Archive for the ‘guilt’ Tag

Memories   6 comments

Dear Sheila sent a lovely comment in response to my blog yesterday. She kindly suggested supplying me with questions. I especially need those that will direct people to read and discuss “Figs & Pomegranates & Special Cheeses.” So I’d like to apply her question to Dara (Mrs. Job), the heroin of “Figs … “

“Who or what are we without our memories?” she asks. Of course Sheila knows she’s asking a very powerful question. The simple answer to it is, “We are nothing without our memories.” But what about Job’s wife? How did her memories sustain her through the terrible trials and the establishment of a new family after the appearance of the voice in the whirlwind. I’d love to hear how others would answer it after reading the book, but I can’t, of course, avoid making some of my own comments about memories.

First of all, memories are not file folders that store simple data. Every memory is, instead, it’s own creation, based on things that were perceived creatively in the first place. Not only is it a creation, it will be edited anew each time we look back on it. So, “Who are we without our memories?” People incapable of taking our experiences and molding them to fit our view of who we are in the moment.

So what would Dara have called on from the happy, the good, the confusing, the hurtful, the painful experiences she had developed in her life up to the point of the trials? How would she have constructed them to see her through that terrible time?

How would she, in the second phase of her life, have fashioned her memories to make her the person she needed to be to live happily, productively, and lovingly in the years of her second family? How would she have used her memories to honor and love the memory of the lost children of her first family? How would she have used her memories to reconcile with Job’s “friends” who caused him such anguish? How would she have used her memories to reconcile with her God? How would she have constructed them to live with whatever guilt she may have had for her doubt and anger?

Or might she have done with her memories what we all are capable of doing, especially when we have suffered extreme pain, or experiences that make no sense. Would she have simply pushed them back into the non-conscious recesses of her mind? That’s something we all do in large or small part to stay above the pain they cost. It’s a way of sparing us to get on with our lives rather than yielding to immobility.

I’ll try next time to write and share a review of “Atonement“, by Ian McEwen,” the story of the terrible results of an adolescent girl’s false accusations and her subsequent efforts to rid herself of the pain of guilt – quite real by all standards, yet also understandable/explainable.

Thank you dear Sheila for inspiring this answer.

VENGEANCE vs. FORGIVENESS   6 comments

I think it’s safe to say that vengeance is the most powerful obstacle to forgiveness. I have been reminded of that recently in reading Dan Ariely’s The Upside of Irrationality

I’m especially alert these days to quotable material as I anticipate the four-session discussion of forgiveness I’ll be leading at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church in Excelsior, Minnesota. So I made note of page 151 where he reports “good advice about not engaging in revenge.”

A number of wise men have warned us against the would-be benefits of vengeance. Mark Twain said, “Therein lies the defect of revenge: it’s all in the anticipation; the thing itself is a pain, not a pleasure; at least the pain is the biggest end of it.” Walter Weckler further observed that “revenge has no more quenching effect on emotions than salt water has on thirst.” And Albert Schweitzer noted that “Revenge … is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion.”

 The problem is, as Ariely points out, the urge to vengeance is a powerful built in response to perceived offense. For those who would encourage forgiveness – as I do – it’s a problem requiring solution. Part of the solution lies in the other point he makes, that the vengeful emotion fades a bit with time. That’s why we count to ten, I guess.

But there are other things we can do, as some of my clients have done. We can, for example, engage in wonderful fantasies of clever methods of torturing the offender. Carrying out the fantasies would probably not be a good idea, much as they would backfire on oneself  – guilt, for example, an awareness that one’s own morality has been breached.  Or the very fact that someone who has been punished rarely smiles with a “Thanks I needed that.” Nope, vengeance breeds vengeance.

But maybe we need to add something. Vengeance doesn’t necessarily mean physical violence. In fact, Ariely goes on to give examples of what might be called positive effects of vengeance. One quick example (page 154). Cornelius Vanderbilt, whose successful steamship company was basically stolen from him by a couple of associates, responded as follows:  “Gentlemen, you have undertaken to cheat me. I won’t sue you, for the law is too slow. I’ll ruin you.” Then he formed a new company so successful that eventually he regained control of his first company.

OK. I’m sure the punished associates didn’t perceive that as positive. For them it was emotional and financial violence. But it did work for Vanderbilt.

I’ll leave it at that. Food for thought. Knowing the hazards of vengeance, how do we handle it when it comes so naturally? It’s complicated. And now I’ll shamelessly refer to my two forgiveness books, both of which recognize that forgiveness is a difficult but doable process: When to Forgive and Forgiving One Page at a Time.

And if you come across some nice, tidy “forgiveness” saying, I’d be very happy if you’d share it in a comment. Or maybe even a personal story of dealing with vengeance?

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