to forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you
Lewis B. Smedes
Christian author and ethicist, professor of theology
Last week, I shared Luskin's thoughts about grievances (the planes that will not land) and the preconditions to forgiveness. Now, the final reveal, how do we become forgiving?
CHANGE THE CHANNEL
The first step is to change our mindset. Luskin shares that most people are giving too much time to the grievances rather than focusing on gratitude and beauty. We need to change the channel from the negative things that have happened, to the beauty, nature, love and gratitude in our lives. Luskin suggests that the more we focus on the gratitude channel the more the hurts will diminish. If we can tune in to the positive channels in life we can help ourselves.
When you are in the moment and feel the pain from the unresolved grievance, Luskin recommends using Positive Emotion Refocusing Technique (PERT).
Changing the Channel and using PERT, can help to calm our minds. By changing from unenforceable rules to hopes / wishes, we can regain the ability to focus on what we wanted to achieve, rather than how we have been disappointed.
If you are reading this and thinking this sounds too hard, or not rigorous enough, I challenge you to read Luskin's Forgive for Good. I have used Luskin's techniques in my own life and can attest to their value. Am I always forgiving? absolutely not! However, when I have time and can focus, I know that I will feel better if I can use these techniques. I would hope that everyone I work with in mediation could have access to these techniques. If you are in mediation consider trying some of these ideas to find peace and to promote your own well-being. We have power and we need to stop giving it to others. Reclaim your power!
Luskin in Forgive for Good suggests that we need to find a way to land the grievance stories that keep circling in our minds. Not because we should forgive and forget, or because what happened wasn't that bad. Instead, Luskin asks us to choose well-being, empowerment and freedom.
So if this argument is so clear, why do we resist forgiveness?
One reason can be that we do not know how. The other can be that we have created a grievance story - a plane that cannot land. We have created an unenforceable rule (e.g. no-one should lie to me) and then someone we cannot control has broken the rule (e.g. lied to us, betrayed us). Luskin explains that instead of creating unenforceable rules, we can create hopes / wishes.
What can we do? We can acknowledge that in life we may be disappointed, that we cannot control other people's behaviour. We can set a positive goal for what we would like to happen, or not happen. By reframing the unenforceable rule as a hope / wish, we refocus on what we do want, and how to obtain that, rather than the disappointment.
Luskin recommends pre-conditions before we embark on forgiveness:
Next week, what are the steps we can take to be forgiving?
Let me share a little good news. Luskin in his book, Forgive for Good shared the results from several research studies he conducted on the impact of forgiveness. Here are the key benefits of forgiveness:
One of the foundational principles in mediation is party self-determination. This means that mediators believe that parties should find their own solutions. For mediators this is based on the belief that solutions will be more meaningful and sustainable if the parties create them. Finding and negotiating the answers requires parties to feel empowered to express their thoughts and concerns.
So, if we know that forgiveness, is:
"Forgive for Good" Dr Fred Luskin
Go back to your school playground. Someone has hurt another child. An adult is telling one child to say ‘sorry’ and for the other child to ‘forgive’ them. As children we are told to respond reflexively to an apology and offer forgiveness. The challenge is that we are not often taught what forgiveness means or how to do it. It can seem to mean:
It is important for people to recognise that Luskin is not proposing a selfless and self-sacrificing forgiveness. His forgiveness is a form of empowerment. It is not about minimising what happened or denying that something happened. It does not mean reconciling with the person who hurt you, they may never know that you have forgiven them.
For parties in conflict, there can be a significant amount of unresolved pain and anger over behaviour / events / decisions. Luskin explains that remaining in anger and pain is a choice. By learning how to forgive, parties can free themselves. In mediation, this freedom translates into an enhanced ability to negotiate in their own best interests.
Next week, why is forgiveness good for us?
Between the books and the screen adaptations there is one significant difference. In the books, Moriarty is described as the Napoleon of Crime, yet he appears in only two stories. Whilst Holmes acknowledges his importance as an adversary, he is not the only source of crime, evil and plotting.
In screen adaptations, Moriarty is regularly shown to be the puppet master and the focus of Holmes's obsession. Moriarty is behind every twitching curtain and nasty plot. Perhaps this intense relationship was most striking in the BBC adaptation, Sherlock.
in conflict, we can become obsessed with the other person. They become a target of blame, they are all bad. They have hurt us intentionally. This may be true. It may not be true.
Regardless, the question remains is it helpful? In Luskin's Forgive for Good, he suggests that when we focus on the person who has hurt us and continue to focus our blame on them, we cede power. We give power over how we feel, and how to hurt us to a person who probably does not have our best interests at heart.
Luskin asks us to reclaim our power. To change our story about what happened from a victim story, to one in which we are the hero. To refocus our attention on to our well-being and forgive the person who hurt us. I will be sharing some blogs about forgiveness over the next few weeks.
