Mastering the Art of Forgiveness
COPING WITH OUR CRITICAL NATURE
By Dr. Robert Leichtman
Finding something to criticize is easy, for we live in an imperfect world where flaws and defects are common. Thus, there is a constant lure to spend too much time being critical and condemning what we dislike. How we manage this ongoing challenge will directly impact the quality of our life and how well we master the art of forgiveness.
Those who often engage in complaining and criticizing assume this is a natural consequence of being an intelligent and sensitive person. Defects and flaws in everything are quickly spotted and judged to be inferior. When individuals are confronted about their tendencies to be too critical, they easily justify themselves by pointing to these specific deficiencies and failures as too obvious to ignore.
The capacity to be discerning in our observations and intelligent in our ability to evaluate them is essential to mature living. Being insensitive or indifferent would be regressive. However, excessive criticism can cause considerable imbalances in our mindset and quality of life. And thus, we see individuals who fail to recognize that they have become obsessed with what they regard as wrong or defective. The list of what they disapprove of can grow to include almost everything they view—people, situations, society, and, of course, themselves. Whatever has value or merit tends to drown in this ocean of criticism they bathe in daily. Pessimism and cynicism become their constant companions as they slowly alienate themselves from much of society and the higher life.
These individuals often spend more time concerned about what is wrong than what is right. Consequently, they develop a severe imbalance in their judgment about their experiences and other people. The tendency to criticize too much generates a continual mood of discontent. This dark focus of attention can displace the interest we should have in the value of many situations and people who provide valuable services and support despite their flaws.
If we are to master forgiveness, we must understand that our ability to criticize is the most common way we create negative judgments and begin adding to our storehouse of anger. If the work of forgiveness is to proceed, we must be acutely aware of how we often quietly contribute to our problem.
This misdirection does not mean we must give up our critical faculties and never find fault with anything. It only means we must find a better way to show our concern when essential improvements are needed instead of more criticism. Condemnation and negative judgments rarely contribute to this constructive change.
What type of healthy mindset helps us cope with imperfection?
People can respond to flaws and imperfections in several ways. Some see them as challenges to overcome or to live with gracefully if they cannot be modified. Others quickly assume they are stuck with what they dislike and retreat into discouragement or disgust. Many, however, occupy themselves with copious amounts of criticism in the distant hope that enough complaining will eventually force others to improve conditions and their behavior.
Our faculties for critical thinking are a mixed blessing. When we apply our critical faculties to analyze facts and events, they help us discover the subtleties, value, and meaning of what we study. However, when we use criticism to gloat over the faults of people and situations and boost our ego, we generate a different result. We will be creating mindfulness of multiple annoyances and irritations until we make forgiveness difficult to impossible.
Many are compelled to live and work in stressful situations. They are forced to cope with much that is flawed and dysfunctional. Fortunately, several skills can help us maintain our psychological balance and productivity in an imperfect world. The core of them consists of these qualities and skills.
- Knowing as much about what is good as what is bad.
- Being aware of good potentials that are evolving as we observe.
- Noticing the long-term consequences of wrong behavior.
- Awareness of the dynamic karmic order and plan for all life.
- Mindfulness of how we overcame problems in our youth.
Knowing as much about what is good as what is bad
Some individuals have little idea of what is correct and acceptable. They only know what they do not like. If asked about what they prefer, they often respond with a firm “well, not that” and again describe what they do not want. If we truly want to reform our situation or the world, we will need to focus on constructive ideas about what can be done to promote improvements for the circumstances we view as defective.
Giving more consideration to what is right than what is wrong has immense practical significance. People often erroneously assume any effort to attack and eliminate illness automatically creates health for the mind and body.
But this is not true. Eliminating anger could easily lead to emptiness and depression instead of peace. Removing a malignant tumor might leave untouched the chronic irritation and despair that was the issue behind the development of the cancer.
If fighting depression is all we do, we may be left in despair, but learning to love and enjoy life can build a cheerful outlook and mood. Attacking chronic fatigue may achieve little, but increasing the vigor of our body and mind can improve our overall health.
The fundamental principle here is that our health is far more than the absence of illness. Likewise, a healthy lifestyle is more than the absence of problems. And a healthy society is more than the absence of poverty, racism, or crime. It is essential to know what is right and engage in supporting whatever is constructive and helpful. This insight should guide all who seek to reduce their urge to criticize.
Be aware of good potentials evolving as we observe
It is exceedingly easy to be caught up in our immediate experience and fail to appreciate the larger context of our circumstances. What appears absurd or chaotic may be an early phase of the reforms we want. We should be able to recognize and encourage this underlying activity instead of being indignant about the visible disorder.
Everything is a work-in-progress in the long-term view of events. The undesirable issues may be on the way out, and the desired reforms and innovations are on their way into manifestation. We want to be on the side of the growing momentum for constructive transformation by supporting it. Merely being shocked, insulted, and offended by what we dislike only adds to the very problems that annoy us.
