In my last column, you were taught how to see the forest of good things about those who may have wronged you, and not just focus on the one tree of an incident of resentment. Today we are going to look at a more complex and demanding form of forgiveness described under the acronym of R.E.A.C.H. The man who created this approach, Everett Worthington, wrote the book Dimensions of Forgiveness and is the world-recognized expert on the subject. All the more incredible then, that he should get the news in 1996 that his mother had been brutally raped and murdered by intruders on New Year’s Eve! What a dilemma! He had to practice what he preached in a way he had undoubtedly never anticipated. And so he used his model to achieve a place of equanimity and peace with what happened.
Now this is a more complicated approach, which deserves more than an outline, but let me run through the letters to give you an idea. R means Recall, that is, recall what happened in as objective a way as you can without demonizing the perpetrators and without getting yourself into a place of deep emotional distress. You have to visualize what happened, but then in E you have to find a way to Empathize with those responsible. Wow, difficult, hmm? Yes, it is! But by seeing those responsible as human, perhaps fearful, driven people, you can get a handle on their motivations and the spontaneity of most unplanned violence. Of course there are even worse scenarios, but the goal is the same.
A is the altruistic gift of forgiveness. This is the act of ultimate self-liberation and of human understanding at the same time. As I said in my last column, you are the one on the hook when you are locked in the embrace of intense hatred and bitterness towards those who may have wronged you, perhaps quite unimaginable severely. However huge a mountain it may seem to climb, you will only find peace and a restored sense of balance and purpose in your life by unburdening yourself of your feelings of victimization, no matter how justified they may seem.
C means commitment to publicly acknowledge your forgiveness. You can do this by writing a forgiveness letter, sharing the whole experience with friends, but in any even making the process an external demonstration through some ritual or activity. And lastly, H stands for hold. You have to hold on to and sustain your attitude of forgiveness over time so that you can make it a complete part of the weave and pattern of your soul, so to speak.
Surely some of you are shaking your heads over this and saying to yourselves that there is no way you could do that with some heavy duty event such as Worthington experienced. Okay, okay, I fully understand. But just remember that all that misery is the wall that keeps you imprisoned in the penitentiary of your unwillingness to adopt a different attitude toward the hurt that comes your way. This is a key concept that will run throughout all the columns I write in one form or another. That is, response to how the world has treated us, or, more importantly, how we have interpreted how the world has treated us. Unless we can climb up and get sufficient perspective on our own responsibility for our unhappiness, we will live alienated from the wonderful horizons of potential joy. Sit down, take a deep breath, take in the details of your surroundings, and give this some consideration.