from our experiences. Those who choose to strengthen their ability to assert themselves and defend their beliefs will be able to ignore what could be embarrassing. But those who remain sensitive, curious, and accountable will add to their knowledge and skills instead of defending the status quo. Awareness of our need to grow, instead of always protecting our current mindset, is essential to our ability to make the most of our experiences.
A shortlist of common and troublesome blind spots
Blind spots can interfere with our effort to master forgiveness. Here are examples of how we unwittingly preserve our grievances.
- We do not recognize the damage we inflict on our relationships because of our insensitivities, arrogance, demand for entitlement, and other poor habits. When others complain about our rudeness or insensitivity, we easily accuse them of the same and view ourselves as innocent.
- We often interfere with our progress by failing to recognize how often our apathy and pessimism sabotage our success. Sometimes we give up our efforts too soon. Other times, we never engage good opportunities because of our impatience, petty dislikes, and insensitivity. Overall, we blame outer circumstances when we should be concentrating on improving our poor attitudes and dysfunctional beliefs.
- We have cultivated a protective shell of cynicism and stubbornness that repels people and situations that could have been helpful to us. Too many chips on our shoulders are interfering with our chances of succeeding. While we insist on blaming others for their lack of assistance, we may be the one who is refusing to trust and cooperate with specific people.
- We have substituted a tepid and sterile intellectual forgiveness for the genuine article. Our heartfelt compassion and understanding were missing from what we offered. We assume that a polite, nice set of words are sufficient. Instead of eradicating the roots of our anger, we have merely pruned a few poisonous leaves. Our unforgiven enemies and grievances still dwell within us, but now they are wrapped in graceful platitudes.
- We replaced our overt anger with indifference, outlawing any attention to old enemies now embedded in the amber of our hostility. We have forbidden ourselves to remember them except as irrelevant and unimportant. These activities only push our unresolved conflicts into the unconscious, where they continue to simmer and spread a generalized agitation throughout our personality.
- We assume that anger is supposed to expire like a coupon for a free car wash. However, it is dangerous to believe that memories become irrelevant simply because they are old. In real life, our monetary debts do not automatically disappear as they age, nor do old fears, humiliations, or resentments. Our efforts to whitewash mistakes may seem successful, but eventually, the darkness of our deeds begins to reappear, demanding our honest attention.
- We have confused self-pity for self-forgiveness. The effort to console ourselves can be healthy, but we must not confuse mourning our losses as the equivalent of forgiveness. We need fresh insights, attitudes, and redemptive behavior to qualify for authentic forgiveness.
- We decided that our grievances were just too much, so we gave our enemies and severe hardships to God to forgive. We have declared that this is as much as any wounded human can do. Thus, we leave it to God to fix while retreating into pious contentment. Of course, our suffering can be so overwhelming that we throw ourselves at God’s mercy, but our helplessness is never total. There is more we can do to resolve these old grievances.
- We assume that our absence of outrage means we have healed our resentments and do not need to be forgiving. Yet, if we have no warmth or compassion for others after our “forgiveness,” we probably are only in a state of hostile indifference, and forgiveness is still needed.
- We assume some people are sub-human and boorish. Their barbarian nature makes them unable to grasp proper ethics or conduct. They will neither understand nor need forgiveness as they cannot appreciate it. But even bad people will treat their dog (a genuine subhuman lifeform) better than this. We need to do at least as well with people who disgust us.
- We assume the devastation or death of our enemies is sufficient punishment for them. These events should absolve us from any need to forgive them. However, our comfort in knowing old enemies have been destroyed suggests that we feel we have been avenged. The wounds of humiliation and scars of suffering may yet linger, awaiting our eventual forgiveness.
What to do about our self-deception and lack of sensitivity?
Trying to feel how others perceive us will not solve the issues of blind spots, but it can be a first step toward abolishing them. We must turn on our imagination and intuition to explore how those with totally different perspectives and values might regard us.
It is important to remember that many habits that become the blind spots that sabotage us are not primarily the result of ignorance and inattention. They are mainly due to our brilliant capacity for clever, self-serving excuses that rationalize our clumsy behavior into innocent acts. Many find it incredibly easy to listen to their emotions (especially self-serving reassurances) that guide their judgments and decisions. If we are comfortable letting our reason function in this manner, we will frequently excuse hostile attitudes and behavior, and our blind spots will remain.
However, we will eventually be required to recognize where we need to revise these types of behavior. These are the occasions when honest self-examination can prepare us for crucial healing changes. Guided by our fresh insights, we can work out the necessary repairs and growth.
Our acts of honest self-examination will become our most powerful tool for these changes, especially when followed by appropriate reforms.
There are many mysteries in life, but one of the greatest is how to understand what we do not know but should. Without a significant question in mind and a burning curiosity to compel us to search for better answers, we are unlikely to solve these mysteries.
Discovering our minor lapses of behavior and judgments will be difficult until they begin to produce consequences that command our attention. At this point, our concerns will take a more critical and honest examination of our beliefs and behavior. If we expose just one blind spot, we might suspect that there are more. We are then off to another round of finding new insights about ourselves and where we need more revisions for our beliefs and attitudes.
Many types of habits may have worn out their usefulness and are now sabotaging our welfare. We need to admit the annoying truth about this and begin the revisions to our mindset. Nowhere is this more important than recognizing when we have been undermining our relationships and nascent success by behaviors that seem innocuous but are destructive to our well-being and annoying others.
- The fact that what we don’t know can be a massive problem for us is poorly recognized by many. We must approach adult life with much more curiosity than we had as a child. There is always more to learn to help us become more skillful, productive, and fulfilled. Our cup of knowledge and abilities can never be filled to the top.
- Because we are clever, we can invent comfortable and self-serving excuses for our odd habits and quirks. The downside of this tendency is the ease at which we can blind ourselves to the actual impact of our beliefs and behavior. What we prefer to judge as adequate may be horribly destructive to our best interests or others. This is the genesis of various blind spots in our awareness and judgment.
- Being too content with the results of our comfort zone activities can dull us to any perception of fault. Our delight in what we do can eclipse any notice of the mistakes we are making in our attitudes and behavior.
- Our ego is happy to regard almost all criticism and objections by others as petty and excessive. While we can write off these opinions this way, we will also risk missing some needed feedback unless we consider there might be a spark of truth in them.
- The terrifying thought that we might be wrong can paralyze our ability to study our beliefs, priorities, and habits carefully. We need to realize we can ignore that we are embarrassing ourselves or stop doing it. There is usually less grief involved in the effort to fix our blind spots and be done with them.
- Is it possible that you are rejecting minor criticisms and suggestions as absurd when they actually have several grains of truth in them? Self-confidence is terrific, but it can also deflect the occasional truth that we need to know.
- Beware that nesting in our comfort zone can blind us to how others view us, not just our manners but also our intelligence and judgment. Occasionally, we need to wonder how others regard us. We may be displaying some habits that undermine our overall success.
- Explore how other people might be comfortable and successful living with very different values, priorities, and expectations. Our responsibility is to adjust our thinking and attitudes to achieve compatibility with them. This does not mean we must support all their beliefs, but we do need to respect them as a necessary ingredient for cooperating with them.
Think on these things
Chapter Seventeen Mastering the Art of Forgiveness WHAT TO DO WHEN FORGIVENESS SEEMS TOO DIFFICULT By Dr. Robert Leichtman Listen to this course The work