Sherlock, never learns to leave his obsession. In the books and also the adaptations he vanquishes his enemy. In real life this is not an option, better to learn to keep our power and to heal ourselves.
In A Study in Scarlet, we are introduced to one of the greatest teams in all of fiction. Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson are thrown together by the prosaic need to find a flatmate. Their relationship is one which endures despite their differences and is fuelled by their deep love for each other. Over the years, their friendship is strained, by Holmes' "death" and by Watson's marriage, and yet they remain bonded.
Without doubt, the support of Watson enables Holmes to meet his full potential. Rather than the stock image of Watson as a buffoon, in the books he is revealed as a decent and humane man of action and learning. He brings his skills as a doctor, and his empathy and kindness to assist Holmes. This support and his care for Holmes is a key part of the reason we keep reading and watching these stories.
In conflict, people often have to build their own support network. This may be an existing network of friends and family, a tribe. Sometimes it involves working with a counsellor or psychologist. When working with people in mediation, it is helpful for me to understand what resources are available to them. For parties in family mediation, separation and divorce is one of the most stressful events a person can experience. I often suggest to parties to work with a professional.
There are many benefits to working with a professional. They are able to put what you are experiencing into context. It can feel very isolating to separate and divorce. A counsellor or psychologist (listen to my podcast about working with a psychologist with Dr Monica Borschel) can help a party to understand they are not alone in how they feel. The emotions that people experience in separation can be confusing, there may be anger, bitterness, betrayal or even ambivalence about the other person. Building a framework to understand these feelings can help parties to process them.
When working in mediation, parties can also benefit from skills and tools that counsellors and psychologists can suggest and develop. Every little bit of help counts.
If the great Sherlock Holmes can reach out a hand for help, we would be wise to follow his lead.
Of all the actors who have played Sherlock Holmes, hands down my favourite is Jeremy Brett. For those who have missed the Granada adaptation, it is worth seeking out. I have to admit to a certain fondness for Benedict Cumberbatch, but Brett is the Holmes that runs around in my head when I am reading the books.
The adaptation Brett starred in was a faithful interpretation of the books and revelled in the period detail. In such a constrained time as the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, Holmes' lack of conventionality stands out. By any measure Holmes leads an unconventional life. He is indifferent to the social norms of his times and impatient with convention. He has the means and social standing to choose his own life and to live according to his preferences.
It may seem that unconventionality is not a quality that relates to conflict. However, I think it can be truly important. In conflict, you will have a support team of people who want the best for you as they see it. Parties in conflict need to feel free to seek unconventional solutions which meet their needs. This requires reflection and an ability listen to yourself.
Sometimes as parties move to resolution, one of them will say something like "but how will I explain this to [name of lawyer / significant person]". They are reaching for a solution, but are held back by concern about how it will be perceived by others. In reality, your lawyer will support you and your support team will be there for you, but only you will have to live the conflict and the solution. Being able to choose a solution which may not be conventional from others' perspectives but which meets your needs and those of the other party is the key to finding resolution.
Holmes is empowered to accomplish incredible feats and acts of heroism through his belief in his own methods. In a way he is free, free from the expectations of others, free from societal constraints and free to listen to himself.
In the Sign of Four, Sherlock Holmes explained to Watson that he abhorred stagnation, that he needed problems and work to feed his brain. His mental curiosity drives him seek solutions and find patterns. His curiosity enables Holmes to amass an incredible breadth and depth of knowledge. All of which assist with his famous deductions.
In conflict, curiosity is one of the greatest skills. For some people, when in conflict their natural curiosity shuts down. In its place is absolute certainty, even infallibility. In reality, we are all flawed and we are all able to contribute to a conflict or to its resolution.
Using our innate curiosity about what is driving the other person (i.e. need, fear or concern) can help to unlock possible options. In mediation, we seek out interests (the need, fear or concern) which underlie the position (i.e. the tangible, concrete demand). it can be difficult. Positions are loud and clear. Almost everyone in conflict can access their position, it usually begins with "I want...".
The reason why we have decided we want this is usually more opaque. The interest that is driving our position may be obscured by emotions including fear, anxiety or anger. It can be difficult for the other person in our conflict to determine what underlying need we are trying to meet. If we can understand our own interests and those of the other person then we can design more responsive options for resolution.
When I was studying at Pepperdine, one of my professors, Jim Craven, explained that as mediators we need to "harvest interests". Maintaining curiosity about the why of people asking for something, as well as understanding the what. Being naturally curious is a gift, it prompts further questions, it enables a deeper understanding. In conflict curiosity is a real asset.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival. Time to take a moment and enjoy the moon.
Click below for your own PDF colouring page...