An excellent example of this practice is demonstrated in the changes of children who are rapidly moving toward more mature forms of self-expression. Much immature behavior will be evident on their path to these developments. We need to appreciate these early habits and behavior are destined to be replaced by a steady evolution of their knowledge, awareness, and habits. In this way, we can support the constructive forces that are in play in their emerging adult character.
Noticing the long-term consequences of poor behavior
A third quality that is essential for developing a healthy mindset for coping with the imperfect and undesirable is the ability to recognize the consequences of harmful behavior. Rudeness, of course, repels people and provokes more unpleasant retaliation. Dishonest people wear out the trust that others might give them. Selfish people turn off the kindness that others might have provided for them. Ignorant people soon limit their chances of advancement in their careers and associations.
These typical results indicate that many of these problems are self-correcting. The disincentives that follow rudeness, selfishness, and dishonesty will inhibit these tendencies and impel their reform. Our criticism is not required.
A sense of the karmic order and plan for all life
The hidden impact of karmic order often manifests in the social pressure we observe. The term karmic order may be a bit strange to some, but it is only the idea that everyone must cope with the consequences of their behavior.
Nasty individuals bring out the worst in people and set the pattern of treatment they will receive for their rudeness. Dishonest and malicious types eventually find themselves rejected. What goes around also comes around! The devious are ultimately known for who they are. While some strong-willed and clever people might delay some of these consequences, everyone reaps the same type of experiences they impose on others.
In contrast, the long-suffering and patient types wedded to responsibility are recognized for the good they do and are usually rewarded in kind.
A more profound power and order are at work in these situations. We need to recognize and align ourselves with this force of universal laws to strengthen our endurance and ability to cope with difficult circumstances and people.
An awareness of how we overcame problems in our youth
One of the quick ways to deal with our tendencies to become too critical about the irritations of adult life is to remember how we learned to cope with the misdeeds and frustration of our early youth. Childhood crises and minor traumas forced us to acquire many of the essential skills and knowledge needed for adult living.
Prominent among these skills is the commitment to be accountable for our actions rather than trying to excuse or evade our responsibilities. Just as we cannot ignore our credit card bills, our more intangible tasks also require our involvement. Sometimes, we may need to manage certain annoyances by regarding them as obligations we must accept regardless of our irritation.
We also learned to establish reasonable boundaries in our childhood in which we set limits on how much we will be bothered by the irritating behavior and demands of others. We regarded certain people and situations as something we had to endure for a while. It was futile to be frustrated because this only made everything worse. So, we allowed perpetually grumpy people and others to be themselves and stopped demanding better behavior, thereby relieving ourselves of pointless discomfort.
Finally, we learned the value of being grateful for what we have and what we can do. When we begin to believe that our whole life is a disaster, we need to remind ourself to be fully and deeply thankful for the good situations surrounding and supporting us. This is the most potent antidote to the deep despair that often overwhelms many from time to time.
If we are going to be concerned about what is wrong, we also need to be aware of what is suitable and worthy of praise. Otherwise, we lose our mental balance and become just another grumpy complainer who only adds misery to our discontent.
Knowing what is right means we are mindful of what is already desirable and acceptable. This insight provides a base for pursuing what needs to increase in our world instead of condemning what is undesirable.
In addition, we know the world and its contents evolve slowly. Perfection is usually a very distant possibility, and so we must learn how to thrive in our current imperfect world. Filling our world with our hostility is not the best way to do this. We must restrict our criticism to legitimate items and focus on what we can endure or improve. Let the rest go in the awareness that other people who are more directly involved will be the best agents for change in these situations.
Eventually, we need to witness all that we dislike or disapprove of in the same manner as proud parents who raise small children. Children are not bad, just immature. They are full of good potential, which we can nurture into greatness. We need to view the whole world with a similar mindset.
- We live in an imperfect world where we must learn to function despite many flawed situations and examples. We can do this if we focus on practical efforts to be constructive in our intentions, attitudes, and what we do. Recognize the uselessness of chronic irritation and protest about what we dislike.
- It is essential to recognize those times when we can recognize situations that are already moving toward improvement. We must encourage these already established trends rather than dump harsh criticism on the problem.
- We must beware of the significant burden imposed by our recriminations and condemnation. Limiting our criticism to where it serves appropriate goals is essential lest we become just a scold or nag that everyone resents and ignores.
- We need to acknowledge the benevolent life force behind all things visible. We want to support this great power of the spirit behind all forms and activities. Hope in this vision is essential to sustain ourselves in an imperfect world evolving toward the spiritual ideal.
EXERCISES for Coping With Our Critical Nature
- It is very easy to obsess over what is wrong and things we dislike. These attitudes can cause us to neglect the many vital aspects of life that are essential to us. Are we giving too much attention to situations and people we dislike and ignoring the experiences we should appreciate?
- Do we understand how often it may be impractical to demand perfection in an imperfect world? When is “good enough” okay for us? When is “good enough” probably the best we can expect?
- Are we aware that chronic disappointment about people and situations can wear us down without leading to any improvements? Sometimes the best way to spare ourselves continuing distress is to accept conditions the way they are and move on.
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